Blog of Professor Jo Cole

J&A Beare’s prize-winning violinists

Professor Jo Cole - Posted on 01.12.2014

The Academy is a potent mix of tradition and zeitgeist: the other day was definitely an example of the both. Here’s the background: Every year, since 1912, J and A Beare’s,  the most respected instrument dealers in the world, have made a gift of a specially made and engraved violin bow to the most promising graduating student from the Royal Academy of Music. The resulting register of Academy violinists is a roll call of over a century of talent — illuminated with dozens of illustrious names of players and teachers. Amongst the instantly recognizable ones are others with fascinating connections: Wolfe Wolfinsohn, whose daughter Judy visits the Academy most years to attend the String Quartet Prize she founded in his memory in 2007, won the bow in 1916; and Watson Forbes — distinguished veteran of the viola and arranger of hundreds of works for young musician, who was also Head of Music at BBC Scotland – was awarded his bow in 1931.

Several are — or in a couple of cases sadly, were — professors at the Academy: Fred Grinke (1933), who was a student of the mighty Adolf Busch and played in a piano trio with my own Academy teacher, Florence Hooton; Trevor Williams (1949); Clarence Myerscough (1952), who studied with Grinke; the late and very much lamented Ralph Holmes (1953); Diana Cummings (1960); Peter Sheppard [Skærved] (1986), now Viotti Lecturer in Performance Studies at the Academy; and Giovanni Guzzo (2009), appointed to the violin faculty in 2013. Others on the list have featured regularly as visiting teachers and coaches at the Academy.

You can imagine that the responsibility of nominating the recipient of the bow every year is quite a challenge — but also a pleasure: to give a young player on the verge of an exciting career the chance to join this amazing crowd of wonderful violinists; and to be given a bow not just of fine quality by a great craftsman but already imbued with heritage and history, by the very nature of the prize.

In 2014 the winner was Julia Pusker. She was announced as the recipient at the summer Graduation ceremony. A few months later we made an appointment with Simon Morris at Beare’s, to go and see the two bows between which she would choose her prize.  The bows were made by Derek Wilson, who joined us to hear his new creations make their first sounds. Julia experimented with them, and discussed weight and balance with Derek, while Simon and I listened and chatted, and Hana Zushi-Rhodes, Academy photographer, snapped away recording the moment. Julia reluctantly had to relinquish her chosen bow for it to be engraved, but it felt very good to be adding another name to that great list stretching back into the past. Being on it seems to herald a glowing future.

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