Westmont Magazine Making Music by Hand
James Wimmer, a master violin maker, is carefully crafting four fine stringed instruments for the college’s music faculty and stu- dents. Named the Hubert Schwyzer Quartet for a former UC Santa Barbara philos- ophy professor and cellist, the quartet will be loaned to the Music Academy of the West during the summer months. “Jim Wimmer’s instruments are among the great ones,” says Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship. “Generations of Westmont chamber musicians will play this quartet, and we will share them with the Music Academy of the West and possibly other visiting artists in the city. They will grow in beauty of tone with each new encounter.”
Shasberger first approached Wimmer about making the two violins, viola and cello for Westmont in spring 2007, after Wimmer repaired a cello for Shasberger’s daughter. The Santa Barbara craftsman was surprised to get such a commission from local patrons; the majority of his instruments have sold in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and overseas.
“Working with a contemporary luthier of Jim’s caliber allows performers to be in touch with the long tradition of violin making,” says Phil Ficsor, assistant professor of violin. “These instruments offer a vast palette of color, something that is difficult to find even with much older instruments. What a great privilege it will be to play them.”
Nona Pyron, a renowned cellist and Westmont instructor, taught Hubert Schwyzer and named the quartet in his honor. “I was astounded by the quality of Wimmer’s instruments,” she says. “He’s the only contemporary maker I know whose instruments truly sound like 18th century Italian masters.”
Wimmer has been making string instruments by hand with a traditional, painstaking European method since 1980. He studied in Germany under Wolfgang Uebel, whose family has been making violins since the early 1700s. “If you want to get a European tone, you must use European wood,” Wimmer explains. The Schwyzer instruments are all made from the wood of just two individual trees, a distinction that the instrument maker says is increasingly rare. He expects to have the quartet complete and ready to play by the end of the year.