SFS Assistant Concertmaster Jeremy Constant reflects on the joys of creating something with his hands, both as a violinist and airplane builder.
SFS member since: 1984
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
On being in an orchestra: What made me first love orchestral playing was this idea of having more than 100 people working toward exactly the same thing—the performance can spontaneously change and the orchestra will still be together. It’s the closest thing we have to telepathy. Playing in an orchestra is an inherently uplifting activity and I’m very grateful that I’m able to make a living doing something that I view as a fundamentally positive endeavor.
Other interests: I got my pilot’s license in 1996, and have since built my own airplane. It is an experimental Vans RV7A that took 7 1/2 years to complete and it passed the FAA inspection, receiving its airworthiness certificate in November of 2010. It’s been a blast, and a huge project. My wife and I have been getting very involved in bird photography and have been discovering the treasure trove of wildlife refuges close to home. Having the airplane expands "close to home," however! Recently, we flew non-stop from the Bay Area to Dinosaur National Monument, on the border of Utah and Colorado (about four hours each way).
Music and flying: Musical performance and flying a plane are similarly all-encompassing. And there’s certainly risk in both, though as Flying magazine writer Lane Wallace observed “In performance you may feel like you could die, but in the end, unlike flying, it’s a death you can live with.” A lot of people focus on the risks, but both activities are about feeling joy.
Constant describes the connection between orchestral musicians as "the closest thing we have to telepathy."
A special violin: After buying my violin (an 1850 J.B. Vuillaume, del Gesù model), among its papers was a letter from Hill and Sons in London stating that it had been the favorite violin of the late David McCallum. The only David McCallum I knew of was the actor who played Ilya Kuryakin on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. A few months after buying it, Sir Neville Mariner was conducting the SFS and I was acting concertmaster. He glanced at my violin and exclaimed “I know that violin!” Apparently David McCallum, Sr. was an eminent British orchestral violinist and had been Thomas Beecham’s concertmaster in the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic. After many months of trying to get in touch with David McCallum, Jr., I got a lovely email from him saying he would like to meet. It took a while before our schedules lined up, but he very graciously drove to our hotel while we were on tour in Los Angele and he was on break from shooting N.C.I.S. I showed him the instrument and played it for him and he was clearly pleased to see it and hear it again. It was really great to meet such a gracious man and to connect the history of my violin to its past. It occurs to me now that in the tradition of naming violins after well deserving former players, this violin should now be christened the “ex-McCallum Vuillaume.”
A side note: After some more research it turns out that Mr. McCallum, Sr. was also an in demand studio violinist and was concertmaster for the sessions for the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and possibly other Beatles tracks. I got to play some of the violin solos when the Beatles tribute group Classical Mystery Tour played with the SFS last summer, and it just felt right to be playing the Beatles' music on the original instrument.
Constant in his hand-built Vans RV-7A airplane, Stella Luna.
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Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102
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