A musical artist who works in wood

A violinmaker in Boston creates beautiful instruments because he loves music.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Ancient craft: Marco Coppiardi sits in his Boston workshop where he makes violins, violas, and cellos using methods employed by Italian masters of the 16th and 17th centuries.
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    Coppiardi shapes the wood for one of his instruments.
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    Violist Ashleigh Gordon confers with Coppiardi about the viola she bought from him.
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Marco Coppiardi always knew what he wanted to do. He was born in Cremona, Italy, a town that's steeped in musical history. For more than 500 years, Cremona has been a hub for instrumentmakers, and, as a child, Mr. Coppiardi was fascinated by the tools of the violinmaking trade. One day, he knew, he had to get his hands on them.

And he did. At age 14, he made his first violin.

The achievement came quickly after Coppiardi had enrolled in a four-year program to learn the craft he felt so drawn to. Most of the other students were adults, but the young Coppiardi was undaunted. He excelled at the techniques perfected by old Cremonese masters, whose ranks included the legendary Antonio Stradivari, whose violins are still famous three centuries later.

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When he was just 17, by special request, Coppiardi made a custom viola for Japan's Prince Naruhito.

After graduation and a five-year apprenticeship, Coppiardi opened his own workshop. Then, in 1992, he immigrated to the United States and has been a fixture of the American classical music scene ever since.

He chose Boston as his home base because, he said, some of the finest musicians in the world are here. New York has one or two major music schools, but Boston has four or five.

Being at the center of such a rich concentration of musical talent allows Coppiardi to focus on what's most important to him in his work.

Although in his early days he was attracted to the craft of violinmaking, his devotion to the profession now includes a deeper sentiment.

"Today, I make violins because I love music and I admire those musicians who play them and devote their lives to [making] music," he said in his tiny, tidy shop in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.

And musicians return the esteem. Cellist Yeesun Kim met Coppiardi when he first came to Boston and has been taking her cello to him for maintenance since he opened his shop here. Coppiardi has a special touch when it comes to his craft and care of instruments, Ms. Kim said after dropping off her cello with him one morning.

Kim is a member of the world-renowned Borromeo String Quartet and a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. She trusts Coppiardi with her cello because, "He is, of course, very good at what he does, but beyond that," she added, "he's a really wonderful human being."

Ashleigh Gordon, a violist and graduate of the New England Conservatory, was hunting for a new viola when she first heard of Coppiardi's work last year, and now she's pleased to own one of his instruments. Ms. Gordon loves working with Coppiardi because "he's so excited about music and his craft," she told Monitor photographer Joanne Ciccarello.

When Gordon brings in her viola for a checkup or because she has a question, she often lingers for an hour as Coppiardi shows her the projects he's working on or a tool that gets a certain detail just right. "It's always a learning experience when I visit him," she said.

As Gordon searched for her new instrument, it was the look and sound quality of Coppiardi's viola that let her know she'd found a treasure.

"It's a beautiful work of art just to have ... and also it plays so well.... When I do my hour warm-up in the mornings, it's always fun to explore the instrument and figure out where the sound is today.... And especially since I'm the first owner of this instrument, [it's exciting] to really help develop the sound. I feel like a proud parent every time I play it."

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