The breath of a violin
Текст: Alexey Kirillov | 2017-04-10 | Фото: archive of V.Kalashnikov; nioloxs, Westend61, Federico Rostagno, mario beauregard, mankale, kei u, Ingo Bartussek, SYLVIE.PERUZZI, kurapy, ctpaep / stock.adobe; Andy, sputnik / flickr | 24510
Some people achieve such a high level of craftsmanship in their work that people around them can’t help but wonder if there are any secret tricks involved. A good example would be luthiers of old Cremona – Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari. People have been trying to disclose the secrets of instruments created by these violin makers for several centuries now, and they keep doing that today as well, thanks to the latest developments in technology – X-ray machines, computers and all sorts of analyzers. Secret varnish ingredients, specific brands of wood and even deals with the devil – these are only a few accusations often brought up to explain the excellent sound of those violins. But there is also a much simpler key to solve these secrets – the old school instrument makers’ incredible commitment to their work and their great talents. What exactly violin making is and how its intricacies are passed from a teacher to his disciples – in our talk with a remarkable violin maker Vladimir Kalashnikov.

– What do you think it means to be a good violin maker? What should he know and be able to do? Do you think anyone can learn to be a violin maker?

Firstly, a violin maker should be able to play some string instrument very well himself, preferably several instruments at once – violin, cello, double bass, viola. In this respect he is much like a car mechanic: if he has never been in the driver’s seat, it’s unlikely he will be able to handle your car’s breakdown. A large number of both Russian and foreign violin makers are ordinary craftsmen. They have been taught to make violins but they can’t play them, and hence they can’t understand a lot of nuances and details of fabricating the instrument. They can make a very nice-looking casing, but your request of “making the note A richer in tone” will not be understood and fulfilled.

Secondly, this work needs vast experience and good command of several subjects: physics, chemistry, acoustics, strength of materials – not to the nth degree, of course, but at a level sufficient for the purposes of our profession. The maker needs to know and understand the properties of different materials, varnishes, primers and coatings, construction of some mechanisms. Sometimes some person would come to your workshop and say: “My instrument has poor tune right here.” And if you can play the instrument and possess the necessary knowledge, you immediately understand what part exactly is out of tune and why this problem has appeared in the first place, because you know exactly where every note is located and what physical processes are responsible for it.

Training of a violin maker takes a long time – this profession is quite difficult in terms of the required amount of knowledge. In a standard European college it takes 3 to 4 years – about the same time as it takes to train carpenters. However, further learning about such mysterious things as sound and tone quality can last for 10-15 years, but in point of fact you learn these things your whole life. It’s like with painters – they also learn their art all their lives.

Basically, you can train anyone to be a craftsman, especially that there are very good machines for fabricating instruments these days. But if we’re talking about making violins par excellence, so that we get truly first-rate instruments, then it’s probably like every other profession: there are ordinary professionals, and then there are real talents.

But of course first and foremost a violin maker must have insane hard-working ability; talent comes only second after that. A violin maker should have a certain ply of character and a lot of patience. When you have been tinkering with some toenail-sized thingy and then suddenly you break it, you shouldn’t die of despair but calmly sit down and make that thingy again.

– A lot of things you speak about – commitment to work, patience, profound knowledge of physics, strength of materials and some other subjects – are needed for a lot of other master craftsmen too – watchmakers, conservation and restoration artists, painters, blacksmiths... It appears that the only distinctive feature of a violin maker is the importance of having an ear for music and being able to play the instruments he makes, is that right?

Not exactly. The truth is that a violin is made of wood, and wood is a very unstable material. There are no two similar pieces of wood in the world, and there never will be. This is why after you have created a brilliant instrument you will not be able to recreate it again. Today there is machinery that allows you to copy any instrument to the accuracy of one micron, and that’s what a lot of people do. But such instruments don’t sound good. If we learned to make violins out of steel, glass or carbon fiber, then we could calculate and adjust everything to the accuracy of a micron and manufacture a lot of copies, and all of them will sound the same. But wood is never repeated twice. You need to sense this material to be able to deal with it. And that, I think, is the main difference – we work with unstable material.

