Born and educated in France, where he began making bows 49 years ago, Benoît Rolland now works and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. A musician and master artisan, Benoît dedicated his life to music and and to the advancement of the art of bow making.Bestowed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and a MacArthur Fellow, alongside talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits, Benoît practices bow making as a philosophy as much as a skill.
With perfect pitch, he learned to read and write music as his first language alongside French.¬† Before turning to the vocation of bow making, music performance was an integral part of his life. He developed early musical skills at the piano, practicing the instrument rigorously since age five under the mentoring of pianist Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, his grandmother. She was a close friend to Olivier Messiaen, whose music profoundly impressed Benoît. After the piano, he studied the violin, and graduated from the Conservatoires de Paris and Versailles with a focus on violin and music theory at the age of sixteen. Later on, he studied composition at the Schola Cantorum. As a young violinist, he learned that a bow can influence the behavior of both the violin and the player.
Mirecourt and Paris
Joining the Bow-Making school of Mirecourt in 1971, Benoît studied under Bernard Ouchard, the last historical French master. With enthusiasm, 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 to be nominated Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Artisan of France). In 1983, he received the national title of Maitre Archetier d'Art (Master of Art in Bow Making). Lord Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Slava Rostropovitch, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Stephane Grapelli became familiar sights at Rolland's studio. From then on, his bows have been played in the major orchestras in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Island of Bréhat
Rolland retreated to the Island of Bréhat in 1982. This secluded place allowed him the focus needed for his artistic evolution. During his six-year period there, he developed many of the techniques that consistently sustained his bow making.
Bow making carries a tradition of innovation as well as creation. In Bréhat, Benoît researched new forms of bows intended to advance the art and preserve environmental resources. A concern arising then was the rarefaction of pernambuco wood, which had long been identified as the best possible wood for bowmaking. Benoît sought a substitutive material. Building upon his knowledge as a bow maker and teaching himself science and technology, he embarked on fifteen years of research. An avid sailor, he used marine technology from the sailing world to conceive the first carbon fiber bow of concert quality. Advancing further, he invented a tension mechanism that allows the performer to adjust the camber of the bow at will. These bows 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, and was part of the International Symposium of Physics of the Music, in Washington DC, 2005.
Together with his wife, painter Christine Arveil, they established studios in Boston in 2001. Benoît never ceased to create classical pernambuco bows; in 2000 he made his wood bow number 1000. In 2004, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum featured Rolland's bow-making as a Contemporary Art form combining music and sculpture. A Wall Street Journal editorial introduced the Rolland Bows to the business world. The bows Josef Suk called “fantastic” continued to captivate new generations of star string players such as Lynn Harrell, Christian Tetzlaff, Julia Fischer, InMo Yang, and Yoojin Jang.
Combining the scientific approach he developed for his carbon-fiber bows with his artistic proclivities, he began to compare the techniques of the French school of bowmaking to some of the finest historical bows, studying their qualities both before and after the industrial revolution. This novel perspective allowed him to gain a new understanding to design bows that achieve a particular sound or style of playing, his new Signature line of bows since 2008.¬† In addition to his¬† research, the evolution of his understanding of the musical importance of the bow was influenced throughout his career by performances and conversations with soloists: Lord Menuhin, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Miriam Fried, and Yo-Yo Ma in particular. Benoît's bows are sought after by collectors as well as musicians. They increasingly appear at international auctions, reaching prices that rival historical bows.
Alongside his making of bows, Benoît continued prototyping innovations.In 2013, his Galliane® frog proposes a fundamental evolution of the classical bow, by setting the hair at an ergonomic angle that follows the musician's natural wrist movement and increases the playability of the bow. On July 16th 2017, Maestro Andris Nelson conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra with the new baton that Benoît had designed, extending his musical concept from the bow to the baton.
Benoît documents the French School of Bow-Making, and shares his knowledge through lectures, master classes, and articles. In 1999, Rolland designed the curriculum for the first bow-making school in the United States. In 2019, he gave the opening lecture at the Tanglewood Learning Institute. He is a member of the EILA, VSA, and IPCI, and serves on juries for international competitions. Benoît Rolland also helps foundations and programs dedicated to young thriving musicians. He has a family of four children.¬† Rolland's proficiency at bridging the past tradition to modern times continues to make him a pioneer in the bow making field.