Copying a Montagnana cello: The Full Monty

00 Poss lead  Tommasso Chiesa, Gianmaria Stelzer, Julian Döring and Stefano Gibertoni fitting the bass bar late in the evening.  DvZ

For the past few years, the attendees of the annual Oberlin Violin Makers Workshop have set themselves increasingly challenging group projects. Robin Aitchison explains how 30 luthiers collaborated on their latest task: to copy a Montagnana cello with pinpoint accuracy

Every June, the VSA Oberlin Violin Makers Workshop brings together luthiers from all over the world to work on joint woodwork and varnish projects, with the expectation that ‘everyone teaches, everyone learns’. When Oberlin’s director Christopher Germain suggested that 2023 might be a good year for me to lead a cello making project, I knew I was in for a steep learning curve.

The first challenge was to find an inspiring cello to use as our model. Marinos Glitsos, a new face in Oberlin, suggested we should consider the c.1730 ‘Farina’, a Montagnana once owned by the British cellist May Mukle and now played by Ilya Finkelshteyn, principal cellist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO). When I visited Ilya and heard him play the cello, I realized what an ideal subject it would be for our project. The voice of the ‘Farina’ is exceptional (Ilya describes it as having the depth and resonance of a Montagnana and the ‘sizzle’ of a Strad). And, significantly, it has escaped the knives and saws of earlier generations and retains its original dimensions, unlike most other Montagnana cellos which have been cut down in size, mostly during the 19th century, to suit contemporary fashions and tastes…

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