– So, is that the reason why violins manufactured on an assembly line are still inferior to handmade ones, despite all the recent technology advance?

At this point it’s still impossible to make a first-rate violin on an assembly line. The sound boards of a violin are two membranes, the upper one and the lower one which oscillate the sound just like loudspeakers. The violin doesn’t have any frets so you can play any note, even quartertone. And for every such note on the upper or lower sound board there must be a section that resonates with that frequency really well, functions as the apex of that moment and picks up the rest of the sound board along the whole frequency scale – on high, medium and low frequencies. All in all there are 365 points on the sound board, each of which needs to be tapped and brought into sync with all other points. And if you changed something in one point, you have to change the others too. Because of the different wood density on different violins the same note will sound correctly with different thicknesses of the sound board. In one case that thickness should be two millimeters, in another case it can be three. And currently only a human can take all the deviations into consideration and tune all the points correctly. A machine can’t do that, because it can’t control this process. It can do exactly what it’s programmed to do, but it can’t analyze the result and make adjustments. And that actually is the main difficulty of this work.

Of course, in China they learned to make assembly line violins that look great (simulating 19th century instruments) and even sound quite good. But these violins’ sounding excellent is an extremely rare thing. When it happens, it works like a random number generator: they put a log into a machine, and the machine fabricates violins from that log according to the preset parameters. And then suddenly they come across a piece of log for which these parameters happen to be perfect. And so they get one excellent sounding violin out of hundreds of thousands. But that’s accidental. And the goal of a good violin maker is to make this permanent.

– I can’t help but ask you about the secret of Stradivari violins... On the one hand, there is a popular opinion that it was disclosed by luthier Denis Yarovoy, your mentor, and that this secret is in total harmonic tuning of sound boards – exactly the way you described it. But on the other hand, up to this day on an annoyingly regular basis there is someone who claims that the secret has just been disclosed by him. Now they have already found “Stradivari’s secret” in the formula of the varnish he coated his violins with, in some special compound they used to protect wood from bark beetles in those times and in a lot of other things. But what is the general opinion about this in the professional society?

It’s safe to say there is no consensus about anything in the professional music society. Even Stradivari is not universally liked there. Especially since Stradivari and Guarneri are just the most hyped names, as they say today. In our world there are dozens, if not hundreds, of none the worse geniuses, not to mention that Stradivari created his best works in the last ten years of his life, but before that he had made both good and bad violins, like any young luthier.

Secret is just a nice-sounding word. But in fact it’s not about any sort of secret but about technology. Yarovoy explained and proved the technology that Italian luthiers used; he translated all those legends to the language of science. Whatever anyone may say or post in social media, no one has offered anything better than that as of today.

I have been using the system explained by Yarovoy for 40 years now, and it always yields a predictably good result. That is, I know for sure what I am doing, I control the process, and there are no accidents in my work. There are some luthiers who may be able to make one good violin, then another one would come out slightly better, and the third one slightly worse than the first. It’s some sort of a lottery. As for me, my every next violin is slightly better than the previous one, because with each new instrument I learn and gain experience. But at this point I cannot consciously produce a mediocre violin. And it’s based on an established technology. Tuning the sound boards requires vast experience and great perseverance. When I tune them, even with my experience I can’t last for more than two hours of uninterrupted work. And I always do that in the morning, with a fresh mind. Because in a couple of hours my brain turns into jelly.

And when I read something about someone finding the secret in varnish, I can’t help but laugh. This is like saying a car was able to move faster because it was painted red. Yarovoy used to collect this sort of stories, by the way. I remember him telling me that once every ten days somewhere in world press there appears another report about someone disclosing Stradivari’s secret. I can say for sure that even Stradivari himself did not know as many “secrets” as they have disclosed by now.

