Builders of sound

Passed down through generations, the art of violin-making is a tradition that lives on and runs strong throughout the world. A reminder of that comes with the next edition of the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Making Competition.

White graphic presenting a fragment of a violin on a dark green background. White captions on top and on the bottom of the picture. - grafika artykułu
Poster of 14th Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Making Competition, photograph from the press

I recall my first time visiting a luthier. It was in Gdańsk. I remember the smell of dust, rays of sunshine streaming into an otherwise dim room, the dust-stained apron and hands of the violin maker who confidently took hold of my friend's cello. At the time, violin-making seemed to me to be a profession from old books, while violin makers themselves appeared to be characters from a novel. With their warm voices, worn hands, they showed unusual tenderness as they described what ailed an instrument...

The history of the Poznan competition ties closely to the world's oldest international violin competition held in the city as well. Thanks to the success of the latter, another competitive artistic discipline was born in Poznan. The contenders would battle it out in the Museum of Musical Instruments. It was there that the first edition of the International Violin Making Competition took place in 1957. At that time, a jury led by Zdzisław Jahnke judged over 130 works by violin makers from 16 countries. The very first winners were Josef Vavra of Czechoslovakia and Rene Quenoil of France.

In all of the 13 editions to date, about 2,000 instruments from all continents have been assessed. For years, international juries have judged instruments on their appearance, the style and technique of workmanship, assembly, preparation for playing, the strength and timbre of sound and playing comfort.

This year's edition will be held on 8-14 May. Both violin-making-related and purely musical qualities of instruments will be evaluated. 88 violins made by professional violin makers from Belgium, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, Italy and, of course, Poland, have been submitted for the competition.

The jury of this year's 14th edition will be chaired by the eminent violin maker Francis Kuttner. After graduating from Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria in Cremona, Kuttner gained experience, among others, working with the outstanding luthier Francesco Bissolotti, an advocate of the traditional method of instrument making. Kuttner worked with the original violins made by Antonio Stradivari, which allowed him to explore the best of the craftsmanship, technical details and style of the classic master luthiers of Cremona. Other violin makers and violinists will also sit on the jury. The former will be represented by David Gusset, the only American to have won First Prize at the Antonio Stradivari International Violin Making Competition in Cremona, Ulrich Hinsberger, who - in his own words - "does not have to reinvent the violin". In his studio, he makes instruments in the tradition of such great Italian violin-makers as Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. The above will be joined by participants of the competition's 13th edition: a finalist Marcin Krupa and a 3rd prize winner Philippe Mahu. On the violinist side, the jury will include Bartosz Bryła, laureate of the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in 1981 and Laura Hamilton, who for 33 years has been associated with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

New instruments from workshop around the world will come to Poznan to preserve and develop the extraordinary tradition of the art of violin making. The sound of the instruments, as heard in sound auditions and the gala concert (on 13 May), will be provided to listeners on a dedicated YouTube channel. The competition will be followed by an exhibition of the highest-rated instruments to be held at the National Museum of Poznań. A truly must-see and must-hear event!

Aleksandra Kujawiak

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

  • 8-14 May
  • organised by the Henryk Wieniawski Music Society of Poznan in cooperation with the Association of Polish Artistic Violin Makers and the National Museum of Poznań

© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2021

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