As only humans can craft fine stringed instruments – violins, cellos, violas, basses – some are better than others. Luthier competitions show us who.
While violin performance competitions are well known to students and fans of fine stringed instruments (the cello, bass, and viola also have their competitions), a somewhat more obscure contest type are violin making competitions.
There are several such competitions held annually or biannually, and they include pitting bow makers against each other as well. Artisan craftsmanship, artistic execution and acoustical merits of instruments are part of the judging criteria. Most competitions keep the identity of the luthier hidden in the judging process to ensure objectivity.
These competitions are held around the world, the largest of which are as follows:
Violin Society of America, Dallas (in 2019) – While not the largest such competition globally, it is the biggest and most prestigious event in the Americas. Instrument and bow categories are judged for fine violins as well as violas, cellos, and bass instruments. Each category has one gold medal winner, however multiple luthiers are cited with a silver medal for tone or certificate of merit for workmanship.
BVMA International Violin and Bow Making Competition, London – Hosted at the Royal Academy of Music, the first of these was held in 2004 and draws more than 350 entrants each year.
China International Violin Making and Bow Making Competition, Beijing – Since 2010 the ascendant music culture of China has meant violin making competitions are now held about every two or three years. Reportedly it has grown in size each time, with no fewer than 18 jurors weighing in on craftsmanship and artistic execution.
Ente Triennale Internazionale Strumenti Ad Arco, Cremona – As the name indicates, this is held every three years in the city where the finest violins and bows of all time were made by the likes of Stradivari and Guarneri. A rule for entry is that no instrument be more than three years old or artificially aged.
International Violin Making Competition, Mittenwald – This is held every four years in the center of German violin making. Rules stipulate that instruments and bows be less than two years old, and be made according to traditional craftsman standards.
International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Making Competition, Poznan – This is among the older competitions, having been first held in 1957 and staged every five years.
Few of these competitions are held annually, as they are significant undertakings. Assembling a qualified jury, as well as entrants, is significantly time consuming and require the resources that the sponsoring organization has to furnish (entry fees are charged to partially finance most competitions).
Winning is not the only objective of violinmakers who enter these competitions. In many such events, dealers and instrumentalists who consequently develop an appreciation for the instruments and their makers review the instruments.