Denis Yarovoy, well-known Soviet violin maker. He was a child prodigy with a good chance of becoming a virtuoso violinist. However, after he broke both hands while playing volleyball, this road was closed forever for him. But that didn’t prevent him from becoming a brilliant luthier. As a result of his work, Yarovoy was able to discover the main principles of instrument construction practiced by Italian luthiers and translate many legends of Old Cremona to the language of science. Denis Yarovoy designed the unique technology of complete harmonic tuning of sound boards known by many people as «Stradivari’s secret». Pictured: Denis Yarovoy in his workshop and playing the violin, 1989.

– This means that this technology was used not only by Stradivari himself but also other famous luthiers of his time?

Yes. And let me tell you how it all started. The violin’s shape itself is unacceptable in terms of acoustics. Any competent acoustician will prove it to you within a minute using some simple formula. It is hard to devise a more ridiculous shape for an acoustic instrument. And the genius of Italian luthiers was exactly in drawing excellent sound from a totally unusable casing. In fact the German and French schools also did the sound board tuning, but they had a different approach. The Italians did complete tuning, i.e. tuning of the whole sound board, while French and German luthiers only tuned several key resonating points on it. The Italians were the only ones who paid attention to every tiny detail, but that is why they were so successful.

– Do I understand correctly that in real life only a highly qualified professional can tell an instrument tuned in 365 points on the sound board from one only tuned in several points?

I think even an ordinary music school student can tell this by ear, because a fine-tuned instrument will have richer sound texture. The simplest example is an equalizer that is available on any phone today. When all of your frequencies are on, you get the full sound picture. As soon as you remove some frequencies, the sound immediately grows dim. To make the sound three-dimensional, you add some bass. To get sound precision, you add some high frequencies. And the same goes for the violin: you either get the whole spectrum of frequencies, or just some part of it.

– And what makes the violin sound inimitable? Seeing that even if we take two perfectly tuned instruments, they will still sound differently from one another.

There are several factors that influence the sound. First of all, the evenness: in all possible ranges, the number of which for a violin is almost infinite, it must sound the same. One note sounding bright and another one sounding dim is something that’s not supposed to be. Secondly, and I have already said this, correct resonance needs to be set for every note on the sound board. The third important thing is tone quality, or timbre. On the one hand, the timbre is provided by the material itself, i.e. wood and plastic will have different timbre. But on the other hand, that is exactly the adjustment for the human element, for human ears, human hands, human sensitivity that helps to differentiate one luthier’s instruments from another one’s. Take three brilliant violins from one maker, and they will have a single style that a well-trained musician can discern. The timbre of a violin is what reflects its maker’s persona, because one way or another he likens his creations to himself. However, this works only with experienced violin makers; a novice, who hasn’t gained enough experience yet and hasn’t yet got a hand in this, will have all his violins sounding different.

Timbre is an imperceptible substance that cannot be captured even by acoustic scientists. For a hundred years now they have been working on creating a perfect violin or a device to create a perfect violin. But all they can come up with is a glaringly loud instrument that sounds like a trombone or an acoustic speaker for some device. Everything is precise and accurate, everything resonates, everything is loud, but there’s no warmth, no timbre. And I think this warmth is the aggregate of errors and infelicities of the person who makes the instrument.

And, finally, the fourth thing is time. All the exemplary violins that set the standard for us are about 300 years old. Wood is an organic material, and with the course of time a lot of different processes can go on inside it. That is why a sound board of an old violin, if analyzed, will have completely different properties than fresh wood. And recently an unexpected thought entered my mind. If a violin is 300 years old, it means that for whole three centuries a lot of masters and musicians adjusted it and brought it up to perfection. That’s why any new violin is a priori in a losing position. At the same time, as various independent tests show, when musicians don’t know exactly what violin they are playing, they can’t always distinguish an antique instrument from a modern one.

