This article was published in Classical Music magazine in March 2003
Luthier Andreas Hudelmayer believes his USP may be his combination of experience as both player and maker of stringed instruments. Jessica Duchen tours his new workshop
Andreas Hudelmayer has struck gold. When he took the plunge last year, setting himself up as a self-employed violin-maker and –repairer as he has long dreamed of doing, he needed .an affordable studio; and it is hard to imagine a better place to start out. At Cornwell House – a round building on the corner of London’s Clerkenwell Green filled with artisans’ workshops, from graphic designers to jewellers -his room is flooded with natural light that pours in through two huge windows almost the full height of the i6-ft ceiling. The storage space is vertical as well. To one side, a stock of wood is stacked on shelves up to the ceiling; and spread out up another wall are his tools – an array of saws, damps, hammers and moulds that could almost grace a display at Tate Modem.
Hudelmayer, originally from near Stuttgart in Germany, first came to the UK to train at the Newark School of Violin Making and was workshop manager at Phelps for five years before going solo. His aim had always been to be an independent maker – but, as always, finding a way to. make the dream become a reality involved concentrated effort. Hudelmayer went about it systematically. He had met with some encouraging success, not least winning ninth place in the cello makers’ competition at the Manchester Cello Festival while he was still a student. But he knew that he needed the experience and contacts that he would gain from working at a well- established firm like Phelps, as well as a regular salary from which to save. ‘I saved up for years so that I could keep myself going for a certain length of time without an income. Otherwise ifs not possible: if you’re making instruments the turnaround is very slow and you don’t know how long it will take to sell one. And it was very important for me to have been working as a violin-maker in London, to develop the contacts and to know how the whole London music scene works.’ Eventually Hudelmayer gave himself a deadline of two years in which to make the leap. ‘That was very helpful, because otherwise ifs very easy for it to remain a dream while you do nothing about it. I stuck to the deadline, and it helped me to focus on the practical things I needed to do.’
So how did he find this marvellous pad? ‘I started by doing an internet search. I’dseen fliers advertising artists’ studios, buildings where artists share the space. I found a list of phone numbers and started investigating whether a violin-maker would fit in. What sold Clerkenwell Green to me was the location, because so many of the other possibilities were on the edge of London. It’s very important for me to be central. From here it’s 15 minutes’ walk to the Barbican and the Guildhall, three tube stops to the Royal Academy and there’s a direct bus to the South Bank. That means that musicians and students can pop in very easily if they want something in their instrument to be looked at quickly between rehearsals or lessons.’ Hudemayer has a special advantage as a luthier in that he is also a keen cellist. Perhaps inevitably, that has given him a particular interest in making cellos, though his recent success with violins (he has sold two since setting up shop) means, he says, that his enthusiasm is evenly spread. ‘I ask professional players, both violinists and cellists, for constant feedback about the instruments,’ he says. ‘But I’m very happy to have kept up my own playing, because it helps me to understand musicians’ problems; when they talk about aspects of playing that they might want help with, it makes a big difference if you know how it feels.’He suggests with a smile that his unique selling point could just be this combination of experience: ‘I can offer people a solid making and repairing knowledge combined with knowledge about sound and playing. I find ifs starting to get results, but of course after seven months its still early days. I hope it’ll be a successful concept.’
Among the musicians who have tried out Hudelmayer’s instruments are violinist David Fruehwirth and cellist Oleg Kogan. Kogan, a founder member of the Razumovsky Ensemble and a sought-after teacher at the Guildhall, has played two of Hudelmayer’s cellos. ‘One is a copy of a Gofriller and the other a copy of a Strad, but I like both. One has a deeper sound, which is very beautiful; the other is much brighter; so he’s not confined to creating just one sound. One of my students borrowed one for three months to prepare for the Tchaikovsky competition.’ Kogans students have taken to consulting Hudelmayer regularly for tonal adjustments, especially since he went in to the Guildhall to give a workshop on instrument care last year, ‘and they’re very happy with the results and with his quick, kind, comfortable service. Also we had a sound adjustment session at the Guildhall, when he worked on my cello and adjusted the tone really beautifully.’ Fruehwirth – who normally plays a Strad – says, ‘Andreas’s violins have character both in looks and sound. There’s a certain depth to the sound that you normally only find in old instruments. They’re easy to play – they respond very quickly, which is always good for a professional. I took one fiddle to try for a couple of weeks and then discussed with Andreas how it could be made even better: we moved the soundpost and put on a different bridge, after which the sound was quite remarkable. Also, his instruments are incredibly fairly priced. He’s very young to have started out on his own, but I think he will have a very good future.’
Andreas Hudelmayer, Studio 11 Cornwell House, 21 Clerkenwell Green, London EClR 0DP tel: 0207490 0188, firstname.lastname@example.org