While in Prague, Czech Republic, we spent time with Eduard Kristufek and his brother Paul. They have a bluegrass band, Eduard on mandolin and Paul on Banjo, with whom I played at a local pub our first Saturday night out.
We also invited serveral of their friends up on stage, so I got to pick with serveral very good Czech musicians. You may remember Eduard makes the wonderful Krishot mandolin which I sell in the shop, and his brother Paul makes banjos as well as selling banjo parts to Gibson.
Needless to say, I had a great time; there are many fantastic bluegrass musicians in the Czech Republic. Bette and I appreciated the use of Paul's flat while we were in Prague, and the guided tours by Eduard. They really took care of us.
While walking the streets of Prague and seeing the many wonderful sights, we stumbled upon the shop of a fiddlemaker Spidlen. We visited with and played the instruments of his son Jan, and learned we will also see him at the Violin Society convention in Cincinnati this November.
After stops in St. Wolfgang and Schladming, Austria, we visited Salzburg where we toured Mozart's birth home, his chidhood home and the museum to his memory. His favorite fiddle was Klotz!
Italy was the next country on our itinerary. We stopped in Padua to see Giovanni Lazarro. Giovanni is the fine violin and cello maker I met several years ago. We went to his shop and saw his latest works. I have several of Giovanni's violins for sale in the Fiddle Shop.
The next stop was Cremona, the home of Stradivari, Amati, Guarneri and countless other fiddle makers thru the centuries. What a fiddle paradise! There are currently 100 or so makers living and building instruments in Cremona today. I had corresponded with Vittorio Villa via email for several months, so we visited his shop upon arriving in town. He was very helpful in showing us around and allowing me to play his violins.
The Strad Museum was very interesting: it contains several of his molds, tools, and other asorted memorabilia on display. There were also many other violins, and a short film on violin making in the mid-1700's.
While in Cremona we went to the Municipal Hall and viewed 5 original 5 original violins made by Stradivari, del Jesu Guarneri and Nicolo Amati. We were fortunate to be there just as the Strad was removed for the short concert of the day. They are each lovingly played for 10-15 minutes every day by two fellows who are paid for just that purpose. Then one instrument is chosen to be played in a brief concert for those who have reserved a spot -- we just got lucky! The violin makers of Cremona support an observation room of sorts in a local palace where they may display some of their instruments. Vittorio told me about it and showed me where to find it. The instruments were available to be played, so I tried them all.
After walking the town of Florence about 40 times, we drove to Genoa. I had heard that Paganini's violin was on display there, a del Jesu Guarneri which is called "the Cannon", and a copy of it made some time later by Villaume in France. I thought I had a contact that could arrange for me to see them, but I was not successful in making a connection with him. Bette and I didn't have any information about where they were housed , and it turned into quite a scavenger hunt. It took us almost three hours to locate the building where they were, and a friendly guard who unlocked three doors, but we were finally able to view them. He even allowed me to photograph the violins, something I had not been able to do in Cremona.
Our final fiddle adventure was in Mittenwald, Germany, where there is a wonderful violin-making school. It is a beautiful little village at the base of the Alps where Mathias Klotz made violins in the 17th and 18th centuries. He and his descendents founded the school, and the town established a fantastic museum of violins and various stringed instruments in the very house where Klotz lived and worked. Our good friend, Munich native Wolfgang Kovacs, and girlfriend Ricci were perfect hosts and helped us sight-see for the remainder of our trip. He had contacted Bruno Theil at the Rattlesnake Saloon who arranged an evening of picking for me on my birthday, July 6th.
On stage with me were Rudiger Helbig on banjo, Willie Jones (a Connecticut native who lives and works in Heidleburg) on bass, and Munich native Ingo Sandhofen, a fantastic guitar picker! We had a great time and it seemed the audience did as well.
Not only did we see and play a lot of different instruments, we toured several castles and churches. Florence, Italy is an artistic paradise, Austria and Germany have amazing castles. Come by the shop if you're near and I'll show you some more pictures and chat more about our fabulous trip.