For two performances this month at the Kerrytown Concert House, violinist Henrik Karapetyan will be playing second fiddle to fiddles. Karapetyan is using the concerts to showcase his new business, Karapetyan Violins, selling fine violins and bows. Though he and others will perform, he says, “the stars will be the instruments, rather than the players.”
Karapetyan is at ease in a wide variety of styles and settings, from gypsy, klezmer, and jazz with the Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet, to classical music in the Detroit Opera’s orchestra. But like many musicians, he is always happy to have an additional revenue stream, so with his brother Hrayr, who lives in Belgium, he’s been “investing and trading in violins and bows for the past few years.”
High-quality antique violins, often valued in the mid-to-high six and sometimes seven figures, not only sound superb but often appreciate considerably over time, making them attractive to musicians and investors alike. The KCH showcase will include an Italian Gagliano, a French Vuillaume, and a Dutch Boumeester brought from Belgium by the brothers’ partner, dealer Ara Simonian, as well as a great many rare and high-quality bows, some with prices approaching six figures.
Karapetyan and fellow violinist Caroline Chin will also demonstrate violins by two local up-and-coming makers, Ashot Vardanian and Jonathon Price, as well as instruments crafted by a couple of luthiers in Madrid.
The Spanish violins are meant to address “a gap in Michigan in terms of quality, entry-level professional instruments,” Karapetyan says. “As a former University of Michigan student [DMA, 2010], I don’t remember a single instance of a student looking for a violin in Michigan. They would go to Chicago, to New York, to L.A., never in Michigan.” So he’s offering “interest-free, rent-to-own, professional instruments,” most priced under $10,000, “to college and high school students who need a high-quality instrument but can’t afford to pay a lump sum.”
The November 5 and 6 concerts are titled “The Angels’ Songs and The Devil’s Trills,” a reference to the violin’s fabled ability to portray almost any emotion. The violinists and pianist Xavier Suarez will play pieces by Bach to Bolcom, and Mozart to Montgomery. Musicians can try out the instruments starting an hour and a half before the performances.
“Of course, I want to make money. I don’t want to pretend that that’s not a main reason,” Karapetyan says. But he also wants to help others overcome the Catch-22 in which he found himself at the beginning of his career: “As a young violin player I couldn’t get a [high-quality] instrument and therefore couldn’t get a job,” he recalls. “And because I couldn’t get a job, I couldn’t get a [high-quality] instrument.”