As Instrument Master to the Chinese Film Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Hu is responsible for the 180 instruments, Chinese and Western, used by the symphony's members. Given they've recorded scores for some 2,000 movies and also travel extensively performing concerts in China and around the globe, Mr. Hu is certainly kept busy.
He is also a violinmaker, and demonstrated the craft between repairing and adjusting the instruments of students and faculty at the CICA Summer Music Festival. With the aid of an interpreter, he said it has been his most delight to handle the ancient Stradivarius and older instruments played by some of the American and European faculty.
|"In China, instruments usually are kept for about thirty years, and then discarded when they wear out and new ones are made, so it is an honor to work on these very old instruments. They are not traditionally revered in China like they are in the West, so I hardly ever get to see them," Hu explained. He did recall, however, working on one 7-stringed instrument called a Guqin that was 1,000 years old.|
Hu loves challenging work, and once rebuilt a cello that had been dropped at an airport and smashed into dozens of pieces. "When it was finished, it almost sounded exactly the same," Hu said. His most common repair is the thin wood on the face of violins -- a mere millimeter thick at some points, and easy to crack even while in a case if it gets dropped or bumped.
One orchestra member at the festival school brought Hu a viola she was considering buying and asked for his evaluation. He dismantled it, adjusted it and advised her he could make it sound better, "but it will never sound good. There's only so much an artist can do with an instrument made from a kit. The art of the instrument maker is as important as the art of the performer."
This is Hu's second visit to Eureka Springs at the invitation of festival director Thomas Chen, and he expressed being as enchanted this time as he was the first. When asked to name his favorite thing about the town, Hu turned toward the window of his makeshift workshop at the middle school and pointed outside. "This," said the Beijing resident, "space and fresh air."
"It is also a good opportunity to see really valuable stringed instruments being played by world class artists," he added. "I've learned a lot here and have been honored to network with artists from all over the world as I help with their instruments."
Mr. Hu hopes to return to Eureka Springs for the CICA Festival next year as part of a violinmaker's conference and exhibition being planned for 2013. We're saving "space" for him.