Christophe Landon: When Making Instruments Become an Art

musica-marin_christophe-landonPrize-winning violin maker Christophe Landon has been designing and building violins since he was a teenager. Today, Landon makes violin for the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and many world renowned artists.

We talked to Landon about his work with Musica Marin and what has fueled his passion throughout the years.

Musica Marin: How did you get involved with Musica Marin? What led to the collaboration/why work with them/etc?

CHRISTOPHE LANDON: By pure coincidence, the logo of the festival – a small turquoise glass violin — has the same tones of colors than the quartet (two violins, a viola, a cello) I made in the 80’s, for which I commissioned Patrick Guilbert to apply his gold and copper leave timeless patina.

After many discussions with Ruth, we decided to feature the quartet in last spring’s concert. The quartet really embodies Musica Marin: a perfect symbiosis of chamber music and the beautiful Bay Area and specially Tiburon. Listening to music, looking on the side at the bay and its endlessly changing water colors.

The next big feature of the quartet will be the performance next spring of When Adonis calls, an opera by Clint Borsoni, which features a quartet, two singers and two dancers. It is the only opera I know written for quartet. Another great coincidence or perhaps fate.

MM: How long have you been making violins? How/when did you get started and what fueled that passion?
CL: I am 57 years old and I have been making violins since I was 15 years old. I had no idea when I started this life around Violin making that it would be so exciting and fulfilling.

Music, creation, travels and all the people around it [fuel my passion]. I am never been bored doing it and every day opens new doors and new challenges.

MM: Can you tell our readers a bit about what goes into the process of making a violin? Do you use any unique materials, finishes or processes to make your violins?
CL: The wood I use has been seasoned between 30 and 300 years. I have been collecting wood (maple and spruce) since I am 16 years old. I have researched the varnish of the old masters for the copies I make. As for my creations, I like the quartet for Musica Marin, since I used bright primary colors. The new collaboration with Patrick Guilbert has added a dimension to my experimental work.

MM: Of all the instruments you make, do you have a favorite model or technique?
CL: In the same way that I listen to a very wide spectrum of music (from medieval to ethnic to all the classical repertoire and experimental music) my making also covers a wide range all within the string quartet family.

I have made baroque violins, instruments for soloists and many asymmetrical violins and violas and cellos (specially violas). The quartet has a big place in my heart.

MM: You are actually skilled in both violin and bow making, which are considered very specific and different skills. What makes these two skills so unique and do you have a favorite?
CL: The string quartet instruments and their bows are inseparable — that is why I like to make both and also deal with the finest old instruments and bows. The combinations are endless. Each bow makes the instrument sound different and each instrument makes the bows feel different.

I could not see myself making only bows, I would see no purpose in it. And when I finish an instrument I can not wait to see which of my bows or old master bows will optimize the sound.

I am actually working on a quartet of bows for the Musica Marin quartet. It will be a great surprise.