Violin soloist handles a nightmare bow break with sheer professionalism and style

16 May 2023, 13:34

Watch as Stefan Jackiw’s bow breaks during his Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performance

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Violinist Stefan Jackiw let only three seconds of silence passed as he regained his composure after the nightmarish bow break.

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For most violinists, the mere thought of breaking their bow mid-performance is enough to give them nightmares. But for American violinist Stefan Jackiw, this fear-inducing scenario became a reality while on stage with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra last week.

“This past week I had the privilege of giving the UK premiere of Ukrainian-born composer Reinhold Gliere’s gorgeous, forgotten violin concerto,” Jackiw wrote on Facebook after the Wednesday evening concert, on 10 May.

“As a half-Ukrainian, half-Korean musician, it was particularly meaningful for me to play this piece... conducted by my dear friend Kirill Karabits.

“About 1/3 of the way into the concerto, my trusty Voirin [François Nicolas Voirin, a violin maker], suddenly snapped in two! Obviously, I was totally unprepared for this disaster, but I grabbed the concertmaster’s bow and just kept going.”

Read more: Violinist Ray Chen snapped a string mid-Tchaikovsky concerto, and handled it like a boss

Stefan Jackiw’s violin bow snapped during a concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits
Stefan Jackiw’s violin bow snapped during a concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits. Picture: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Ukrainian conductor, Karabits stopped the concerto when he saw what had happened, and only three seconds of silence passed as Jackiw sprung into action. Swapping his bow with concertmaster Amyn Merchant, Jackiw hardly took a moment to himself before launching back into the music. Merchant then swapped the broken bow for one from the second violin desk.

While a flash of panic seemed to appear on some of the musicians’ faces as they searched to find their place in their sheet music, Karabits took charge and guided the orchestra and soloist seamlessly back into the concerto.

The 19th-century Parisian bow, which was the subject of the breakage on Wednesday evening, was made by violin maker François Nicolas Voirin. Renowned for their tonal qualities, Voirin bows have been used by some of history’s greatest soloists including Belgian virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe and American violinist Issac Stern.

The average price of a sought-after Voirin bow is between approximately £18,000-£40,000, however, one viola bow that went to auction in 2019 sold for an eyewatering $98,000 (£74,643). So breaking one of these is certainly not at the top of any musician’s to-do list.

Read more: Centuries-old Italian violin breaks auction records after selling at £7.71 million

According to interviews with the string maestro, Jackiw’s bow is reportedly worth $30,000 (£23,926), and he has owned and played it for over 20 years.

The 38-year-old musician has also been playing this particular violin since he was 16. Unlike his bow, the instrument is Italian and was made by Vincenzo Ruggieri in Cremona in 1704.

In an interview with his Alma Mater Harvard in 2007, he described the instrument’s sound as “pure and clear. It isn’t aggressive, but it is full of colours.”

Luckily Jackiw’s long-time bow is repairable, and the musician will appear with his fixed bow and 1704 Ruggieri violin in concert on 20 May for an evening of chamber music in New York.

You can watch the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert in full – including the bow break – via the BSO website until 9 June.