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Meet the Swiss man trying to make a ’21st century Stradivarius’

Award-winning Swiss luthier David Leonard Wiedmer has set himself the task of reproducing the legendary Italian violin at his workshop tucked away in a quayside in Lyon, southeast France.

Meet the Swiss man trying to make a '21st century Stradivarius'
Swiss violin maker David Leonard Wiedmer earlier in February. Photo: AFP

Working from the details of one of the most famous Stradivarius violins, Wiedmer told the AFP news agency: “This is the first time I'm making this model so I'm looking forward to hearing how it sounds.

“Apparently the original sounds very, very good, so we'll have to find the same features again. It's a challenge.”

Wiedmer may still only be 29, but he has already made his reputation as a master craftsman.

One of his violins won gold at the Violin Society of America's international competition last year. With friend and collaborator Damien Gest, he won gold for one of their cellos.

Photo: AFP

And in the same competition, he picked up silver for his workmanship on a viola.

Last year's prizes were just the latest in a series of awards for his work, including a medal in 2015 for one of his violins at a competition in Cremona, the home of the Stradivarius.

Trained at the Ecole nationale de lutherie de Mirecourt, in eastern France, Wiedmer served apprenticeships in New York — and London with renowned luthier Florian Leonhard — before setting up shop in Lyon three years ago.

While part of learning his craft involved restoring old instruments, he quickly moved on to creating his own.

“Already at school he had an exceptional hand,” Gest told AFP. “We were always the first to give up going out with our pals to finish an instrument.”

Photo: AFP

At his Lyon workshop, Wiedmer works beside his partner Lea Trombert, a former cellist, who switched to making instruments rather than playing them.

And while the work represents an endless challenge, it is one he never tires of.

“There is the woodwork, there is the music, the human relationship, the psychology, physics, chemistry — it's huge,” he says.

“It's really a constant thought process. I love thinking about it and this is precisely a job where you do only that and there are no answers.”

It takes him at least a month to make a violin, which will cost between €6,000 and €12,000 euros ($7,000 and $13,600).

“There is no perfect violin,” he says. “The perfect violin, is the one that suits the musician.”

With clients in Asia, Europe and the United States and an order book full until 2022, he says he has plenty of food for thought – and little time for holidays.

Read also: Cheesy music- Swiss experiment with music to make fromage tastier

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MUSIC

Seven Swiss music festivals you need to see this summer

Switzerland is home to a growing crop of great summer music festivals. Here is our guide to the best of the best.

Seven Swiss music festivals you need to see this summer
Billie Eilish will be performing at the Zurich Openair in August. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America/AFP

Montreux Jazz Festival

June 28th–July 13th

This is Switzerland’s most famous musical festival and one of the world’s best-known events. Headliners this year include folk legend Joan Baez and pop queen Janet Jackson while the usual diverse program features everyone from Slash (of Guns N’ Roses fame) to jazz singer Bobby McFerrin and the amazing Bon Iver. And if the high ticket prices are a turn off, the streets of Montreux are full of free music during the festival making a visit to the town worthwhile even if you aren’t visiting one of the venues.

Openair Frauenfeld

July 11th–13th

Often described as the biggest hip hop festival in Europe, the 2019 Frauenfeld music festival features Cardi B and Travis Scott. This is also Switzerland’s largest outdoor musical festival with around 150,000 attendees.

Gurtenfestival, Bern

July 17th–20th

The Gurtenfestival is Bern’s biggest and features international big names alongside the hottest acts in the Swiss music scene. This year the legendary (and elusive) Lauryn Hill and US duo Twenty One Pilots as well as Swiss stars Patent Ochsner and Lo & Leduc.

Blue Balls Festival, Lucerne

July 19th–27th

A long-running member of the Swiss summer music scene, Lucerne’s Blue Balls festival features music, art and photography exhibitions and discussion panels. Among the musical highlights this year are blues legend Keb Mo, high energy Australian ensemble The Cat Empire and German soul and R&B star Xavier Naidoo.

Paléo Festival, Nyon

July 23th–July 28th

The Paléo Festival on the shores of Lake Geneva has a lot of heart, which can always be said in these days of hyper-commercial summer music festivals. Heading up the bill in 2019 are UK indie legends The Cure, US singer Lana del Rey and French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s not just about music though. Kids up to the age of 12 get in free and there are all sorts of activities on offer for them. There is also street theatre for young and old alike and a strong focus on supporting charitable causes.

St Gallen Open Air 

July 27th–July 30th

St Gallen’s open air is the grand old dame of Swiss music festivals. Now in its 41st year, the event sees over 100,000 people descending on the eastern Swiss city. Over the years, anyone who is anyone has played here – from the Beastie Boys to B.B. King. At the top of the bill this year are German punk legends Die Ärzte and UK Indie rock band Florence and the Machine.

Zurich Openair

August 21st–24th

Held near Zurich Airport, this star-studded festival focuses on electronica and rock music. The big names this year include dance group Swedish House Mafia, UK duo Chemical Brothers, US rapper Macklemore and none other than US singer-songwriter Billie Eilish.

Read also: Summer travel – 26 things to do in Switzerland's 26 cantons

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