Having taken over running the annual Lutherie conferences that take place in Newark, it seems that last year’s event was just the warm-up act. We realised that the 2022-23 academic year marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Newark School of Violin Making, and what better way to celebrate the anniversary than to pick speakers who reflected the range and depth of talent that NSVM has produced, and to turn the conference into a reunion. Huge thanks go also to my colleagues and friends Tim Southon and Nicky Terry; it would have been impossible to run all of this without them!
The main event took place in Newark Town Hall on Saturday 29 April. Our speakers were, first up, William Castle, whom I met while I was a student in the 1970s; we have been friends and colleagues ever since. His talk Rediscovering archaic tools and techniques was a fascinating insight into his research on historic woodworking techniques as applied to violin making. Next was Daniel Kogge, one of the few Newark alumni to found a successful international violin dealership from scratch. Based in Berlin, he took us through the little-known makers of the Berlin school.
Restoration has been a huge career path for students, and we were proud to present the young restorer Lorraine Bitaud. She carefully outlined all the choices, considerations and ethical issues involved in restoration and then illustrated this by talking us through an especially complicated cello reconstruction. Finally, no instrument sounds without a bow! The conference was rounded off by two bow makers who met at Newark, Victor Bernard and Niall Flemming. They now work independently in Brussels, maintaining close contact, and their talk described how they got into bow making and how they choose their wood.
The evening before the conference we hosted a Reunion Buffet in Newark Town Hall. This was a great occasion and saw 43 of the 50 years represented, with former students from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Cyprus, Belgium and Italy. It was incredible to see people I’d not met for over 40 years, though as the organiser sadly I didn’t have much time to stop and chat with old friends.
The feedback from last year’s Lutherie included the idea that we should have a talk especially for students. We liked that idea but felt that it would be inappropriate as part of the main day; those who weren’t students might not be interested. So the suggestion grew into the idea of putting on a separate day for students, the Lutherie Student Forum. We held our inaugural event the day before Lutherie, Friday 28 April, in one of the smaller rooms at Newark Town Hall, attended by over twenty students from the three UK violin making colleges; Newark, West Dean and Merton.
The day had several parts; firstly a mammoth tool sale organised by the RAB Trust from items donated. This gave students the opportunity to buy some fantastic items; tools, wood, books and fittings, at bargain basement price. This was followed by Daniel Kogge talking about setup; what he looks for in a good quality setup, how he evaluates the instruments he’s working on, and finally he had a look at one of the student instruments and gave some helpful comments on how the work might be brought to the next level. After a lunch break Libby Summers chaired a round table discussion on the transition from college to work. The panel included Sarah Padday, an independent maker and restorer from Somerset, Lauri Tanner, bow
maker and restorer from Florian Leonhard in London, Sam Brouwer, violin maker and restorer also from Florian Leonhard, and Philip Brown who runs a violin shop in Newbury. There were many fascinating insights, including some from the several professional makers who crept in as the day wore on.
My last contribution to this huge celebration was to produce a booklet giving the history of Newark School of Violin Making. With help from many former students and tutors, I gathered a host of photographs and put together what I hope is a comprehensive list of all former students. Music journalist Ariane Todes was recruited to write the main text of the history of the school and to compile interviews with six former students over the lifetime of the school. I also set to the epic task of trying to trace where all the students ended up working. Impressively, around 77% of students have gone on to have a career in violin making for at least a few years, and the majority for their lifetimes. The booklet is available for purchase from https://www.lutherieuk.org/