Dear friend and talented visual artist, Marín Amuchástegui came to Toronto this winter and left me with this stunning video of my winter routines and inspiring memories of his visit.
This year’s Oberlin Workshop attracted the usual team of outstanding violin makers from around the world, plus some new remarkable colleagues we were very pleased to welcome.
These workshops are a well established tradition since 1997, ever since under the direction of Christopher Germain.
In addition to daily lectures, meetings with the Acoustics Group, exchanges with the bowmakers team and concerts, this Workshop’s edition orbited around two enlightening projects.
The Doyen Project
Conducted by Gabor Draskóczy and Philip Ihle, this project undertook the construction of the violin "Doyen" Guarneri Del Gesu. Applying, in 2018, the tools, techniques and philosophy used by Guarnerius himself in the 18th century, Gabor and Philip made a copy of this heritage instrument. It was an impressive work of hands-on historical reconstruction and skill development, informed by exhaustive research and documentation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the participants worked collaboratively in the execution of a second copy with Benjamin Ruth as lead of the group. We managed to finish both instruments in time for a demonstration in which I played with Hans Pluhar Bach’s double Concerto, Rebeca Elliot at the piano, bringing these two copies to life.
The collaborative construction of the Obialto Viola we undertook together last year, came to a conclusion in this edition of the workshop. Raymond Schyer and Bill Scott walked us step by step through the varnishing process presenting their leading research on varnishes and techniques.
Glass Scrapping Tools
Amongst the most remarkable lectures and demonstrations, Sofia Vittori from Florence shared with us how a scrapping technique and tools were developed by his family of violin makers generations ago during the steel shortages of the Second World War. The tools are glass scrappers made from different glass objects, such as glasses, bottles, pieces of windows, etc. Her grand father started making them to keep going instrument production when steel accessories became scarce. These scrappers are cut in a wide variety of shapes and sizes according to the area or piece to be scrapped.
The lecture actually turned into a workshop in which we learned how to cut the glass from whatever glass we had available, and to try scrapping instruments we were making at the time. Some of us found useful the precision and finesse of a glass edge for these jobs.
This was another experience filled with history.
I can barely express how enriching and enlightening are these workshops every year, and how much I am looking forward to meeting again next year with such an exceptional team of violin makers.
J’ai eu l’occasion de participer aux deux lancements du nouveau disque du violoncelliste Mexicain Gustavo Martin, intitulé Monólogos. Les lancements se sont tenus à la ville de Gatineau, Québec, le 27 septembre dernier à l’école de l’Université Nationale Autonome du Mexique (UNAM), et le 28 septembre au Conservatoire de musique de Gatineau.
Monologues est un enregistrement de musique mexicaine pour concert de violoncelle solo. Le répertoire de l’album est étroitement lié à Ines, un violoncelle construit par moi à Toronto en 2011.
Ce fut un grand plaisir pour moi d’expliquer le processus de fabrication de l’instrument alors que Gustavo interprétait alternativement les œuvres de ces extraordinaires compositrices et compositeurs mexicains tels que María Granillo, Alexis Aranda, Diana Syrse, Enrique Santos, Lucía Álvarez, Leticia Cuen, Leticia Armijo et Daniel Martínez.
J’ai particulièrement apprécié le travail d’interprétation visuel et textuel des étudiants de la classe de Mme. Anne Contant, professeur de violoncelle au Conservatoire, qui ont créé des textes et des dessins inspirés des œuvres interpretées. Merci Mme. Contant !
J’aimerais également remercier à l’École de l’UNAM au Canada pour avoir organisé ces deux présentations ainsi que pour le chaleureux accueil.
Un gros remercîment également à Gustavo Martin, grand violoncelliste et magnifique ami, qui fait honneur à mon instrument, Inés.
Until September 30th, all donations to this association will be counted towards a bow rehair up to 100 % of the amount of the rehair. The association is devoted to searching for victims under the debris of collapsed buildings in Mexico City after yesterday's earthquake, and giving first aid.
The donations will be counted as follows:
- Violin / viola $85 CA
- Cello $95
Please bring your bow along with the donation receipt.
Donations are valid until September 30th, 2017, but you can bring the bow and receipt any time you want until September next year.
A big thank you to Gabriel Ramírez and Cynthia Basulto for the interview and the documentary. Big surprise to see it interpreted into sign language!
This year’s Oberlin Violin Makers Workshop marked the 20th anniversary of this extraordinary event who's visionary director is Christopher Germain.
