Last week, I flew back to London for a four-day, whirlwind trip – I needed to give my family much needed hugs, see two of my closest friends and have some major work done on my violin. The New England Climate, and our punishing schedule is not kind to our instruments and my beautiful instrument had the chance spend a few days with its maker – a spa weekend for my poor, overworked instrument. It is always a scary prospect being separated from it, especially knowing that this time, it needed major surgery – the neck needed to be raised, its sound post changed and bridge replaced. Nevertheless, I knew I was leaving it in safe hands.
There are moments in life when you have the chance to make a connection with someone who turns out to be an instrumental part of your journey (pun intended!). I first heard about Glen Collins, the incredible violin maker through a colleague who owned a brand new instrument. When I first heard his violin I was convinced that it must be a Stradivarius or Guaneri… It had to be! How could a brand new violin sound SO incredible? It just couldn’t be possible, could it? Back in 2010, a few years after this experience, I was urged to meet the man who made this instrument. I learned that he had just finished making his newest violin and I would be a fool not to take the first train up to Newark, near Nottingham and go and see it! I had been looking for a new violin for a while, but something about the stars aligning and all arrows pointing to this particular violin maker felt predetermined.
Imagine if you will, Geppetto and his Pinocchio, now swap the boy for a violin and this, ladies and gentlemen is the real-life fairytale genius of the violin-maker Glen Collins. This beautiful soul makes violins unlike anything I ever thought possible. His instruments quite literally spring to life in your hands, they respond to touch in a way that connects the soul of the player directly to the notes that come from these beautifully crafted instruments. I have never known anything like it. When I was first presented with my 2010 Glen Collins, it was quite literally love at first sight! The varnish smelled fresh, the strings had only just been put on and no one had ever played it. Almost instantly as I drew sound from it, I knew that this was a magical moment I would never forget. I looked over at Nick and Glen and their eyes were wide, their smiles even wider, I knew that the vibrations booming out in every direction, down through me and out into the world were something very special. I borrowed the violin for a short while taking it to IMS Prussia Cove, a wonderful chamber music festival down in Cornwall on the sea cost in the UK. I presented my violin to my fellow musicians alongside their priceless instruments made by Amati, Stradivarius, Bergonzi and Guarneri. I was nervous my new baby would be found out and prove inferior in every way. How wrong I was! People actually mistook my violin for the real Guarneri del Jesu ‘Lord Wilton’ on which it is modeled. Needless to say, I bought the violin pretty soon after the festival.
This violin has been my companion for the last 13 years years, my soul mate. I have poured myself into it in every possible way. Quite literally blood (a deep cut from a bagel knife with no time for proper stitches before recording my first album) sweat (like a marathon runner) and tears (oh the tears) have gone into this violin. I have not known a week in the last 13 years when this violin hasn’t been there for me, waiting patiently, ready, attentive, generous and open. It has taken my playing to a whole new level and I am eternally grateful to the mastery of Glen Collins for providing me this journey.
Standing in Glen’s kitchen last week with my newly restored violin in my hand – my instrument never felt so good. However… I didn’t return back to the US with just one Glen Collins violin, but two! Glen, his wife Susie and I got chatting about all things violin and, before I was really even aware of what was happening, I was presented with Glen’s newest creation. A 2023 Guaneri del Gesu copy (of which he has now made over 100), the inscription on the inside read ‘For Louisa.’ My heart has yet again been blown wide open in a way I didn’t think was possible! I have spent just over a week now with this new violin and I have, yet again, fallen hard. It is difficult to put into words the difference between the two brothers, they are like my two boys, same genetics just very different characters. Where one can be more sensitive, the other is a little more direct and where I need to light a fire under one, the other needs a more subtle approach. There is power and strength in this new violin that lately, I have been searching for. This clarity of sound propels me forward in new and surprising ways that I feel very excited to explore.
I will dedicate the concerts this weekend to Glen Collins and the new, ‘Louisa’ violin will make its debut performing Mozart, Schumann and Dvorak Piano Trios alongside my partner in crime Nick Burns and our wonderful friend Nick Canellakis who joins us from NYC with his famous Cello by Vuillaume. Let’s see what the violin makes of the concert platform and where it will take me. One thing is for sure, I am in presence of greatness, Glen is a maestro in the truest sense of the word. He is humble, caring, curious and everything about his work and his words leave you certain that he is a master of his craft. I will raise my scroll to him and endeavor to uphold his mastery, to work not only for me, but into the hearts of all those who hear it.