- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

MERRIAM, Kan. - Anton Krutz first heard the sound five years ago. Mr. Krutz,who makes, repairs and restores stringed instruments, was entertaining musicians in his shop in suburban Kansas City when several of them picked up an assortment of violins, violas, cellos and basses and began to play.

The notes were no different from any other stringed performance, but Mr. Krutz said there was a sublime deepness to the music, a resonance between the instruments that Mr. Krutz felt in his chest.

“The sound weighs more; it sounds bigger — almost like a woofer,” he said.

Enthralled, Mr. Krutz wondered what it would sound like if an entire orchestra was playing with instruments he had made. If he built them, could he find the best orchestra to play them?

It was then that Mr. Krutz set out to find a sponsor for a set of instruments that he said will recreate on a large scale the type of interlocking tones the chamber orchestras and other musical groups produced more than 200 years ago.

Interlochen Center for the Arts, one of the nation’s foremost academies for young musicians, has already agreed to provide a home for the set of 62 instruments that Mr. Krutz wants to build. The school plans to lend the set to its best student orchestras.

Mr. Krutz has made presentations to corporations and foundations in hopes of finding someone to foot the $950,000 bill for the project.

“I think everyone sees the opportunity,” he said. “I’m not discouraged. I think it will happen.”

In the 1600s and 1700s, it was common for chamber orchestras and other groups to perform on instruments from a single maker, as most groups were outfitted by royalty or the church and used local artisans.

Mr. Krutz, 36, whose family emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia, when he was about 7 years old, has been making stringed instruments for more than 20 years. In 1992, he opened his shop, KC Strings, in suburban Kansas City with the help of his father, Michael “Misha” Krutz, and their partner, Richard Williams.

Besides repair work and restoration, the shop and its 15 employees make the full range of orchestral stringed instruments, including the huge double basses, which are normally made separately from violins, violas and cellos. Professional-grade violins start at $10,000.

Mr. Krutz’s instruments have found their way into some of the nation’s top orchestras.

Wendy Putnam, a violinist with the Boston Symphony, said she has played with a Krutz violin for about 10 years. The instruments have such a strong and vibrant sound that when faced with playing a solo concerto four years ago, she said, she chose the Krutz over a Galliano violin made in 1781.

“There’s an overall body to the sound that’s very discernible. You can hear it,” she said, adding that several of her colleagues now play Krutz instruments after hearing hers.

With such a reputation, Mr. Krutz found a willing partner in the center for the arts, based in Interlochen, Mich.

School President Jeffrey Kimpton said many students come with great talent, but sometimes poor instruments. Mr. Kimpton readily agreed to provide a home for the so-called “symphonic set” of instruments Mr. Krutz wants to produce.

“It has people’s juices flowing,” Mr. Kimpton said. “For our kids to be able to play a matched set would be an exciting venture for everybody.”

Mr. Krutz explains the idea by imagining the orchestra as a chorus.

“That’s the uniqueness of stringed instruments — when played by the best people, can create their own voice,” he said. “A regular string orchestra is like a regular choir, all individual voices. But a set of instruments made by the same person … all the people in the choir are genetic twins. It’s not 60 instruments, it’s one voice encompassing all ranges of sound.”

But the plan has its skeptics.

Tim Olsen, editor of American Lutherie, the journal of the Guild of American Luthiers, or makers of stringed instruments, said the idea of a matched set of orchestral instruments is intriguing.

But he said setting up an experiment to truly show if there were a difference in sound would be “next to impossible,” given the subjectivity of human ears, the differences in performance quality and the need for blind tests and controls.

He also said that there are other ways to test the theory without commissioning a new set of instruments, such as piecing together an orchestra from existing instruments or evaluating the sound differences in smaller groups.

“There are a number of highly paid string quartets out there,” Mr. Olsen said. “If this was desirable, you would expect to see them seek this out.”

Edward Campbell, a luthier in Boiling Springs, Pa., and a board member of the Violin Society of America, said it would be hard to produce that many instruments in a reasonable time without hurting the quality. That said, Mr. Campbell would love to hear the results.

“I think if you can provide the instruments, a major orchestra would jump on it,” he said.

Mr. Krutz denies that his concept is mere marketing. He said professional musicians don’t buy $20,000 cellos based on the brand name, relying more on word of mouth and what their colleagues use.

His is an honest attempt to see if the orchestras of old had something that modern ensembles lack, he said. But if it fails, Mr. Krutz said, the instruments aren’t going anywhere.

“The worst-case scenario is, you have a beautiful sound and the critics argue whether it sounds different,” he said.

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