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A Century-Old ‘Complex Challenge:’ Thomastik-Infeld Celebrates 100 Years of String-Making

Victoria Wasylak • FeaturesOctober 2019 • October 4, 2019

A few years ago, MMR dedicated significant coverage to American MI companies – both retailers and suppliers – who had joined the “Century Club.” This October, MMR turns our attention across the seas to focus on an Austrian institution: Thomastik-Infeld, which celebrates 100 years in operation this fall. MMR chatted with owner and CEO Zdenka Infeld about the company’s massive legacy and production (4.2 million strings annually!) and their ongoing work in music education. Read on about Thomastik-Infeld’s history of strong female leaders, years of fine-tuning their craft, and their newest endeavors for 2019.

You received the NAMM Milestone award earlier this year. What was that like?

Zdenka Infeld: The NAMM Milestone Awards were presented by NAMM CEO Joe Lamond on the last day of NAMM 2019 ahead of Saturday’s NAMM U Breakfast Session – at 7am! So, it was quite an early wake-up call for [myself] and marketing director Nina Haberlehner, who accepted the award in Anaheim. Thank God for coffee! But all joking aside, of course it was truly an honor to be awarded and to see Thomastik-Infeld’s 100th anniversary of perseverance and passion being appreciated. 100 years of innovative string development and production is a huge milestone for us, and we were thrilled to experience Thomastik-Infeld’s services to the music industry being awarded alongside other outstanding companies!

Do you have any special plans – events, or new products – for this major anniversary?

In terms of spreading our 100-year experience and unparalleled expertise, Thomastik-Infeld will be concentrating on making information and string knowledge more accessible through different platforms. Very few people know how much technology and know-how is involved in the string production process. To produce a high-performance string as ours takes not only a great deal of time, but also physics, corrosion science, tool technology, precision engineering, and craftmanship, and this is what we want to inform and educate musicians about. Also, we want to reach out to a bigger audience and share our expertise about the sensitive interplay between musician, instrument, string, bow, and rosin. Thomastik-Infeld is determined to make more of this information available online. With the creation of new communication channels, we seek not only to secure our position as a one-of-a-kind string manufacturer but are also taking an active role as a knowledge expert with 100 years of experience. So, 2019 has been an exciting year for Thomastik-Infeld and an anniversary which will resonate for many years!

What do you think specifically has helped Thomastik-Infeld reach the one century mark?

Developing and producing high-performance music strings is a complex challenge. The very core of every string is not only years of development, but also technical innovation, and in our case, 100 years of experience. Thomastik-Infeld strings are much more than strands of beautiful sound. They are state-of-the-art high-tech products that combine physics, materials and corrosion science, tool technology, and precision engineering. This is our basis for a competitive advantage as there is no differentiation without outstanding product features. Thomastik-Infeld strings provide the vastest spectrum of sound colors of all music strings available and are known for their quality and longevity. They support the musician, his instrument, and each individual playing style, and thus increase expressive possibilities and, of course, the joy of playing itself.

Also, working closely with international musicians has always been key for our ongoing development. International artists who have been playing Thomastik-Infeld strings for years are regularly visiting the string engineers in Vienna to give feedback and support the development process, but also to get firsthand consultation on how to improve the sound of their instrument. Therefore, an endorsement program has traditionally been an integral part of the company and we’re happy to call soloists like Hilary Hahn, Glenn Dicterow, or Ray Chen, but also quartets like the Quartetto di Cremona part of the Thomastik-Infeld family.

What’s important to mention is the major influence women had on the company’s ongoing success throughout the years. Margaretha Infeld, mother of the late founder Peter Infeld, was not only responsible for the naming of the Dominant string but also played an integral part in bringing this initially scoffed-at string to international fame. Today, Thomastik-Infeld employs 216 people of which 78 percent are female – most of them work in production departments and quality management and create legends like the Dominant with trained hands and a probing eye.

What were some major achievements for Thomastik-Infeld throughout the history of the company?

