All Things Strings, February 2009

VSA Announces Winners in Violin and Bow Making Competition

German, French violin makers take top honors

By Erin Shrader

The night belonged to violin makers Haiko Seifert of Germany and Antone Cauche of France, who each won awards in four categories at the 2008 Violin Society of America International Violin and Bow Making Competition, held November 3-8 in Portland, Oregon. Seifert, 39, earned a certificate of merit for violin, a silver medal for workmanship for cello, a gold medal for viola, and a gold medal for quartet—a feat of skill and endurance that could be likened to winning the decathlon and finishing the marathon. Cauche was not far behind in the awards count with a gold medal for cello, plus a silver for workmanship for violin and certificates for viola and quartet. In the bow-making competition, Yannick Le Canu of France earned gold medals for both violin and cello bows, and Robert Morrow of the Port Townsend, Washington, won gold for his viola bow, pictured here. Makers who win gold medals in three different competition years earn the distinction of hors concours and are no longer eligible to compete in VSA competitions. This being the third gold-medal year for each of them, both Le Canu and Morrow are hors concours. Gold medals are not analogous to "first prize" in that several may be awarded in each category, or none at all. This year, no gold medals were awarded for violin. Four violins were recommended for gold by the workmanship judges, and three were recommended by the tone judges (the two panels do not interact). But to win gold, the other panel must also recommend the same instrument for a medal or certificate of merit. "If we don't have any overlap with the tone judges, we don't have gold," says luthier Gregg Alf, one of the three violin workmanship judges. "But that's OK with me," he says. "It's depressing. But our first allegiance is to string players, and we makers just have to pull our socks up and do a good job." The results of the VSA competition are tabulated using a complex computerized system. According to Alf, the workmanship judges would probably come up with the same handful of winners at first impression as they do after three arduous days of scoring every single instrument, but the complex scoring process, which is then weighted and tabulated by machine, is meant to ensure objective results. The system is so complicated, however, that it takes some time for a first-time judge to learn to use it. "It's like a Ferrari," Alf says. "A Ferrari is a great car, but if you don't know how to drive it, you're not going to get the results you expect."