Like the proud owner of a new car out for a spin, Arnaud Sussmann came to the WQXR Café with an instrument that had barely nudged the odometer. Two months earlier he had purchased a violin made by the respected French instrument maker Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, built around 1850. Like many Vuillaume violins, this one was a copy of a Guarneri del Gesu, specifically the "Panette" of 1730. It represented a remarkable stroke of luck for the young Juilliard graduate.
Sussmann had been on a long search for a new violin that had taken him to Italy, France, Chicago, New Mexico and around New York, in which he tried out multiple fiddles but constantly left empty-handed. He had even considered other Vuillaumes but found their sound bulky and their action sluggish. One day, he was leaving a midtown violin dealer when a Vuillaume caught his eye.
"It took me 20 seconds to know it was a great instrument,” said Sussmann, a Juilliard graduate and winner of a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant. “It has a very focused, direct sound and a very quick response.” There was a catch however. The dealer had already received an offer and a payment was expected the next day. “I was very sad at first,” said Sussmann. “I said, ‘look, if for some reason this doesn’t come through, please call me ASAP.' The next morning, his phone rang. The deal had fallen through. Sussmann returned to buy the violin the next day. “It was all really fast, which is how it should be when you buy a violin. It has to be love at first sight.”
Buying a fiddle is not unlike an car or house purchase. Multiple inspections and appraisals are needed. There must be a paper trail documenting the instrument’s provenance and history. And while few old instruments are without cracks or blemishes, this Vuillaume was in excellent condition, said Sussmann. “It’s got very few cracks. It all seemed to come together.”
Was Sussmann, born in Strasbourg, France, attracted to a fiddle of his own nationality? “Not at all,” he said. In fact, Sussmann considers his own playing style to be the composite of several national influences. While studying at the Paris Conservatoire his teacher was Boris Garlitsky, a Russian steeped in the Moscow tradition. In 2001, Sussmann accepted a last-minute invitation to study at Juilliard with the revered Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman. He later became Perlman’s teaching assistant, where he went on to receive a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, and eventually embark on a busy solo and chamber-music career.
In the WQXR Café Sussmann performed two movements of the Brahms D-minor Sonata as a preview of a concert at the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, NY, on Thursday. The recital marks a decade since he arrived in the U.S. “It’s my tenth year in New York,” he said. “I feel very settled here now.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise; Interview: Naomi Lewin