But in general it’s all very subjective. Do you remember, several years ago there was a commotion in media, when they found a lot of fake paintings in one of the world’s biggest museums, and these fake paintings were so good that even the best experts had a hard time telling the original from a copy. The artist who made these excellent copies was found and jailed. But see for yourself: Rembrandt painted a picture, and this guy not only painted it exactly the same way but also made it look as old as the original; that means he is a stronger painter than Rembrandt.

– But by that rationale, if I understand correctly, restoring a violin is more difficult than making it from scratch?

Yes. Restoration is harder, but it is also more exciting. When restoring a violin, you must not only be able to make violins, you must also understand what that luthier who created it had in mind; you must understand his school, his technique, his work style.

And you absolutely must know history. For example, today the A tuning fork is tuned to the frequency of 440 Hz, while in the 17th century it was 415 Hz, i.e. almost one tone lower. Consequently, the Italian luthiers made all their instruments according to that old sound of the note A. And if you set out to restore such an instrument you must know that, or otherwise you’ll ruin it. You also have to understand what tensions appeared on the instrument with age and which ones disappeared. For instance, there is such an element of a violin as its spring. On a new instrument the sound board is usually slightly pulled over that spring. But when restoring antique instruments it is not acceptable because the sound board has already been played a lot, and if you provide any extra tensions it will affect the sound immediately. And there are a lot of such nuances.

– And how do you determine the composition of the varnish the old violin makers used? Are these formulas already well known or do you have to rediscover them every time?

Figuring out what varnish composition this or that old luthier used is practically impossible – in this respect our lives are not as chocolate sweet as fine art restorers’ who have the opportunity to analyze the pictures with all kinds of technological devices. Violin makers very rarely have this sort of technical possibilities. So our work is mostly trial and error plus experience. For instance, I know that varnishes can be alcohol-based, oil-based and combined, and when restoring an instrument I just see whether it’s alcohol or oil and accordingly use either alcohol varnish or oil varnish, adding the necessary coloring matters. Violin varnish has two functions: one is to make it look better and the other is to protect the wood from external effects – dust, sweat or anything else like that. There are no other functions to varnish and this is why, if you use a component slightly different than the one the original maker used, you will not mess up the instrument.

But again, good knowledge of history is what helps here. In Stradivari’s times the communication between people was not as advanced as it is now, when it takes you a few seconds to find out what happens on the other end of the world, and get the materials from there within a couple of days. The violin makers of old had to use what they had within reach, what was immediately available. So this is why to figure out what varnish or what wood Stradivari used you simply need to find out what plants grew in the vicinity where he lived. Then your search range narrows and you don’t have to look for any sort of Chinese colorants that somehow ended up in Italy. For instance, it is reliably known that Stradivari got the beautiful color of his varnish from the root of dyer’s madder. I used this method several times, but now I prefer buying a German or American colorant that is exactly the same, because it’s been synthesized in good chemical laboratories or extracted from dyer’s madder as well.

By the way, today there are special devices that you can put against the surface and press a button, and the screen shows the number of the varnish color in the special index. It’s extremely easy.

– If a restored violin is a Stradivari or belongs to someone else of his stature, then all the details should be made to be exactly the same as the original luthier made them?

No. The fact is, in the middle of the 19th century practically all antique instruments were remodeled. They were made to look the way they do today. But in Stradivari’s times violins were different: they had different necks, different supports, different bows. The strings were made from natural catgut, and the manner of playing them was also radically different. As a matter of fact, violin is not designed for playing in a large hall. In those times they used to play it in front of an audience of 20 people – during social receptions and gatherings, in small halls.

While the modern violin is a product of our time. It is required to sound loud enough to rattle an audience of ten thousand, like a trombone. That is why, when rigid metal strings appeared, the violin’s structure was changed to prevent it from folding up or losing shape.

So, when an instrument is restored for modern use, it is always done according to modern requirements. But, in my opinion, old violins today are already being used outside their limitations, and this does them no good.

