Saturday, June 23, 2012

Interesting Music Stories: Rena Weishaar, female luthier & other stories

Here are some interesting stories about violins -- excerpted from an artfully-written article on Rena Weishaar, a great female luthier -- in the LA Times:

Only wood could explain the mysteries of this centuries-old craft, how Antonio Stradivari created masterpieces that improved in tone over 250 years, creating the ultimate voice for the works of great composers. And it is the nature of this craft that laureled makers die before their instruments, as the mother dies before the child. They never realize how time and virtuosity slowly bring forth full measure of their creations.
The wood could tell stories of legendary musicians and thieves, of a man named Erich Gruenberg, whose Stradivari violin was stolen as he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 24, 1990. His words expressed death-like devastation. "It is irreplaceable," he said. "It is my life." Police found it nine months later in Honduras.
It could tell the story of Julian Altman, a strolling violinist at a Russian restaurant in New York--how he entered nearby Carnegie Hall wearing a bulky overcoat and stole the Strad of Bronislaw Huberman while Huberman performed the Bach Concerto in E Major on another violin. Forty-nine years later, on his deathbed, Altman confessed his secret.
And it could tell the story of Vahan Bedelian, who in 1915 was to be sent to what is now the Syrian desert, where 1.5 million Armenians perished in an act of Turkish genocide. He defended himself not with gun nor sword. On the eve of his anticipated journey to death, Bedelian picked up his violin and performed mournfully and passionately before a Turkish general, who listened, then approached him with champagne and these words: "A talent like you we need. You should not be sent to the desert."
His life spared, Bedelian lived to teach the violin to many, including his son, Haroutune, who was accepted into London's Royal Academy of Music at age 15. For this son, Rena Weisshaar will make a violin, in part with this Bosnian maple, from ground now stained by blood of war and ashes of precious trees.
To make a violin is to walk a tightrope. disaster lurks with each step, with each millimeter. Each instrument is a journey fraught with unknowns. Expectations are high, but heartbreak is not far away.
The wedge-shaped maple slabs, 16.5 inches long and each barely half the width of a violin back, must be glued together seamlessly, thick ends in the center to allow for arching. When troublesome, the task can take a full day and reduce one to tears.
The wood begins with square corners and is systematically transformed into circular shapes. The two slabs of maple make up only the back of the violin. In all, 58 separate pieces compose this instrument, working together to transmit a precise traffic of vibrations.
Typically, Rena can complete an instrument with 300 hours' work. But to a violin maker, time is both meaningless and sublime. To spend a month making a feeble instrument is a wasted month. To spend a year or a lifetime making an excellent instrument, one that may produce superior sound for decades or centuries, is time well spent. The hours do not matter. "What's important," she says, "is that you feel it has been done right."
Read the entire article here: