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Saturday, August 8, 2009

RIP Carleen Hutchins, Genius Violin Maker

Carleen Hutchins, Innovative Violin Maker, Is Dead at 98 - Obituary (Obit) -
In the mid-20th century, when Carleen Hutchins was at the height of her career, it was unusual enough for a woman to make violins. It was even more unusual for a violin maker to conduct hands-on acoustic research, harnessing technology so that modern hands might build instruments to rival the work of 17th- and 18th-century masters.

Mrs. Hutchins started as a high school science teacher before turning to violin production in the late 1940s.

But Mrs. Hutchins did something more unusual still. Working intently and noisily in her home in Montclair, N.J., she helped reimagine the idea of what a violin could be.

In the process she designed and built an entire family of violins, eight instruments proportional in size and pitch known collectively as the new violin family or the violin octet.

The new violin family, its enthusiasts say, not only extends the range of the traditional violin family, but also corrects the acoustic imbalances among its members that have bedeviled composers and players for generations. A consort of acoustically matched instruments, Mrs. Hutchins’s family spans more than seven octaves while maintaining the timbre of a violin throughout.

Mrs. Hutchins died on Friday at 98. The death, at her home in Wolfeboro, N.H., where she had lived recently, was confirmed by her daughter, Cassie Coons.

Internationally known for her work in violin acoustics, Mrs. Hutchins received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was often in the news. The cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded Bartok’s Viola Concerto using one of Mrs. Hutchins’s alto violins. (The instrument has the register of a viola but is played vertically, like a cello.) The recording, with the Baltimore Symphony, appears on Mr. Ma’s CD “The New York Album” (1994).

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