Take a Bow

WFIU did a story about Berg Bows

Michael F. Duff

For over four decades, Berg Bows has worked to develop the best string bows in the world, guided by scientific research and state-of-the-art technology. Watch the interview on WTIU Indiana Public Media.

The Craftsman Behind the World's Greatest Violinists

Michael F. DuffMusicians and conductors are the ones in the spotlight at symphony halls and concert venues around the world, and it's easy to forget about the people who work behind the scenes to make great music come to life. The science of sound is exacting, and the real work begins long before performers take the stage. Without finely crafted instruments, a stunning performance is impossible.

And when it comes to stringed Take a Bow by Mark Nayler instruments, craftsman Michael Duff is the man behind the music. His company, Berg Bows International, is named after Robert Berg, who worked in Duff's home country of New Zealand. A former bass player in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Berg spent many years in research and development together with scientists, emphasizing the use of composite materials and the geometry of the perfect bow. He passed this knowledge on to Duff, who in 1985 established his company in Bloomington, Indiana, close to the world-renowned Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and their famous faculty Joseph Gingold, Janos Starker, Ruggiero Ricci, Mimi Zweig, Franco Gulli, Rostislav Dubinsky, Tadeusz Wronsi , and Csaba Erdelyi. I am personally involved in handcrafting each and every bow that comes out of Berg Bows, he said in an exclusive interview with The Suit.

With his scientifically trained mind--he was a former faculty member of Indiana University's Department of Microbiology-- Duff put his talents to work in this new craft. He was the pioneer in eliminating the need for the endangered pernambuco wood from Brazil. His sticks are molded according to high standards of shape, and look astonishingly like pernambuco wood bows. Duff says that he listened carefully to feedback from the famous violinists who used his bows, giving them much credit for helping him refine his craft. According to Duff, It wasn't long before Heinrich Dick, of the respected Gčnther Dick stringed instrument materials company, was saying that my bows reflected the work of someone who deeply understood his trade.

Now, 26 years since founding his business, Duff has benefited greatly from the use of sophisticated computer technology and the precision of mathematics to produce bows of the highest quality, both in sound and responsiveness. In 1985, the teenaged Leonidas Kavakos tested an early Berg bow and observed, It is the only bow I have ever used that can handle all the notes, no matter how fast I play.

Berg Bows has donated bows to the winners of three different violin competitions at the d'Angello competition in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the Sibelius competition in Finland, and twice at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, the last at the request of Glen Kwok, executive director, and jaime Laredo, chairman of the jury. Mr Laredo declared Duffs Tourte-Voirin models, which he tested, to be extraordinary in their steadiness on the strings. He immediately commissioned one with an exotic snakewood frog and finds it extremely pleasing. Several concertmasters of major orchestras are among Berg Bows valued clients the Suisse Romande The Craftsman Behind the World's Greatest Violinists Orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony, the London Symphony, the Netherlands Symphony, the Kirstiansand Orchestra of Norway, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the Dallas Symphony.

By now the list of famous clients is historic, reaching back to violinists such as Peter Schaffer, Earl Carlyss, Arnold Steinhardt, Yfrah Neaman, Igor Ozin, Walter Grimmer, Riccardo Odnopossoff, Henryk Szeryng, Eduard Melkus, Gerald Fishbach, Jean Piguet, Klaus Eicholz, Joseph Gingold, Tadeuz Wronski, Ruggiero Ricci, Franco Gulli, Rostislav Dubinsky, Emanuel Borok, Rivka Golani, Csaba Erdelyi, Gordan Epperson and Yuval Yaron. Currently the list includes artists such as Walter Grimmer, Pierre Amoyal, Malcolm Lowe, Roger Coull, Roman Mints , Raymond Kobler, William Conable, Susan Salm, Warren Davidson, Burton Kaplan, Augustin Hadelich, Gordan Nikolitch, Stefan Milenkovitch, Leonidas Kavakos, Mimi Zweig. Stephen Shipps, James Lyon, Shi-Hwa Wang, Nelson Armitano, Scott Petti, Joan Markstein, Timothy Lees, Joshua Bell, Federico Agostini, jaime Laredo, Charles Bingham, Alen de Veritch, and Atar Arad.

Functionality is not Berg Bows sole concern. As Duff says, It is crucial that our bows retain their classical appearance, an opinion shared by performers who champion his products. Stefan Milenkovitch, who began using Berg bows during the 1994 Indianapolis Violin Competition, remarks, It was love at first sight. Milenkovitch has been using Berg bows ever since, significantly in a forthcoming recording of the Brahms violin concerto.

Michael Duff has dedicated himself to learning about and manufacturing stringed instrument bows, striving to reach the heights of musical excellence in a complex and nuanced trade. The quality of a bow is at least as important as the violin, he says. And the famous chamber music artist Rostislav Dubinsky once said in response, Michael, it is even more important than the violin.

Duff adds, I am continually seeking to improve my bows in the light of on-going scientific research. For further information, musicians may consult the Berg Bows website. The quality of a bow is at least as important as the violin.

P.O. Box 6235
Bloomington, IN 47407-6235


Phone: 812-336-8994

Berg Bows