In a special project to benefit the UK-based Rowan Armour-Brown
(RAB) Trust, a group of students from the Newark School of Violin
Making have completed an unfinished cello by Brian Laurence, who
died in 2012.
Laurence, who was based in Doncaster, began making the cello in 1989 when he was a student at Newark. He had come to violin making in his forties after being made redundant from a British Rail workshop. After his death, his workshop was bequeathed to the RAB Trust, which supports violin making students in the UK through grants, work placements, and by distributing donated tools and wood. Proceeds from the sale of the completed Laurence cello will go to the trust, with Laurence's widow also receiving a percentage.
Under the guidance of professional luthier and cello specialist Kai-Thomas Roth, the three Newark students (pictured with Roth, second from right) – Robert Stepp from Germany, Ben Molinaro from France, and Sam Brouwer from the Netherlands – worked up to 16-hour days to finish the cello over two weeks in July. The cello was completed in the white, and Roth plans to varnish it over the summer.
The project took place at Roth's workshop in Somerset, but the group also visited the Stradivari exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to see the three Stradivari cellos on display there. Roth said: 'Everything that we did was based on supposed Stradivari ideas, and on the Stradivari design, although Brian started this cello from Vuillaume measurements, and based it loosely on a Vuillaume instrument that was at Newark in the 1980s. Brian had built the rib structure, and the front and back were rough-arched, but there were some things to correct and lots of things to sort out. But that was good, because we came up against almost every question and problem that present themselves in the process of making a cello.'
One of the Newark students, Robert Stepp, had made a cello before he came to Newark, and found the Laurence project a particularly interesting challenge: 'We learnt the complete way to make a cello in just two weeks. I had to make the scroll – the others made the front and back. It was great to see Kai-Thomas's method for the scroll. I trained as a cellist, so I got to try the instrument out, too.'
Roth said that the timescale for the project made it unusually intense. 'Some days we didn't finish until midnight. There wasn't time to discuss how everything was done, and I didn't give the students the freedom to do everything on the instrument. But there were a couple of occasions when we did discuss things, and I thought, 'Why have I been doing it like this for such a long time, when what they've been saying makes sense?' So there was some mutual learning, as there is with any collaborative project.'
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Photos courtesy Kai-Thomas Roth