The journey of Lev's violin

Coming to Hay for my event on Friday 28 May [event 19] will be like bringing the story of Lev’s Violin full circle, because it all began just down the road in Presteigne. That’s where I went to a gig by Moishe’s Bagel and heard Lev’s violin for the first time. Sometimes I worry my story sounds like a love-at-first-sight romance, and perhaps it is, because hearing it that evening made an impact on me as sudden and complete as a summer downpour. It was a Klezmer tune Greg Lawson played that fateful evening, on a violin that spoke directly to me with a voice like dark honey, and an uneasy combination of unbridled joy and deep sadness.

Over the next four years I let the stories spooling out from the violin and its music lead me away from my desk in Wales to travel the length of Italy, and plumb Russia’s deep south. Together they form the story of my book, Lev’s Violin, which ends when the violin is finally defeated by centuries of hard work. It lay in my office for a year or so with a collapsed neck and edges and corners so worn that it was already becoming almost too vulnerable to play. What a pitiful ending that would be, and yet the story isn’t over.

Greg and I aren’t the only ones who love the violin, and together with Lev Atlas, principal viola at Scottish Opera, who smuggled it out of Russia in the 1980s, and Martin Swan, musician turned violin dealer, we are setting up a crowdfunding campaign to get it fixed. If we raise the £10,000 needed for a full restoration, Greg plans to offer Lev’s violin on loan to exceptional students seeking out their own voices as musicians, and to other players with projects especially suited to its particular tone. Any additional funds will go to Music for All, a charity dedicated to getting musical instruments into schools, supporting individual musicians and community music projects.

We will be launching our campaign during Event 19 at Hay on Friday morning, 28 May, when Greg and I will be in conversation with broadcaster Francine Stock, and Greg will play live on the violin he’s using at the moment. If our campaign succeeds, Martin will arrange for the violin to be fully restored by Anette Fajardo MSVM HonARAM, and its wonderful voice will delight the world for another hundred years or more. Contributors to our campaign will be given the opportunity to hear the glorious sound of Lev's violin on a newly recorded album featuring a variety of classical and world music. Among other funding rewards are tickets to an online concert with Lev’s violin, Greg Lawson and Lev Atlas, a signed copy of my book and the opportunity to welcome Greg Lawson to your home for a private concert. 

Visit the crowdfunding page here and watch event from Friday 28 May again on Hay Player

Helena Attlee has also written extensively on Italian gardens and culture. Her features appear in magazines including World of InteriorsGardens Illustrated and Hortus. In 2014 with Emma Beynon she set up Open Ground, a creative writing programme delivered in outdoor spaces ranging from gardens to supermarket car parks.