– Are there any completely original, authentic violins that have been preserved?

Of course there are – in museums and private collections. These days they call them baroque violins. They look a little different and have different technical parameters. By the way, baroque music, with musicians playing the exact same notes on the exact same violins in an exactly similar manner, is becoming very fashionable. That’s why it isn’t uncommon today for an old violin to be restored to its original look. And it’s easy to find a lot of music played by baroque orchestras in the Internet. If you hear such a recording, you’ll understand it is completely different music.

– Let’s go back to tuning sound boards... If Denis Yarovoy managed to restore this technology, this must mean it had been lost at some point, right?

Yes, it really is so. But it’s hard to say why that happened. Maybe at some point there was simply nobody to pass this technology to. I have spent 14 years in Yarovoy’s workshop side by side with him, practically without leaving it. And there are very few people who are ready to spend this much time for training. There’s a good reason that in the Italian school luthier’s craft was mostly passed on from a father to his children. Simply because your child is always beside you. Stradivari and Guarneri were luthier families.

And the second possible reason the technology was lost is that there was a rush toward quantity that sacrificed the quality. If you’re not preoccupied with the quality of sound, you can make a violin within a couple of weeks. This is pretty easy, especially when you have fretsaws and other modern tools that were not available in the 18th century. But working with sound is an endless affair.

– How is it generally possible to pass such a difficult craft to students?

Only on an individual basis.

– Do you mean that it’s impossible to teach violin making to a group of college students?

It’s probably possible to learn the theory that way and then try to repeat it using a template, but in any case you must feel all these things, sense them with your hands. How do you explain the color of sunset to an artist? You can’t do that. You can only show it to him. And the same goes for our craft: some things you can only feel. Your teacher gives you the sound board and says: «Feel it with your fingers, it should be this way.» And you feel the rigidity of the sound board with your hands and memorize it. To tune sound boards you need the so-called ear for timbre which people naturally don’t have. But one can acquire it in five to six years: you sit beside your teacher, watch him work, and listen. And you gradually get the understanding that this tapping your teacher does means this or that note.

Surely, training a true luthier is piecework. You can train a dozen of craftsmen, but only one of them will be the one who feels the same as you feel. When I studied in Yarovoy’s workshop, he had 11 other students there besides me. But only four or five of us became violin makers.

– How did you perfect your skills?

The meaning of my training was to learn to do every operation with my eyes closed. For example, we learned to make a support for a violin. Yarovoy would say: “Here’s a log, an axe and a saw. Come back when you’ve made 50 supports.” And first you learn how to split this log, then how to saw it and chip it into workpieces. Moreover, you have to draw all 50 supports by hand, without using the template. You are doing an excellent job at around your 20th support. But no – you have to make all 50. Of course, after this I can easily cut out a support with a blindfold by a defective fretsaw, with the workpiece upside down – whatever. And we worked on every single operation that way.

It once paid off really well when we went to North Korea to teach our skills to the local kids. The tools we had ordered did not arrive in time, so we had to make do. So, using a blunt hand plane we successfully did the job that can actually be only done with a sharp tool.

– I understand that you can get a skilled hand for typical tasks, but how about the non-typical ones? How did you learn to deal with them?

Well, here is where you have to use your head. Yarovoy would intentionally give us non-typical tasks and, what’s important, he never accepted any sloppily done work. I remember an episode when he cured me of sloppiness once and for all. He gave me an old cello and my task was to adjust and fix a corner piece. The instrument was all crooked and misshapen, and adjusting this corner piece was an agonizing procedure that required a lot of time and patience. While the function of a corner piece is a primitive one – just holding two corners together. It is not really important how well you adjust it, you can just glue it and everything will hold together. And that’s exactly what I did. Then I closed the cello and brought it to Yarovoy. And in an hour he called me to his room shouting. Yarovoy was not lazy to pry open the instrument again (and, for your information, opening a cello is not an easy procedure, and an expensive one, too) and he rubbed my nose into my sloppy work. I memorized this lesson forever.

