While the end-of-year celebrations are in full swing with their cohort of concerts, the luthiers’ workshops have been busy adjusting or repairing an instrument at the last minute. Meeting with a luthier and a luthier in a workshop in Geneva.
Hélène Monziès and Kaspar Maurer work at rue de la Ferme in Geneva where they have just moved their luthiers workshop. She should soon take over the brand because Kaspar Maurer is about to retire.
The Maurer workshop is dedicated to the restoration, rental and sale of violins, violas, cellos as well as the maintenance of bows. This could change because Hélène Monziès does not rule out the idea of resuming the manufacture of instruments.
There is no shortage of work in Geneva for the eight luthiers workshops in the city. The presence of two major orchestras, the Orchester de la Suisse romande and the Orchester de Chambre, undoubtedly plays a central role.
In addition to these two prestigious orchestras, there are amateur orchestras: ‘the community linked to international organizations is very fond of culture and music’, explains Kaspar Maurer. Without forgetting the students of the Conservatory and other music schools.
Luthiers, music lovers
Luthiers, music lovers, are mostly first and foremost musicians: it is the practice of an instrument that makes people understand the importance of the sound, of the settings, points out Kaspar Maurer, who is no exception to the rule. He studied at the Conservatoire de la Place Neuve in Geneva for five years.
Too old for European violin making schools, the native of Bienne then left to train in Salt Lake City in the United States for three years. He opened his premises in Geneva in 1986 after having first worked in a large workshop in Bremen, Germany.
Hélène Monziès, of French origin, will join his workshop in 2006. She began to play as a child with her grandfather: he gave her his first little violins that ‘he tinkered himself’.
Around the age of 16, her music teacher forced her to take her instrument to a luthier. It was a revelation for the teenager, who decided that day to become a luthier. She then entered the only Swiss school of violin making, that of Brienz in the canton of Bern.
Against the current of the time, “many young people are interested in this profession, but only two to three students leave Brienz each year”, explains the 42-year-old luthier. But there are many schools in neighboring countries.
‘We are lucky, because we work in a field where it is difficult to replace us with robots, continues Kaspar Maurer. Very sophisticated machines manage to produce certain elements, but for the specific work on each instrument, it remains human and artisanal. It’s different every time – he shows us a cello – and a machine can’t do it.’
‘Musicians and amateurs love these instruments, even if it is a demanding practice and difficult to master. This is what gives the game a passion,’ explains Kaspar Maurer.
‘It feels like a meditation’
The luthier tries a comparison: ‘It looks like a meditation, a work on oneself. And from a cognitive point of view, it requires a lot of the brain to produce a sound by reading a sheet music.’
“The pandemic has not only prompted people to turn to books but also to take their instrument out of the cupboard, said Hélène Monziès. So we didn’t really experience the crisis when everything closed.’
The two luthiers continue to play in amateur chamber orchestras. Kaspar Maurer doesn’t have a favorite composer: ‘the one I’m working on’, he answers in a pirouette. Hélène Monziès loves Bach’s suites, but currently plays in a completely different register: ‘Piazzolla in a small orchestra.’
Kaspar Maurer dreams of finishing two instruments before retiring. ‘They’ve been waiting over 20 years for me to finish them.’ Retirement does not scare him, because he has many other projects: ‘I live in an eco-district where there is a lot to do’, he smiles.
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Luthiers: a job that always makes people dream
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