Calvin Sieb



The Development of a Violinist

©Photo by Lois Siegel

The Ex-Laub Stradivarius

As Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, I was often called upon to play alone. When I became Concertmaster, the orchestra had no hall of its own and gave concerts in the relatively small auditorium at Plateau High School in Park Lafontaine.  When the orchestra moved into the new Place Des Arts, given the size of the main concert hall, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, it became clear that I would need a better and bigger sounding instrument than the Matteo Gofriller that I owned at the time. I required an instrument that would project the sound to the back of the room.

I mentioned my need for a better violin to John McConnell, owner of "The Montreal Star" newspaper.  He was a patron of the orchestra, and he said that The Star could possibly purchase an instrument for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. I began looking for a suitable instrument.

I was a loyal customer of a violin repair shop in New York City, Wurlitzer's. The shop was also an internationally know dealer of fine string instruments.  I went to New York and boldly asked if I might borrow a very good violin. The owner was Rembert Wurlitzer, a kind and refined gentleman whose hobby was collecting and selling fine, old instruments.  He was also a descendant of the famous Wurlitzer Organ founder.  He was very understanding and loaned me the ex-Laub, Petschnikov 1727 Stradivarius to take back to Montreal to show to Mr. McConnell.  He said "The Star" would buy the violin for use by the Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

It is a custom to name a famous instrument after the famous artists that have used it during their careers.  Ferdinand Laub, 1832-1875 and later Alexander Petschnikov, 1873-1948 performed around the world with this "Strad."  They were both famous artists of their time.

Alexander Petschnikov

Stradivari was 82-years-old when he made this instrument.


Laub was born in Prague. He was a child prodigy, and he had the reputation of being one of the best violinists of the 19th century. At 21, he succeeded Joseph Joachim as leader of the orchestra in Weimar in 1853.  Later he went to Berlin and Vienna. Finally, in 1866, Laub became a teacher of violin at The Moscow Conservatoire. He was a close friend of Tchaikovsky.

The Strad was presented to him by Princess Youssoupov. The instrument was also owned by Russian violinist Alexander Petschnikov in 1895, who toured America with his wife. She was also a violinist. The first performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in Chicago was performed on this violin by Alexander Petschnikov, December 8, 1899 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Theodor Thomas.


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