When it was time to enlist a violin maker to copy his beloved 1755 Bartolomeo Calvarola, critically acclaimed violinist Odin Rathnam chose master violin maker Scott Hershey for the project.
The rare Italian violin that Rathnam performs on is frequently in need of a breather to allow the instrument and all its elements to rest. In order to continue playing without losing the familiarity of his unique violin, Rathnam commissioned Hershey to build a modern equivalent, a precise copy of the Calvarola with all its idiosyncratic bouts and details.
“I could have gone to any of the famous makers,” Rathnam said, “Sam Zygmuntowicz, Greg Alf, Joseph Curtain—but in the end I chose Scott Hershey, a world-class luthier. I have every confidence in the tone and craftsmanship of his instruments, many of which I’ve used for performances over the years.”
The project has been a collaboration from the start, from choosing the aged European woods for both the tonal quality and visual aesthetics, to discussions concerning the physics of each component and its effect on the instrument’s voice, to roundtable forums on the patina and hue of the final varnish—the maestro and the maker have accrued countless hours toward the new “old” instrument’s development.
“There are certain details that are unique to the Calvarola that were critical in creating its twin,” Hershey said. “The unusually high archings of the top and back, the thinner-cheeked scroll, and its narrower ribs, all of these features required hundreds of meticulous measurements and multiple molds to accurately reproduce.” But, Hershey cites, that is where the visual aspect of the reproduction will end. “Odin was very clear in that he was not looking to duplicate the distressed patina of his instrument, as long as the feeling—the essence—of it was preserved. He granted me full license to interpret the final varnish and finish of the instrument when that time comes.”
Even with this care and scrutiny, the real value of the instrument—its voice—remains a mystery until the assembled violin, still in the white, is dressed with strings. Although one can speculate on the projected sound value, given the properties of the woods and the thorough processes of adjustments and extensive testing, the moment of truth comes when the bow contacts the strings for the first time.
“So far, this instrument shows every indication of possessing the same full, round, and projecting tone that is inherent in my Calvarola,” Rathnam said recently. “I am very pleased.”
Projected completion date for the “new” Calvrola is July 2009. For more information, and to follow the progress of this buiding project, please visit hersheyviolins.com. For further information on acclaimed American violinist Odin Rathnam, please visit odinrathnam.com.
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