Ten years with Jan Špidlen
I acquired my Jan Špidlen fiddle ten years ago this year, and as the first owner of this ‘Plowden’ del Gesù model violin, I thought I’d report my experience with it.
When I first got her, the fiddle was warm as could be. I was actually quite taken aback on just how playable this fresh instrument truly was.
In the last year, though, all the four strings are resonating like a bell. To elaborate: when I play a ‘D’ note, no matter where, the fiddle begins to glow, sonorously. All the four strings do this now.
The fiddle seems to be flipping a page to a new chapter in its life. And it’s great to be part of that.
New is the new old
When I was in graduate school, there was a luthier in the music building that worked on the school instruments, and taught kids about violin making.
I was gripped by this guy, and since I was always borrowing fine instruments, I went to him with some questions about what I should invest in for myself after I graduate.
After doing some research, I thought that I would ring Samuel Zygmuntowicz up and get on his long waiting list for commissioning a new fiddle. However, the school luthier said a few things that got be thinking.
He said: ‘There’s a guy in Prague you really should be in touch with.’
He was referring to Jan and Premysl Špidlen.
After visiting the Czech Republic for a competition, I came home to New York with a clear mind: I would order a fiddle from Jan.
It would be a bit of a wait, but that was OK with me; I needed some time to raise some funds. Being just out of school, I was a little light on cash, so a waitlist of twelve to eighteen months was quite doable.
Jan was happy to take a deposit, and get me in the queue for a del Gesù copy. I got the sense that this was the best decision I ever made, and in retrospect, I was right.
I’ve been concentrating mostly on works for the violin alone in the last ten years. And the start of this focus just so happened to coincide with when I finally got the new instrument.
This fiddle, named by Jan as ‘Opus 77,’ is certainly now part of my little family. It was great the first day I put strings on it; after recording oodles of demanding violin repertoire; and in concert, where it has shown to be exceptional in big halls, and in recital spaces.
All in all, modern makers are able to give artists the tools for our trade. Gone are the days where the Old Italians have to be acquired in order for us to have a ‘voice.’
Jan Špidlen is up in the stratosphere with the great modern makers. Anyone who is lucky enough to get their hands on one of his stringed instruments will forever be in heaven playing on something so fine.