So now, when I come across an instrument I once worked on and I see that I did my work honestly, and this work lives to this day – it always feels great. Being 100% sure that I never botched up my work means a lot to me.

– Do you think Yarovoy was a strong teacher?

‘Strong’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. He was an incredibly charismatic person. They don’t make them like him anymore, he was one-of-a-kind. Excellent level of education, patience, talent – all this is about him.

But he was also so much immersed into the world of violins that he only had a vague idea about what was going on around him. He didn’t know where to buy groceries, how a telephone works, which side the door opens to. He only ever got out of his world for a short time – to eat something; and after that he went back again. He devoted himself to his work completely. He was fluent in five languages and he could read and write in three or four more. Once, when some foreign guests came to visit him (and that happened quite often), I ran into the workshop to ask him some question. Yarovoy immediately began answering me in Spanish – I simply stood there baffled, and then he switched to German, then to English, French, and only after that he finally started speaking Russian. That’s what he was like. You could say he existed in his own dimension. But probably being so successful in your work is only possible when living like that.

– Can you name any special teacher’s qualities Yarovoy had that helped him to train good violin makers?

Perfectionism and absolute rejection of any sort of hackwork, which I already mentioned. He could be spending half-day explaining something to just one student. He could devote himself to one student for several days simply because that student had some new idea. There was one “idea machine” among us, a very creative guy – Zhenya Shalev. He would come up with some new creative idea, and Denis would spend several days with him trying his idea out. There never was an occasion that our teacher would say “No, you’re talking nonsense, I know better than you.”

Yarovoy meticulously explained every movement and gesture – in terms of physics, aesthetics, plastic arts, acoustics and strength of materials. But he gave the most importance to the sound. We did not just manufacture nice boxes – making that much was mandatory by default, it was not up for a debate. But he would always talk to us about the sound, and perfecting the sound is a special kind of work, separate from everything else. And that was the striking contrast between Yarovoy and teachers in European schools. They very rarely explain anything to their students. “You should do this, this and this. Because Stradivari did the same.” But why he did the same is never explained or discussed.

I remember another very good story about Yarovoy’s personal approach to his students. There was a young lady among his students as well, her name was Asya. She once completed an order, and the customer paid good money for the job. So Yarovoy brought this money to her. But she outright refused to take the money, saying: “You teach us, you devote so much of your time to us. I’m not going to take the money.” So Denis left somewhere and returned with a bottle of French perfume for Asya. I have no idea where he found French perfume in the Soviet Union in 1981, but it cost much more than the work she had done. That was how he treated his students.

Yarovoy and his students. On the far left – Vladimir Kalashnikov, 1989.

– Why do you think Yarovoy needed students in the first place? Did he consider them a part of himself? Was he sure they would continue his life’s work?

This is a riddle for me. I can’t say he was very obsessed with having students, because his main obsession throughout his life was finding the perfect sound. And a student requires about 90% of your time, so when you have a large amount of work, it’s very difficult to also have students. But in those times we also had our rules: in the workshop students had to sit separately from the teacher, in separate rooms. You come up to him, you get your task and you go to your own workbench. If the teacher’s door was closed, we never knocked it. When he was ready to talk to us, he would open the door himself.

– Can you remember the moment when Yarovoy first entrusted a very valuable instrument to you?

I remember it very well. Yarovoy invited me to his room and said: “Here is a violin, you need to replace its neck.” It’s a very difficult type of work that needs quite a high level of craftsmanship, but at that time I was more or less trained to do this work. So I went to my workbench and heard Yarovoy’s voice again: “But be careful, will you. That’s a Guarneri after all.” I tried to back out from doing this job, but he insisted on me doing it. And it went off without a hitch.

Vladimir Kalashnikov working in Yarovoy’s workshop, 1982.

