Friday, May 4, 2007

Stradivarius or Zygmuntowicz??

Celebrated Brooklyn violin-maker Sam Zygmuntowicz recently accepted a challenging commission from violinist Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet: to make a new violin that would equal Drucker's beloved Stradivarius. Their collaboration is documented in The violin maker : finding a centuries-old tradition in a Brooklyn workshop by John Marchese. He follows Zygmuntowicz through the exacting, scrape-by-scrape process of trying to transform a block of wood into an exquisitely wrought vibrating box that somehow captures the inexpressible sonic essence the finicky Drucker longs to hear. Along the way, Marchese goes on a pilgrimage to Stradivarius's hometown of Cremona and delves into the secrets behind the maestro's incomparable sound. Was it the wood? The varnish? The nap-time transmigration of his spirit into the violin under construction? Zygmuntowicz's example, Marchese finds, suggests a more prosaic, if no less marvelous, possibility—that the genius of craftsmanship resides not in magic ingredients or arcane techniques, but simply in taking infinite, exhausting pains with the work, in "caring more and more about less and less." He also broaches a more inflammatory corollary: that modern violins actually sound just as good as Strads. The result is a beguiling journalistic meditation on the links—and tensions—between art, craft and connoisseurship.