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Boston's Master Violinmaker

This article is more than 15 years old.

Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay is known for its upscale boutiques and trendy cafes.

But tucked among the modern stores and salons is an old-school workshop where one man is keeping alive the classic Italian style of instrument making.

WBUR's Andrea Shea has more on the story of Marco Coppiardi, Boston's master violin maker and restorer.

Sound of door buzzer. Lock unlocks. Coppiardi says, 'Hello Andrea. Welcome...'

ANDREA SHEA: It's surprisingly quiet inside Marco Coppiardi's street-level studio. Here the forty year old Italian-born luthier painstakingly copies rare, classic stringed instruments.

MARCO COPPIARDI: This is a cello that Andrea Amati made in 1572. And Andrea Amati is the maker that started the tradition of violin making in Cremona.

ANDREA SHEA: Coppiardio himself is from Cremona. The Northern Italian city was a hot-bed of violinmaking from Amati's time through the death of Antonio Stradivari in 1737. Today an estimated 700 Stradivarius violins remain. Some fetch millions at auction...and there've been plenty of fakes. But Coppiardi's are replicas. He credits the Classic Cremonese method for the instrument's look, sound and mystique.

MARCO COPPIARDI: Some thought was in the varnish, some thought it was in the way the wood was treated before varnishing, or the type of wood that was used. The secret is in making sure we make an instrument the way he made instruments so that today we can make modern originals.

Sound of hand tools scraping wood

ANDREA SHEA: To make his violins, violas and cellos Coppiardi uses the same methods, tools and materials as Stradivari. He even imports the same type of spruce for the violin tops that some believe Stradivari himself used.

MARCO COPPIARDI: Not just any spruce, it's from a valley, Val di Fiemme, which is a valley in the region now called Trentino Alto Adige in Italy. This type of spruce grows on a ground that's very rich in silica.

ANDREA SHEA: It's the silica...or glass...that Coppiardi says makes the spruce an amazing conductor of sound.

Sound of hand tools scraping wood

ANDREA SHEA: Coppiardi crafted his first violin when he was 13 years old. He went to school in Cremona, then apprenticed for 10 years before opening his own shop there.

More hand tools

MARCO COPPIARDI: It takes me 250 hours to make a violin, about 600 hours to make a cello. And I sell my violins for $20,000 and my cellos for $40,000.

Music of David Marshall playing a Coppiardi violin

ANDREA SHEA: Musicians all over the world play Coppiardi's hand-made instruments. This is David Marshall, first violinist for the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.

More music

ANDREA SHEA: Coppiardi has been working in the U.S. since 1992. He announced the opening of his Newbury Street studio last month and says the location reminds him of Europe. But that's not the only reason he set up shop in Boston.

MARCO COPPIARDI: Most of the finest musicians are in Boston.

ANDREA SHEA: And Coppiardi says they keep him busy. While he completes four new replicas each year, he also maintains his living by maintaining antique instruments. One of them is on loan to Nicholas Kitchen of the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet.

MARCO COPPIARDI: Nick plays on a Guarneri Del Gesu violin. Guarneri Del Gesu is the only maker that was able to compete with Stradivari and today a Guarneri or a Stradivari go for the same price.

NICHOLAS KITCHEN: I feel embarrassed to say it's millions of dollars so it's very very valuable.

Sound of Kitchen tuning up his violin

ANDREA SHEA: That's Nicholas Kitchen.

NICHOLAS KITCHEN: 'This is the part of the maintenance I can do.'

ANDREA SHEA: In May Kitchen was granted the use of of the world's rarest the previous owner's widow. Before then it was at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C...for the past 13 years.

Kitchen playing that beautiful violin

ANDREA SHEA: Kitchen says there are plenty of good luthiers in Boston....but he comes to Coppiardi because he trusts his knowledge and dedication to the Cremonese way.

NICHOLAS KITCHEN: Not only does he see the way to fix an instrument in the most beautiful and careful way but he sees it in the continuum of making instruments.

Sound of Nicholas Kitchen playing his Guarneri

ANDREA SHEA: For Marco Coppiardi making musical instruments here on Newbury Street presents an interesting contradiction...between the quiet, old-world work he does inside his studio...and the cacophony of modern commerce outside.

Music from the Borromeo String Quartet

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on November 20, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.



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