The company’s unique string inventions have changed the music world multiple times already: The release of the first steel wire core strings, later to be known as Präzision, took place in the early 1920s, followed by the invention of strings with a game-changing steel rope core, Superflexible, in 1950. Only 10 years later, 1960, Thomastik-Infeld created outstanding strings with a unique flexible spiral rope core: Spirocore. 1970 marked the year of the biggest string revolution so far: The creation of Dominant! Up to this day, this synthetic core violin string is meeting musicians’ demands worldwide and continues to be the most played and famous string in the world. And rest assured we won’t be stopping working on outstanding string revolutions!

What are your biggest markets, currently?

Thomastik-Infeld produces 4.2 million strings each year. While the biggest markets for us remain the U.S., Japan, and China, we supply over 85 countries worldwide and have an export rate of 94 percent. That makes it even more important for us to educate and inform ourselves about characteristics of different markets, target groups and their cultures. For example, sound perception differs from country to country and needs to be kept in mind as well. Just like the taste of wine, a single tone can be perceived unequally beautiful, depending on the individual cultural background and mother tongue. Also, just as fashion trends, the music industry faces changing preferences every now and then as well. Therefore, we as string developers have to work closely with musicians and listen carefully to their input. When it comes to distributing our strings, it is important to stay up to date on market developments and to find the right partners in time. Since we work closely with distributors, we rely on their experience as well. Good relationships with other manufacturers are also important to us and we always take time for a face-to-face talk and discussion at trade fairs or conferences.

What new products would you like to highlight for our readers?

We are extremely proud to announce that Thomastik-Infeld endorsing artist Zlatomir Fung has been awarded first prize at the 2019 Tchaikovsky Cello Competition – playing on Thomastik-Infeld’s Versum Solo set VES400. These outstanding strings are in a league of their own, offering unprecedented possibilities of combining color, sound, and texture and designed for profound power, ideal response and optimal projection. Moreover, the second prize in the cello category of the Tchaikovsky Competition was presented to Thomastik-Infeld artist Santiago Canon-Valencia who played on prototype strings of the new Rondo cello set which will be available by the end of 2019.

In addition, we would like to mention our Alphayue line – the number one choice for aspiring artists. Developed to satisfy the demands of ambitious musicians while supporting students of any level, these strings were designed to experience the joy in playing. Alphayue strings were initially created for students, but unlike other beginners’ products, Alphayue meets the highest standards of our string philosophy – just like any other Thomastik-Infeld string. Thus, they provide outstanding response, great left hand feeling and excellent sound color. Alphayue strings improve the sound of even the most basic student instruments, thus the sound of the orchestra as well. Alphayue is available for violin, viola and cello in sizes 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and (for Alphayue violin) even 1/16.

What about your contributions to music education?

In the U.S., Thomastik-Infeld is a sponsor of ASTA, Suzuki, and other education-focused efforts. We sponsor Mimi Zweig’s “String Pedagogy” website which gives top-level video direction on how to teach strings – focusing on engaging the physical, psychological and the musical abilities of the player. Previously her lessons were a pay service in order to handle the overhead, but we sponsor it to make it accessible to teachers (and students – or parents) – for free: www.stringpedagogy.com. It’s a pretty amazing resource and spreads Mimi’s acclaimed methods so teacher and players can up their game – and most importantly fuels Mimi’s mission of providing top level direction to all.

In addition, we at Thomastik-Infeld concentrate on making our string expertise available as well and put great effort in creating new platforms to share our insights in the intensive interplay between musician, instrument, string, bow, and rosin as well as sharing information on string science and tool technology. Thomastik-Infeld also plays an active role in youth musical education and regularly offers scholarships, masterclasses and workshops to numerous institutions or non-profit organizations. We regularly support different music competitions like the Antonio Vivaldi International Competition and the CIMA Competition and sponsor music festivals such as Allegro Vivo, ESTA Cremona, Musicalta, and Musicfest Canada. Also, we give string donations to schools in Costa Rica and Bolivia, which otherwise could not provide a high-quality music education.

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