Husband-and-wife violin makers and restorers Andrew Fairfax and Anneleen Fairfax-van der Grinten talk about their different professional strengths and their shared love of books, wine and Italy

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Andrew Fairfax and Anneleen Fairfax-van der Grinten | Photo courtesy: Anneleen Fairfax-van der Grinten

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This was published in the April 2014 issue of The Strad

Andrew Fairfax

I first met Anneleen in a pub in Newark. I had graduated from the Newark School of Violin Making and she was just starting her first year; traditionally all the students went to the pub on Wednesday evenings. My first impression was of a tall, outgoing Dutch girl wearing bright red jeans. I was writing job applications at the time and it turned out that Anneleen’s parents were looking for an assistant in their workshop in the Netherlands. I worked there for a year and we continued a long-distance relationship resulting in very expensive phone bills; I would also fly back occasionally and she would drive over in her old Citroën 2CV in the holidays.

In terms of talent, Anneleen has inherited a great deal from her parents. They all love cooking, gardening and are great linguists, which means that with children and grandchildren living all over Europe they happily swap from one language to another, and then back to English for me! Before taking up violin making, Anneleen’s father was an architect, and he has a brilliant eye for detail, which is something I admire in her – she can pick out problems with an instrument very quickly. Now we’re sharing a workshop together it’s great to be able to pass over what I am working on for comment. As she has such a good eye, it’s nice to take advantage of it.

Our biggest project over the past five years has been designing and building a new house. We bought a bungalow to demolish and ended up living in it for over three years while attempting to get planning permission, but soon we’ll have a new house with a custom-made workshop, though unfortunately no wine cellar. The whole process has been a mixture of enjoyment and deep frustration but it has been easy for us to agree on what we wanted. Anneleen visits the site most days and often bakes a cake to keep the builders happy.

We both like visiting galleries and going to plays and concerts. There is always music playing when we are both in the workshop. We usually listen to BBC Radio 3 and I like to be surprised by what comes on, although Anneleen prefers Classical and Baroque – so if there’s too much muttering under her breath I quickly put on a CD.

Anneleen Fairfax-van der Grinten

I fell madly in love with Andrew within a week of us meeting in Newark. He was easy to talk to and I used to show him violins I was making and ask for his advice and criticism. He was always very diplomatic and good at explaining things, and still enjoys teaching now. As we became closer he would leave little notes under the wipers of my car. One Shrove Tuesday I found a note saying, ‘Do you want to come over for pancakes?’

Andrew was delighted when he was offered a position by Charles Beare in 1982. For him it was a dream job, and in the early days, before we all had children, a very sociable one too. We often met up with his Beare’s colleagues and their partners on Friday nights, and in the summer we played cricket on Clapham Common. Andrew also played for a local pub team but now has to listen to me talking about my tennis matches instead.

Andrew left Beare’s in January after more than 30 years because he wants to spend more time making new instruments. I much prefer restoration. I love taking on something in a dreadful state, then sending it back looking and sounding great. He is also very good at understanding the problems musicians sometimes have with their instruments. He is more patient than I am, and could do soundpost adjustments all day. I’m glad he does because then I don’t have to!

There is plenty to do where we live in Tunbridge Wells. We’re very close to open countryside and we often go and see films and plays with friends, which luckily means I can opt out of Shakespeare. We both like reading, although lately a lot of Andrew’s has been research for a biography he is writing about the Panormos.

We haven’t had much time for travelling lately because of our house-building project but we both enjoy Italy. We spent our honeymoon in Florence and since then we’ve explore a lot of the country. Andrew is very laid-back and relaxed on holiday, but he does keep checking emails. He’s always got different projects on the go, so he likes to keep up. He doesn’t find it stressful, though – he just enjoys his work.


This was published in the April 2014 issue of The Strad

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