More than 60 colleagues selected from a pool of international applicants gathered for this intensive, two-week retreat around the fabrication of a specific instrument, blind tests, talks, concerts, and of course, social activities and reinvigorated friendships.
The specific instrument created by each one of us for this workshop was a viola. The whole project was called “Obialto 2017”: Ob(erlin)-alto (viola). Thus, all the violas received this common name. Since the 2016 edition of the workshop, participants were given a unique model of instrument to construct through the year and to present it in this edition. We were also asked to keep track of all the data generated through the construction in order to compare processes and final products in the meeting.
All the data went into a complex software, and each instrument underwent a construction examination, a blind test and a frequency test to further feed the software with more data.The comparisons, comments and data generated are an incredible source of information about our own construction processes and techniques—not to mention an enduring learning experience.
This “Obialto” project was conceived and organized by Andreas Hampel, and also made possible by Claudia Fritz and Sam Zygmantowicz, who were in charge of the blind and acoustic tests, as well as by Yi Ping Yang, in charge of the recordings. I’m deeply grateful to them.
Another staple of this gathering was the copy of this original Stradivarius (Jackson, 1714) by Antoine Nedelec and Jeff Phillips. The instrument was constructed at this event on 2016 and finalized this year. Tested acoustically and compared side by side, the instrument of these two world-class makers was as astonishing as this historic master-piece—yet another evidence that although history and tradition can’t be replicated, quality of construction and power of sound can even surpass them.
In addition to the luthiers’ presentations, the lecture series of this year was most enlightening. The program included Raphaël Thirion on bois d’harmonie, Steve Sirr on violin CT scanning, Tom Croen on wolf tones, Sam Zygmontowicz on bridges, Kae Sato on instrument design, Feng Jiang on ff holes, and Joe Robson on varnish.
Finally, beyond the official program and professional activities, it was a delight to be part of all the social gatherings, excursions, music improvisations, dancing, banquets and retrouvailles. I am very much looking forward to continuing strengthen bonds with such creative and exciting colleagues in the next edition of the Workshop.
Toronto, Koerner Hall, January 14th, 2017. I just wanted to extend my big thanks to Emanuel Euvrard for the amazing and very professional job he is doing in promoting violin and bow making in Canada and the world. This is an unprecedented endeavor in Canada that helps us all in many ways--not only by providing more visibility to our work but also by raising consciousness about this profession.
As always, I particularly enjoyed and learnt from the encounters and discussions with my fellow colleagues, makers and musicians alike. So wonderful to catch up with all!
I am very much looking forward to the next Forum in Markham on January 29th.
On January 14th, 2017, don't miss this opportunity to see, play and acquire instruments from Canadian and international violin and bow makers.
I'll be happy to meet musicians and friends at the Koerner Hall to show them my latest creations.
This year I became an active member of the Oberlin Violin Makers Workshop (OVMW), for which I feel grateful and proud.
The OVMW is a major event and organization in the world of violin making, with legendary figures of the field such as Christopher Germain, Bill Scott, Sam Zygmuntowicz or David Gusset. Violin makers are selected from around the world to become permanent participants. They work through the year in common projects and gather once a year at Oberlin College to finish it and compare results.
This year's meeting was a pretty intensive learning experience and a great opportunity to work together with world class makers. We all worked in specific projects, sharing ideas, techniques and feedback on each step of the process. In my case, the project was a violin that will latter be exhibited at the annual convention of the Violin Society of America.
The project for the next year's meeting will be a viola built on a specific mould we were given. The goal is to have 50 violas built (one for each participant) that can be compared acoustically, visually and by the data recorded by each maker through the process.
I'll be working on it shortly!
I’m getting these two instruments ready for the Cuvée Darling 2016 Amsterdam Exhibition of string instruments and their bows.
The event will take place at the Splendor Music Hall and the Uilenburger Synagoge in Amsterdam, from May 5ft to May 7th.
It will encompass a bow making competition and an instrument exhibition featuring the latest creations from selected luthiers around the world.
I will be participating in the exhibition with a new violin and a viola.
For more details click on the picture or visit here.
I'm looking forward to Chris McKhool's participation at the Toronto Violin Summit. Chris will be performing with a five string violin that I have recently made from one of my standard four string violins.Read More
Cuauhtémoc Rivera, one of the most renowned Mexican violinists, soloist with many symphony orchestras in Latin America and Europe, and a graduate from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Moscow, offered a recital to celebrate the acquisition of his new violin, Altazor. The violin was commissioned to me in January 2015 and was handed to him just a couple of days before the event.
