“When trying out some of Mr. Cox’s violins I felt I wasn’t educated enough to choose the right one. But when I played his Guadagnini copy, it sounded like I was playing an old instrument. It was a really good feeling. Having an instrument like this gives me confidence technically and musically, and inspires me.”
From Havana, Cuba to Carnegie-Mellon School of Fine Arts
As a young child, Sandro Leal-Santiesteban accompanied his mother, a pianist, to rehearsals and lessons. He heard the Franck sonata for violin and piano at one such rehearsal and fell in love with the violin. He started lessons at 7 years old.
In 1999, when Sandro was 16, Benjamin Zander went on tour to Cuba with the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra to perform with his school orchestra in Havana. When Sandro saw the level of commitment in the American kids, he realized that he needed to leave Cuba and study in the US. It was a challenge on many levels, especially since relations between the US and Cuba are so poor; but he was lucky to be granted a visa in 2001, and he came to Boston to study with Marylou Speaker Churchill (1945-2009).
Before coming to the States, Sandro never had the chance to play a good violin. He had a poor instrument with no projection, and a bow held together with scotch tape.
It was through the generosity of the Douglas Cox Scholarship program and a family friend, the Hon. Patrick J. King (Ret.), that Sandro was able to purchase violin #428, a Guadagnini bench copy dated 2000. With that violin he did his bachelor's degree at Eastman School of Music; was sub-listed at the New World Symphony; was chosen as a semi-finalist at the Sphinx Competition; and received his master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University's School of Fine Arts. He says, "I don’t think I would have succeeded at these endeavors without the Guad."
However, his first two attempts at the Carnegie Mellon Concerto Competition were not successful. His teacher at Carnegie-Mellon, Mr. Cyrus Forough, suggested that he needed a more powerful instrument with more personality. He introduced Sandro to Douglas Cox's violin #503, a copy of Eric Rosenblith's Stradivarius. Paul and Lynda Becker at Carl Becker and Son, Ltd. kindly allowed Sandro to use #503 in when he entered the concerto competition for the third time. He played the Ranjbaran Violin Concerto, a contemporary piece that required a lot of tone projection, and this time won first prize. Paul Becker then helped to engineer the swap of #428, the Guadagnini model, for #503, the Rosenblith Strad model.
About his relationship with Marylou Churchill, Sandro writes, "Marylou Churchill gave me a different perspective to look through music. Every time I had a lesson with her she would say to me, “you have to love it [the violin, music]”, and I did. Marylou was a person with so much love to offer for everyone. Ever since I met this extraordinary human being it was like discovering the violin and music all over again. My career would not have been the same without her."
Sandro performed the Pittsburgh premiere of the Ranjbaran Violin Concerto with the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic on his Douglas Cox Strad #503. The #428 Guadagnini bench copy will be available through Carl Becker and Son, Ltd. in Chicago.