“Joachim-Ma” Stradivarius Violin Comes to NEC

Gift from the estate of Si-Hon Ma '50 M.M., '52 A.D. will be heard April 23 in Jordan Hall and April 27 in Boston's Symphony Hall.

The estate of world-renowned violinist, educator, and NEC alum Si-Hon Ma ’50 M.M, ’52 A.D. has gifted the 1714 “Joachim-Ma” Stradivarius violin to New England Conservatory. The 300-year-old instrument was previously owned by 19th-century Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Joachim (1831–1907), who purchased the instrument now known as “Joachim-Ma” when he was only 18. Joachim owned no fewer than 10 Stradivari violins during his lifetime, but he is most closely associated with this Cremona-built violin, which was most likely the violin he played when he premiered the Brahms Violin Concerto Opus 77 in 1879. Joachim and Ma were united by a similar artistic path, as Ma’s teachers Alfred Wittenberg and Richard Burgin were both students to Joachim. Ma purchased the Stradivari owned by Joachim on August 15, 1967—the 60th anniversary of the death of Joachim—and performed on it for almost his entire career. The violin is now named after both musicians.

2016-04-23 The New Strad in Town
New England Conservatory debuts the instrument in Jordan Hall with performances by NEC students and faculty.

2016-04-27 NEC Philharmonia in Symphony Hall
Artist Diploma student Alexi Kenney again plays the "Joachim-Ma" in Symphony Hall with the NEC Philharmonia, led by NEC's Calderwood Director of Orchestras, Hugh Wolff.

The History of the “Joachim-Ma”

The “Joachim-Ma” was made during Stradivari’s “golden period” and resembles other great instruments of the time such as the “Dolphin” of 1714 and the “Titian” of 1715. Up until now, it has been on display in close proximity to another Stradivari held by Joachim, the “Cremonese” of 1715, which was given to him in 1889. Although the “Cremonese” is slightly larger, the “Joachim-Ma” is also built on a large form. It is regarded as one of Stradivari’s finest-sounding violins.

Here's what W.E. Hill & Sons wrote this about this instrument in 1914:

“This instrument formerly belonged to Herr Heinrich Muller of Hamburg in whose possession, Joachim, in 1849, first made its acquaintance, and became so enamored with it that he desired to possess it. It was, however, only after a prolonged struggle with his uncles, as he himself informed us, that he was at length able to realize his project, and secure the violin, the price paid for it being £200.

"Joachim retained possession of the instrument, playing on it on all occasions, until about 1890. At that period, he happened to play in a quartet with Mr. Diedrich Meier, who owned a very fine Stradivari that he offered to exchange with Joachim, whereupon it changed hands. Mr. Diedrich Meier eventually sold the instrument to Baron Knoop, who, after retaining it in his possession for some years, finally presented it to his wife, Baroness May Knoop, from whom we have recently acquired it.”

Hills sold the violin in 1913 to Sir Alexander Kennedy (1847–1928), a British engineer and amateur violinist. It passed in 1923 to American Albert E. Stephens, and then to John H. Bennett, and then to American collector Hugh Long around 1964. The Rembert Wurlitzer firm of New York sold it to the Chinese-American violinist Si-Hon Ma in 1967. Ma treasured the violin until he passed in 2009, which makes him the only recorded owner who possessed it longer than Joachim himself.

photo by Tucker Densley, Reuning & Sons Violins

About Si-Hon Ma

Si-Hon Ma was also born near Canton, China, on April 3, 1925. He left China in 1948 to enroll at New England Conservatory, where he studied with Richard Burgin. In 1951 he became the first violinist to receive the Heifetz Award at Tanglewood. He became a professor of music and performed in numerous concerts, quite often in duet with his wife, the pianist Tung Kwong-Kwong. He also invented a new mute for stringed instruments, which was given the name “The Si-Hon Mute.” Ma was the president of the Si-Yo Music Society which presented an annual series of chamber music concerts in New York from 1971 to 2004. The first concerts, with the participation of his wife, were performed in the Chinese School in Chinatown. Because of their popularity, they soon transferred to the Schimmel Auditorium of nearby Pace University. Eventually the concerts were moved to Merkin Hall near Lincoln Center. Some of the musicians who collaborated with Mr. and Mrs. Ma in the Si-Yo Concerts were clarinetist Stanley Drucker, soprano Benita Valente, cellist Jerry Grossman, violist Raphael Hillyer, and many more.

In the 1950s, Ma played in the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, later leaving to join Tung Kwong-Kwong for several years of touring and performing in Europe, appearing at the Salzburg and Dartington Festivals, among many others. They continued to tour in the 1960s and 1970s in America under Columbia Artists Management. The Mas made several tours of the Far East, performing and teaching both in Taiwan and mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Bangkok. In 1958, Ma invented a new mute for stringed instruments which is placed behind the bridge and does not have to be removed when not in use, a great improvement over the older standard mute. It was given the name "The Si-Hon Mute." From 1971 to 1994, Ma was a professor of music at Kent State University in Ohio. During that time period, he maintained his performing career and also continued to teach in New York City.