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Tanglewood Learning InstituteMeet the MakersBenoît Rolland, bow maker

Tanglewood Learning Institute
Meet the Makers
Benoît Rolland, bow maker


Linde Center Studio E - Lenox, MA View Map

“A violin without a bow is only a guitar.” Benoît Rolland—a 2012 MacArthur Fellow and a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres—is one of the world’s preeminent bow makers in the French tradition. He counts Yo-Yo Ma, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Leonidas Kavakos among the leading soloists and chamber musicians who have used his bows. Join us for an exploration of the art and science of bow-making and a sneak peek at his new conducting batons.

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Benoît Rolland, bow maker
Benoît Rolland, bow maker View biography in full page >

During a four-year apprenticeship at the bow making school of Mirecourt, Benoît Rolland learned his craft from Bernard Ouchard, the last historical French master. Upon graduation, he opened his own studio in Paris in 1976.

He was the youngest person ever nominated Meilleur Ouvrier de France in the history of the competition (Best Artisan of France) and in 1983, he received the rare national title of Maitre Archetier d'Art. During this time, Lord Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Slava Rostropovitch, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Stephane Grapelli and other leading musicians became familiar visitors to Mr. Rolland’s studio and his bows were played in major orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Rolland relocated his studio to the Island of Bréhat in 1982 where he developed many of the techniques that sustain his artistry. With his knowledge of bow making and music, research into synthetic materials versus wood structures from the world of sailing, and self-study in science and technology, he conceived the first carbon fiber bow of concert quality. He also invented a new tension mechanism that allows the performer to adjust the camber of the bow. The bows embodying this invention were awarded First Prize Musicora in 1994 (also selected for Musicora Anniversary, 2004), and are distributed under the trademark Spiccato®.

Recently, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum honored Rolland's bow making as a Contemporary Art form combining music and sculpture. His clients range from leading soloists—including Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma, Yoo-Jun Jang, In Mo Yang, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lynn Harrell, Miriam Fried, Christian Tetzlaff, and Julia Fischer—to orchestra players and collectors.

In 1999, Rolland designed the curriculum for the first bow-making school in the United States. In 2005, the International Convention of Masters Violin and Bow Makers (Entente) asked Benoît to speak of the foundations of bow making in the 20th century. He is a member of the EILA, VSA, and IPCI.

With his wife, the painter Christine Arveil, he established his studio in Boston in 2001 and serendipitously, Benoît completed his 1,200th wood bow on March 16, 2007, exactly 30 years after his first. In 2013, his Galliane® frog, setting the hair at an ergonomic angle, advanced the playing potential of the bow. On July 16th 2017, Maestro Andris Nelson conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra with a new Benoît Rolland baton, created with techniques he has developed over a lifetime of bow making.

Benoît Rolland, bow maker