The Creation of Sound
Illustration by Teodor Georgiev
Eva and Christo Marino are dedicating their lives — and all the attention to detail a person can possess — to practicing the ancient profession of lutherie. Building and repairing string instruments in the best traditions of Stradivari (and in his city, Cremona, too) is a vocation not a lot of people can take pride in having nowadays. Here we can read their story, in itself feeling like a melody.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
Christo: We are both born in Asenovgrad, Bulgaria. Me: in a family of musicians, therefore I’ve always been surrounded by classical music, but the idea of becoming one myself never appealed to me — I preferred drawing. I studied in an art school in Kazanlyk (where my first real encounter with lutherie happened) and then I graduated from high school in Plovdiv with “Fine arts” in 1996.
Eva: My favorite passtime as a child was drawing and years later I started taking pottery and applied arts courses. My art teachers used to say that I possess quite a talent for sculpture. I adored making things with my hands; making the world around me more beautiful in a way. In 1995 I graduated the applied arts school in Sofia with “Arrangement and spatial design”. In my last years there I discovered my passion for rock music (not classical: I was still not ready for it) and started taking drum and percussion lessons. Lutherie perfectly combined my interest in painting, sculpture and music.
How did you decide to pursue lutherie?
Christo: The spark of this weird profession was lit in early childhood with the airing of a movie about Antonio Stradivari on TV — the great violin master who lived and created in Cremona, Italy between 1644 – 1737.
Later my parents and I discovered that one of the few public lutherie schools in Europe is situated in Stradivari’s town: that’s how I decided to learn this magical craft, straight from the place where the violin was born.
Eva: Unlike Christo, I found lutherie much later and thanks to him. If Christo’s passion for violins brought him in Italy, my love for Christo helped me find out my true vocation.
In my childhood memories the violin was a strange instrument with chords made out of cat guts, the sound of which filled me with joy and strong curiosity. I haven’t thought even for a moment that one day I will make a living out of this, that I will create these same violins which once amazed me and made me feel a magnetic attraction, so mysterious to me back then.
How did you meet and what does working in tandem give you?
We’ve been together since 1997 but we know each other since we were kids, one can say. We had the same interests in music and art, and in a small town like Asenovgrad people who share interests hang out together. Back then we both attended art school and our main conversation points were brushes, paints and canvases. We were discussing different techniques for colour application, the light/shadow play, the creating of shape. Seems like almost nothing has changed since then, maybe just the means of expression.
Apart from the fact the we share the same profession, we are very different as people, therefore we have different points of view and methods at the different stages of our work. It’s good that each of us manages to keep the individuality of their approach and works towards the common goal. We see differences as something positive, something that complements us and is valuable; like we are the two parts of something whole. Christo is patient, calm and traditional, while Eva is methodic, analytical and seeking. We manage to combine the male strength and courage with the female sensitivity and finesse.
It is a common belief that lutherie is a “male” profession. Has this notion changed already?
Nowadays we can observe more and more women in professions commonly believed to be “male”: lutherie included. This and many more are the prejudices which every man or woman encounters in this field of work. We have met such beliefs since the very beginning: that in order to be a true master you have to not only be a man, but an Italian man, and that the price of the instrument is relative to the label it has on and our nationality: not with the qualities of said instrument.
We’ve experienced that particularly in our work with Asian dealers: the biggest market in the world. Being good in what we do was not enough.
As we wanted to get away from all these absurd issues, we started signing our instruments with the artistic names Eva and Christo Marino. With time we started exclusively working with professional musicians who appreciate our work not on the grounds of our gender or nationality, but according to our professionalism and the high quality of our instruments’ sound.
How connected to music has a great luthier to be and do you play music yourselves?
It’s important that the luthier is connected to music, as well as to its performers: they are a part of our jobs and we are in it together. If the luthier doesn’t have appreciation for classical music or doesn’t posses the means to define a quality sound, they can not search for it in their instruments and they will never find it, because they don’t know it. It is not obligatory for a luthier to play professionally in order to be good in their job — but the luthier is at the musicians disposal and has to posses the required skills to meet their expectations. Patience and being able to listen to what the client is searching for in terms of sound — not trying to impose their personal opinion and taste — are way more important qualities for a luthier than being able to perform music. We often meet the type of musicians who believe they can do our job better that we do.
How much time does creating an instrument take?
For a violin, viola or violoncello two types of wood are used mainly: maple and spruce.
Making a violin or a viola is a long and complicating process taking up to 3 months of manual labour, and a cello requires even more time: half an year. Creating an instrument doesn’t end with putting the pieces together, varnishing and chord-stretching — it’s just the beginning of a long journey. At this stage the instrument still believes it’s a tree and doesn’t know it has been born to play music. It’s a living matter, instantly reacting to even the slightest atmospheric changes as humidity, dryness and temperature. That’s where work on sound and fine tuning begins.
Like a little child has to be teached how to pronounce clearly each different note, then separate phrases, than a whole composition. In order for the true voice of the instrument to ripen, years of patient mutual work are needed: playing by the musician and monitoring and assistance by the luthier.
Tell us more about your clients.
