What Does a $45 Million Viola Sound Like? Violist David Aaron Carpenter Gives You a Preview

This spring, one of the best-preserved Strads in existence will go up for auction at Sotheby’s. Built some time between 1700 and 1720, during the very best period of Stradivari’s work, the viola is a real rarity, one of only ten in existence. Maybe that justifies the starting price of $45 million. What does that prized strad actually sound like, you might wonder? Filmed by The New York Times, the clip above features David Aaron Carpenter (called “The Hottest Violist of the 21st Century”) playing Suite No. 3 in C by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you’re a viola aficionado, we would be curious to get your take on what you hear.

via NYTimes

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Comments (12)
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  • radioredrafts says:

    I’d have to hear it up close, with drier acoustics, before I gave an opinion. In an extremely live room like that over an Ipad speaker, it just sounds like a decent viola.

  • radioredrafts says:

    Props to the artist playing it, though. That was excellently done.

  • sfemet says:

    This is what the superstrings that make up everything in the universe sound like.

    At that is through the speakers on my iPad mini.

    There is something about that instrument, a tone, like two sides of the heart. You can hear it at the end. It is miraculous.

    Thank you for this.

  • nerdpocalypse says:

    It sounds richer, deeper, less stringy, less like a cigar box.
    (personally, I like the performer with the bad viola better)

    First, the object value drives up the price (‘it’s a freekin’ Strad, dude…….!!!!’), but Second, at high end commodities, ever slighter improvements produce disporportionally huge increases in price. You see this in online gaming items especially, where the absolute best item with under a 5% improvement will more than double the price compared to the second best item. You could say it’s supply and demand with the rarity of the absolute best. Personally, I think it’s because people are crazy.

  • rkfiddler says:

    The artist with the bow is a good match for the artist of the maker. BTW, Spell-check didn’t catch it, violist vs violinist. A common error but one that I would expect that a classy reporting group might catch.

  • Peripatetic says:

    As radioredrafts says, trying to judge the sound over the internet is like trying to taste a good dish, or a comfortable chair – you’ve got to be there (quite a boomy room, too.) rkfiddler – Violin = violinist, Viola = violist :)

  • YC says:

    Sounds good – why not pick up another one playing the same piece by the same artist in the same room? Let’s hold a blind test :)

  • Ian says:

    I loved this…but of course… the experience of this is more than the viola – it’s the combination of so so many things, that travel back in time to Bach, and come together in a unique moment now with that player, that room, that acoustic and my computer and you tube. With all that…. it was a treat to experience . Thanks :)

  • Sister Laurel M O'Neal, Er Dio (violinist) says:

    Hard to truly tell about the sound because of the liveness of the room (listen to his footsteps at the end), hearing it over a laptop (though with bose earphones) and finally because the piece played is all in lower to middle register (nothing in upper positions). I also wondered at the first few notes if these were brand new strings because of a kind or “rawness” or something in those notes.

    Still, the tone is clear and the timbre bright. It had depth as well, especially on the C and G strings. I thought the double stops sounded amazing (balanced), the passages played piano (softly) were full in tone but would tug at one’s heart in their sweetness — especially the section from about 1:15 through @ 2:07ff. Even with the limitations mentioned above it certainly sounded better to me than just a decent viola!

  • Laraine Anne Barker says:

    It’s hard to tell how good an instrument is through a pair of grotty speakers attached to a computer. But for a start the instrument has been mutilated (nearly all known Strads have been) by turning it into a 20th century instrument. If the equivalent of what they do to a Strad was done to a fine piece of 18th century furniture it would more than halve its value. The same should apply to a musical instrument. If you can get one of today’s best violin makers (e.g., Peter Westerlund) to make your instrument you will have one every bit as good as a Strad.

  • beth tiemann says:

    sounds very good.tone is clear.i would have to hear more on the D and A string to say it sounds great i have a copy of a strad viola whicj i play in an orchestra

  • Bud Southworth says:

    Who knows over the I-net.
    The Viola is an “Alto” range instrument that plays music from middle C clef staff sheet music. The Viola section is usually seated in the middle of an orchestra and we usually play the harmony. We harmonize and double mainly with violins or soprano singers (make them sound full and great). Nobody really notices us, unless we stop playing – then heads come up to see what is wrong. The Conductor never looks at us unless we come in early or late or overwhelm the soprano.
    People sit in a concert audience and have no idea what they are missing. Violins and violas rest against the jaw bone. They pick up sound waves from other instruments – the string player connects the jaw vibration to the brain and then can match the resonance (vibration) from the other players and tune and harmonize to play with them. The jaw sound vibrations and ear vibrations meet in the middle of your brain – it is a high, without drugs! Sitting in the middle of the orchestra the music moves in waves left and right and back – real stereo.
    Cello players hold their instrument in their crotch – we are not asking and they are not saying what goes on . . . .
    If you have a local Symphony, ask someone if you can sit in the orchestra next to a string player during a rehearsal (3 at a stand) – hint: all orchestra’s need money or goodies for break time.
    OR find your local string school teacher (they all have a little string chamber group) and take a couple of beginner lessons. (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) The teacher can use a couple of bucks and you’ll find a whole new world!
    Just thought you’d like to know.

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