Samuel Zygmuntowicz: How a violin maker in New York became the venue for international stars to meet. A portrait by Corilon violins.
Even the tiniest interval can make a difference when playing a stringed instrument, such as when intonation is involved. And by the same fashion, each miniscule detail matters when the instrument is being crafted: every single change can have an impact on the sound, even if the change only affects one individual part of the instrument. This is the sentiment that violin maker Samuel Zygmuntowicz, contemporary master luthier and artist from New York, keeps in mind when he begins crafting a new instrument or working on an older one.
Historic stringed instruments are quite popular amongst today's artists, but in most cases they are far beyond the financial reach of many musicians. This has led violin maker Samuel Zygmuntowicz to specialise in replicas of old masters. The fact that his replicas are also sold at high prices may be regarded as a certain irony of the market, although it could also simply be considered a confirmation of his stellar reputation. For example, the reproduction of a Guarneri which Samuel Zygmuntowicz created for Isaac Stern in 1994 was auctioned off in 2003 at the highest price ever generated for an instrument made by a still-living master. Professional musicians from around the globe seek out his violin making workshop in Brooklyn so they can at least make their way onto his waiting list. International luminaries ranging from Joshua Bell to Yo-Yo Ma all the way to the members of the Emerson String Quartet rank amongst Samuel Zygmuntowicz' clients. By working closely with artists who continue to consult with him after they have purchased his instrument, Samuel Zygmuntowicz remains tireless in his pursuit of the perfect sound.
Samuel Zygmuntowicz' family history was shaped by the atrocities of the 20th century. As prisoners in Auschwitz, his parents were among of the few to survive the Holocaust. They immigrated to Philadelphia, where Samuel Zygmuntowicz was born in 1956; his father supported the family by opening a laundry service. At 13 Samuel carved his first instrument, a flute. Three years later, at the tender age of 16, he began working at an atelier and later completed the corresponding professional training at a violin-making school in Salt Lake City, the first of its kind in the US. While still a student, he perfected his skills in the fields of restoration and crafting new instruments under Carl Becker; after completing his training in 1980, he also studied under Jacques Français and René Morel. In 1985 Zygmuntowicz established his own atelier – in New York, the natural point of contact for great musicians.
Following in the footsteps of the old masters is not a sentimental affair for Samuel Zygmuntowicz; instead, he says, their works can now be analysed more thoroughly than ever before, and state-of-the-art research is a major aspect of his work. In conjunction with physicist George Bissinger and other scientists, luthiers, musicians, film producers and designers, Samuel Zygmuntowicz established the "Strad3D" project. By using lasers and CT scans, they can render the oscillation of a violin's corpus as a 3D-animation – a fascinating and insightful look at what happens below the surface.
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