Our clients are mainly professional musicians form all over the world, fully dedicated to their soloist or philharmonic career, as well as chamber music performers. Our instruments can be heard from the Hawaii to New Zealand, Japan, Costa Rica, USA, Spain, Austria, Italy, UK, Germany, Portugal and many more. Unfortunately, there is only viola of ours in Bulgaria, currently played in Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra by the talented Demna Gigova, lead viola at the Bulgarian National Radio orchestra until recently.
In 2010 we met one of classical music’s living legends: maestro Bruno Giuranna, who fell in love with one of pour violas and made it his, even though he has never possessed or played on a new instrument throughout his entire career. We are also taking care of his ancient Michele Deconet from 1766.
Recently we were presented with the amazing opportunity to have an unique viola in our atelier, made in 1568 by the oldest Cremonese luthier known to the world, Andrea Amati. Its owner is Daniel Avshalomov: the violist of the American String Quartet.
In our atelier we have also had instruments such as Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù, Storioni, Bergonzi, Testore, Santo Serafino, Gagliano, Amati, Antoniazzi, Postiglione, Marchetti and many more.
In 2012, by a special invitation by the Royal Academy of Music in London, we had the chance to work on a project examining one of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini’s violins from 1756, a part of the Academy’s stunning collection. Our task was to make a precise copy of the instrument.
It is a huge privilege for us to have daily contact with all these fantastic instruments, world renowned masterpieces of lutherie art.
What are the challenges that someone with a classical profession meеts on a daily basis?
Our work can be divided in two — constructing new and restoring old instruments. When we create new ones, we are focused on making them better and better in terms of sound and unique character.
We work for months on a project and its little details. Each day is a challenge if we are on the right track and if our intuition was to be trusted. Only when we have finished an instrument and it starts playing, we found out if we made the right choice.
Another great challenge in our everyday work is restoring old instruments.
When we manage to help them, giving new voice to their violin and seeing a smile on their face, we feel really fulfilled. It is a challenge when we meet instruments from the XVI, XVII or XVIII century — in most of the cases they are very high-level, and they have reached it because from the moment they were created, they have been played on exclusively by the best musicians and taken care of by the best luthiers. If we manage to enhance such an instrument in terms of sound and give is some of our personal touch, we can call ourselves happy.
Lutherie is a detail-oriented craft based on a vast experience, and it has remained unchanged since the XVI century. Speaking of which: is it possible that one day it can be done by machines in the same way?
Of course it’s possible — our colleagues form China have taken care of that a long time ago. But speaking of master’s instruments, things are quite different. Lutherie is not only the skill to copy a wooden corpus shaped like a violin, viola or cello. Of each luthier is required a large array of specific knowledge: in acoustic physics, wood-carving, sculpture, painting, chemistry and, of course, music. A machine with all these skills is yet to be invented.
Often the client explains the desired sound and we imagine the instrument in detail — including the varnish color and the model — and we start working knowing clearly what we should do.
Every instrument needs warm human touch. Its birth is a unique experience at each stage of creation. We are charging the instrument with emotion when creating it and it charges us back.
This unique magic is entirely missing in the factory-made instruments.
You are living and working in the city of the most-famous luthiers in history. How does your day look like and what does Cremona give you?
When we mention Italy, we always imagine a sun-bathed country and peaceful living. Cremona is very atypical — just the contrary of all that. As it’s in the middle of the Po Valley with the Po river passing by the city,
It is very stimulating to each luthier to be in a city with more than 200 ateliers. The days are full of meetings not only with musicians, but also with colleagues for a coffee or aperitivo. We are usually gossiping about the lutherie world, sharing experience on new techniques or materials. We are lucky to have Milano so close by, as it offers a wide range of entertainment: classical and contemporary concerts and exhibitions, for example.
What would be your advise for a you person who wants to become a luthier?
One can say that our profession is rare and quite interesting. You start feeling its complexity from the first steps on. Lutherie can be turned into craft depending on your approach.
Talent is important, as anywhere else, but you need an innate taste for beauty and a fully formed aesthetic, as well a special attitude towards wood, the beauty and form of sound. Lutherie is a crossing point of fine art, sculpture and wood-carving with music, crafts and science. One of the first advices that we would give to lutherie apprentices is to love the craft and be ready to sacrifice a lot in its name; to follow their dreams and never compromise on quality. Unfortunately, lots of them are searching for quick and easy results without a lot of efforts and without full immersing into the subject, and without being ready to go through all the obstacles which you undoubtedly encounter on the way to true art.
In 2013, inspired by our story, the young and talented director Maria Averina and the producer Martichka Bozhilova invited us to participate in the documentary From Cremona to Cremona. It describes the two directions of lutherie — the road paved with century-old traditions and full medication to art, and the one full of opportunities and resourceful business planning. The film illustrates choosing your dreams and being yourself despite the difficulties. It is a journey to the dream city of every luthier — Cremona, towards the future of lutherie art and the true selves of the people who had dedicated themselves to this unique occupation.
What’s next for you?
Life is full of surprises and challenges. We are just about to see what’s next. We are not into making long-term plans for the future, we try to live in the present. Our job often requires extensive traveling and that’s how we meet a lot of interesting people form the art world. That’s one of the sweetest and most exciting sides of our job: by touching the art of other, we are getting inspired for our own. We are just following the direction our instruments are leading is in.