Mirecourt and Paris
Joining the Bow-Making school of Mirecourt in 1971,
Benoît learned bow making from
Bernard Ouchard, the last historical French master.
With the discernment of an educated young man backing
the respect and love he had for his master and
the history he represented, Benoît absorbed every
detail of the four years of traditional apprenticeship.
Upon graduating from Mirecourt, Benoît returned to
Paris, where he opened his own studio in 1976, on rue
de Laborde. He soon became the youngest person ever
nominated Meilleur Ouvrier de France in the history of
the competition (Best Artisan of France). He received
in 1983 the rare national title of Maitre Archetier
d'Art. As International awards followed, Lord Menuhin,
Arthur Grumiaux, Slava Rostropovitch, Christian
Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Stephane Grapelli and other
leading musicians became familiar sights at Rolland's
studio. The bows were played in the major orchestras
in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Island of Bréhat
Aware of the difficulty of refining his art in the business
environment of a capital city, Rolland
retreated to the Island of Bréhat in 1982. This
secluded place allowed an artistic evolution and a
quality of production unattained in Paris. He
developed there, during a six-year period, many of the
techniques that consistently sustained his bow making.
Bow making carries a tradition of innovation as well
as creation. In Bréhat, in the early eighties, Benoît
researched new forms of bows intended to advance
the art and preserve environmental resources. A
concern arising then was rarefaction of pernambuco
wood, long identified as the best possible wood for
bowmaking. Benoît sought a substitutive material.
Building upon his knowledge as a bow maker and as a
musician, acquiring knowledge of synthetic materials
versus wood structures in the boat sailing world
familiar to him, and teaching himself science and
technology, he embarked on fifteen years of exhausting
but successful research. Initially using marine
technology, he conceived the first carbon fiber bow of concert quality.
Bringing the project one step further, he invented a
new generation of bows including a tension mechanism
that allows the performer to adjust at will 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®. Lord Menuhin, Jaime
Laredo, Heinrich Schiff, Jean-Luc Ponty and Christian Tetzlaff endorsed
this revolutionary concept. As the first maker to
develop carbon-fiber bows with a playability rivaling
pernambuco wood, Benoît Rolland led the field
towards a deeper understanding of the carbon’s
potential. He now offers his expertise on cutting edge
bows technology. Benoît was part of the
International Symposium of Physics of the Music, in
Washington DC, 2005.
Nonetheless, wood, this alive element, has always called to
Benoît. He never ceased to create classical
pernambuco bows; in 2000 he made his wood bow number
1,000 and returned to studying the old masters. He
started anew and searched for questions still
pending in the French tradition of bow making. Since
2001 he has understood several parameters that give
him a novel grasp on designing bows that
accomplish a chosen sound and a determined playing style.
Recently, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, honored Rolland's
bow-making as a Contemporary Art form combining music
and sculpture. His clients range from professionals
and worldwide soloists to collectors investing in his
bows. A Wall Street Journal editorial introduced the Rolland Bows to the business world. Long after Josef Suk
called Rolland bows “fantastic”, they captivate yet
other generations of star string players like Anne-Sophie Mutter,
Lynn Harrell, Miriam Fried, Christian Tetzlaff and Julia Fischer.
Benoît gives time to establishing the importance of
French School of Bow-Making through time. He
researches and writes about it, and shares his knowledge
through lectures (in music schools, instrument making
circles, or for the public), master classes and articles.
Benoît Rolland has taught many
apprentices of the new international generation of bow
makers; several of them have already won gold medals
in competitions. 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. Benoît Rolland also helps
Foundations’ programs dedicated to young thriving
musicians. Himself has a family of four children, now all young adults.
His two daughters, Jeanne and Marie live in France; Damien and Sonia are in the United States.
With his wife, the painter Christine Arveil, he
established his studio to Boston in 2001, where he
continues to write music and create bows for great
musicians. By a stroke of serendipity, Benoît signed his 1,200th wood bow on March 16, 2007, exactly 30 years after marking number one for the collector Jean Trible. Previously he had already made roughly 300 bows over six years, 1971-1977. Rolland's proficiency at bridging the past to modern times continues leading the way to new ground.
2007 and 2008 were years of intense work: Benoit created a new line of Pernambuco bows, named Signature. His new concept emerged from a stimulating dialogue with Vadim Repin and Lynn Harrell. The Signature bows offer an extended playing and sound potential; they complement the wide range of playing styles that the Rolland bows already proposed. Benoit signs these rare bows with his hand engraved signature in addition to the branded mark, a feature that is a first in the history of bow making.
Parallel to this breakthrough in traditional making, Benoit continued prototyping a new innovative bow.
In 2008, the Museum of Making Music, San Diego, hosted an 8-month exhibition around the violin. Both Rolland pernambuco bows and the Spiccato bow were featured in this event.
In March 2009, Sothesby’s London auctioned 4 Rolland bows as part of the estate of a collector; the gold mounted violin bow made by Benoit in 1987 broke a record: for the first time on the auction market, a modern bow was reaching a higher value than a Sartory and a FN Voirin.