– But now, looking back at that incident, can you guess what Yarovoy must have felt about it? Do you think it was hard for him to entrust such a valuable thing to a student for the first time? Or did he believe in you so much?

I don’t think he was afraid. Yarovoy would often tell us that it was better to measure ten times and use the rasp file ten times than ruin everything with one wrong movement. And we, as his students, were used to it. And of course he supervised our work from beginning to end. He checked every stage of the work, he made corrections, he sometimes made us redo everything from scratch, and often more than once. He simply never accepted the work until it was done really well.

– Have you ever refused to work with very expensive instruments after becoming a professional luthier?

When I was young and inexperienced, nobody considered me to be a seasoned luthier, so naturally nobody would bring any expensive instruments to me. But gradually, as you gain experience and prove to yourself and the others that you are capable of doing very complicated jobs, they start entrusting you with such instruments.

– Then can it be affirmed that the level of a luthier’s craft is defined by the quantity of expensive instruments the customers bring to his workshop?

I wouldn’t say so. The fact is, there are widely promoted luthiers, especially in Europe, where they get almost as much promotion as pop singers. This is why a violin maker can be at the top of the charts, but in fact be able to do very little. Contrary to Europe, in Russia violin makers are very often made known by word of mouth: as a general rule, when new customers visit my shop, they say “I was given your phone number by such and such person”. Besides, violin makers are usually associated with a certain generation of musicians. For instance, Vladimir Spivakov would never come to my workshop: his generation of musicians was raised to work with different luthiers. Every violin maker has a generation of musicians growing up with him. A lot of musicians from my generation have already become famous, some of them will become famous a little later.

– What kind of instruments do they usually bring to you for repair? Are they handmade and expensive or assembly line-produced?

They bring different ones. And in that respect I don’t set any limitations – I take both simple China-made instruments for children and unique antique ones. There are luthiers who don’t work with cheap violins on principle. But, as Denis Yarovoy taught me, someone must help children too, especially since these children will grow up to become your customers.

– Then let me ask you this question: do they often bring you Amatis, Guarneris and Stradivaris?

I had a Stradivari recently and a Guarneri a little over a month before that. There are a few antique instruments that I serve on a permanent basis – I’ve been working with them for many years now.

I worked with Stradivari violins numerous times. But you should understand one thing: it’s musicians that stand in awe when they hold a Stradivari in their hands, while I treat them the same way a surgeon would treat his patients. When the patient is on your operating table, there is no difference who he is: a janitor or an MP.

But when I was still in training, and Yarovoy gave me a Guarneri for the first time in my life, I was shaking with anxiety and excitement, of course, even if I knew that I was doing the work under the supervision of a great master luthier.

– You don’t feel any awe toward the instruments, but do you get any other emotions from your work?

In that sense I’m a very lucky person because I get pleasure and satisfaction from my work every minute of it. I get pleasure from interacting with wood, pleasure from complete understanding of what I am doing. And by the way it’s one of the very important elements of loving your job, when you understand that you are a lord and master of your work, and whatever anyone brings to you, you’ll find a way to deal with it. And that really motivates you. And then there is a pleasure of interacting with people. You meet all kinds of people in this line of work: from mad men to geniuses, but they’re always very interesting people. Finally, I get pleasure from interacting with history. About that Yarovoy used to say to me: “When restoring instruments, you will always be on the borderlands between various times and epochs. The violin started its life’s journey in the 18th or 19th century. Then it met you, you have spent some time with it at this crossroads of epochs, and then you parted ways.” And thanks to these encounters you always learn something new and often something you never expected you’d learn. Sometimes you feel like you already know everything, and then – bam! – they bring you something you have never seen and have never even suspected it exists. In my work there are never even two similar cracks in the wood: you are solving a new task every time. So, in conclusion, I’d like to say: work of a luthier is very difficult and requires a lot of effort and concentration. But it’s impossible not to love this work.

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