For me the 2021 year was a time of transition, growth, fresh energy, and new directions. After 14 years working for Guy Harrison in Ottawa, I moved to Boston in April to start working as a full time restorer for Reuning & Son Violins. It’s an honor to be part of such a fantastic and knowledgeable team, and I am excited to be working on many fine instruments at the shop. I continue to build my own instruments independently, right now I am working on two cellos.
Another highlight of 2021 was being voted into the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers. The Federation has strict requirements for membership, admitting only those who pass its rigorous standards of workmanship and ethics. In order to be considered for membership in the AFVBM, a maker must present their work to a panel of judges. At their September meeting in Los Angeles, I presented my latest violin, an instrument modeled after the “Ysaÿe” by Guarneri Del Gesu. Not only am I proud to have been voted into the Federation; I am also happy that the violin I presented to them soon found a home with a musician in the San Diego Symphony!
Last November, I was pleased to finish a cello in time to
participate in the 23rd International Violin making competition held
by the Violin Society of America (VSA) in Cleveland.
Among the 68 cellos presented, my instrument was awarded a Double Certificate of Merit :
-a Certificate of Merit for Tone by judges and cellists Dane
Johansen, Jeffrey Solow and Brian Thornton.
-a Certificate of Merit for Workmanship by judges and violin
makers Ulrike Dederer, Antoine Nédélec and Raymond Schryer.
It was a great achievement and honour to be rewarded for my work in this way. For a violin maker it is significant and meaningful to receive such distinction at this international level and to see the results of years dedicated work acknowledged and encouraged.
This event is also an excellent opportunity to acquire a
representative overview of global contemporary instruments which were, in my
opinion, quite remarkable in quality. It
also gives to participants the opportunity to discuss their individual work
with the judges. Thank you and congratulations to everyone who took part in it!
I also wanted to personally thank Paul Marleyn, Rachel
Mercer, and Raphael Weinroth-Browne for their time and useful feedback while
adjusting the cello.
This 2018 Dequincey Cello has a body made of Canadian poplar and spruce. The maple neck and pear wood scroll are sourced in Europe.
Last Saturday I was honoured to be part of the Maker’s Forum exhibition in Toronto. Contemporary violin makers and bow makers from Canada (34 on 37 participants) and abroad were presenting their work. As a maker, this event was a great way to meet with musicians. I was able to discuss the instruments I had brought (a cello and a violin) and get their feedback.
During the afternoon,Kerson Leongperformed on the 24 new violins exhibited. As part of a sonority test, Leong played the same excerpts on each one of them. He masterfully realized this challenging task, in my opinion. He was able to adjust wonderfully to each one of the instruments, performing over their full register. Interestingly, Leong’s consistent and methodical approach, brought to life the individual qualities and character of each violin.
This experience was followed with a chamber ensemble, set up for the occasion, performing a Mozart quintet in C Major. The ensemble featured on violin: Jonathan Crow (Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and Kerson Leong ; on viola: Theresa Rudolph (Assistant Principal Viola of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and Madlen Breckbill ; on cello : Joseph Johnson (Principal cello of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra).
At the last minute some of the musicians decided to switch instruments between movements, using instruments from the exhibition. The change of colour with the different settings was quite noticeable, a good way to show how the choice/matching of instruments can affect the dynamic of the voices within an ensemble. After the exercise, I was honoured to learn that my 2016 Plowden/Del Gesù model violin was among the instruments selected to perform on.
Overall the event was well attended and quite a success. It was also a chance to see and catch up with peers. The standard of work was very high, and this made me proud to be part of it.
I’d like to warmly thank the organizers for all their coordination work : Elizabeth Barbosa, Fany Fresard and Emanuel Euvrard.
Cellos or Violas made with poplar or willow backs have a reputation for having a warm sound. These wood species were used throughout the history of violin making, and particularly in Cremona during the second half of the XVII century and the first half of the XVIII century. In his book, “The Secrets of Stradivari,” Simone F. Sacconi mentions that two fifths of Stradivari’s cellos still remaining, feature poplar or willow backs. There are fine examples of those instruments in the collections of the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
A few years ago, I acquired some pieces of Canadian poplar which were quarter sawn for violin making use and big enough for a cello. Guy Harrison and I had built in 2009 a cello using European poplar, resulting in a very satisfying sounding instrument. As I was curious to try this other kind of poplar on a cello, I built one. In fact, the spruce used for the blocks and the front also came from Canadian forests, making the body of this instrument entirely Canadian sourced!
To work with a different wood than the more common maple required that I take into consideration the differences in mechanical and acoustical properties. Accordingly, I adjusted the thicknesses in relation to the density of the wood. Then I measured the tap tones and weight, in order to adjust the final stiffness of the back as a free plate, using Nigel Harris’ method.
Some instruments with poplar/willow back features ribs made in a different wood than the back, such as ash or beech, matching the scroll. I used poplar for the ribs to match the back, and reinforced them with linen (a method also employed by Antonio Stradivari).