I was very pleased to work with such an insightful and receptive musician all through the processes of selecting the model, the woods and the finish of his new instrument.
The recital was held at the auditorium of the Alliance Française – San Angel, in Mexico City, on December 15th, 2015. I was invited to give the opening remarks and to talk about the process of fabrication of this particular instrument.
I am very grateful to Maestro Rivera for sharing with colleagues, friends, and the audience in general what usually is a rather private ceremony—the first contact with a new instrument—and for transforming it into a musical celebration.
I’m also very grateful to the great pianist Yolanda Martínez, and to the very promising young violinist David Rivera, for being part of this recital.
The program consisted of three sonatas for violin and piano, by Janáček, Haendel and Poulenc, as well of works by Bartók, Berio and Pärt.
This bridge of mine has been featured in the website violinbridges.co.uk, in the UK.
It is an amazing website that provides detailed analysis of hundreds of bridges. They follow a rigorous methodology for the analysis of each piece, and reveal every detail about its properties, measurements, technique and aesthetics. The full analysis is available for subscribers, but anyone can browse the catalog.
The collection is an incredible source of inspiration for anyone in the art and business of crafting and mounting bridges. It includes pieces from legendary makers as well as the work of contemporary luthiers.
"The largest online photographic archive of violin, viola and cello bridges. We now have 1055 bridges with their measurements uploaded from some of the finest makers, restorers and dealers of our time, spanning 28 countries."
“But it’s just a bridge!”, right?
Many times, musicians are surprised for the amount of time and work involved in replacing or adjusting a "simple" bridge. “They sell them in stores, so you just have to adjust it and/or replace it”, is a frequent belief.
In fact, it’s quite different. Bridges are responsible for transferring string vibrations to the body of the instrument, which in turn will project the sound to the exterior. This means that they are responsible for the amount and distribution of sound that the body will be handling. It could be the best Stradivarius, yet without a properly chosen bridge, precisely adjusted and mounted, the sound will be poor.
Bridges are also a core structural component of the instrument, bearing and distributing several pounds of weigh generated by the tension of the strings plus the friction of the bow. They are bridges, after all. An unprofessional installation is very likely to produce major damage to the top board and the assemblage of the instrument.
In terms of music performance, a properly adjusted bridge can significantly ease the playing of double string passages, and hugely contribute to a clear and clean sound, making the most of a good technique.
From choosing the right bridge for a specific instrument, to adjusting the sound post (more on sound posts soon), to installing the strings, the process is pretty much like an open spine surgery for your instrument. An experienced maker, however, will perform it successfully.
In these pictures I have documented some steps involved in the replacement of a cello bridge. I hope they are illustrative.
This year’s Forum des fabricants, held at the Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur de Montreal, was a stimulating gathering of more than forty bow and violin makers from North America and Europe, as well as some of the top performers from Canada.
The exhibition included the latest creations of contemporary makers, including violins, violas, cellos, and their bows.
One of the signature items on the program was the concert performed by the concert-masters of the two major Symphony Orchestras of Canada, the Toronto Symphony and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal: Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, respectively. They closed their intervention with Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins in C Major. It is a rare privilege to listen life this outstanding, yet hardly ever performed master piece played by violinists of this caliber. The musical complicity and richness of tinges was mesmerizing.
Another featured activity of the exhibition was the lecture “The influence of the bow on the sound of an instrument” and the sonority test done by Frédéric Lambert. The ears of musicians and makers alike were challenged to note the differences among eight possible matches between two violas and four bows.
I participated in this event with two of my latest creations—the viola Maria and the violin Alice.
I am very thankful to Emanuel Euvrard and the Wilder & Davis team for the excellent organization of this event.
The exhibited instruments and bows are available at the Wilder & Davies Luthiers shop in Montréal until January 31, 2015.
I'll be very happy to participate again in the Forum des fabricants, an exhibition of international bow and violin makers. The event is held in Montreal, December 6th, 2014.
A great opportunity to catch up with my colleagues from Europe and North America, as well as to meet new musicians and makers.
Merci beaucoup Wilder & Davis pour l'invitation!
It took place in Indianapolis this year. It was a great experience to participate with one instrument and to play and examine so many new creations and approaches to construction from violin and bow makers from around the world.
It was particularly amazing to see again my old friends and have fun with them. Congratulations guys, you deserve each one of your mentions and medals!
So proud of my friends!