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While many luthiers are happy making stringed instruments to the standard form, others are keen to explore the possibilities of alternative patterns. Peter Somerford discovers how asymmetric designs can affect tone quality, projection, acoustics and player comfort
Clockwise from top left Tim Phillips’s ‘Salvador’ model; a viola by César Sakellarides; body and head of the 2007 ‘Vicktoriusse’ violin by Karolina Wozniak

Imagine, for a moment, if somehow the violin was being completely reinvented from scratch today. What form would it take? Would it be symmetrical? Or let’s ask a different question. Will the classical form as perfected by Stradivari more than 300 years ago still be dominant in 300 years’ time? Over the last three centuries music has evolved, and with it orchestras, concert halls, playing techniques, strings, accessories and other materials. If players and composers demand more from stringed instruments in the future, will the symmetrical form of these instruments start to change, or will makers still be copying Stradivari, Guarneri and their successors 300 years from now?

The most commercially successful asymmetric designs to date are the ones that have solved issues for musicians, whether it’s the exuberantly Dalí-esque ‘Pellegrina’ viola, created by David Rivinus in 1996 to help players prevent or combat physical problems such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome; or the fractional three-corner violas of Bernard Sabatier that enable the youngest of violists to start learning on a viola rather than a violin strung with viola strings; or Otto Erdesz’s cutaway viola with its shoulder shorn to ease playability in high positions. Such examples show that certain aesthetic deviations can be embraced by players if they have a functional benefit.

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About The Strad

We talk to the members of the Belcea Quartet and ask why more young people are turning to period performance. Students of Kató Havas pay tribute to the late violin teacher, and there’s a look at asymmetric instruments. Plus a Mendelssohn Masterclass and Renaud Capuçon’s Life Lessons.