Dear Maestro Francisco Gonzales good morning and thank you for answering the questions in this interview.
Can you tell us about the beginnings? Where were you born? Did you have any musicians or music lovers in your family?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. My mother was a nurse and my father a violinist: he worked for 35 years by the “Orchestra of the Theater of Fine Arts”. He also was a luthier, so, since my youth, I was living in an environment of music, musicians, and instruments. I started my cello’s studying at the “National Conservatory of Mexico” and my first approach to the restoration of instruments was under my father, who guided me in constructing tw0 violas and one cello. I wanted to go to Cremona and I got a scholarship from my Country to study the art of making violins and to pursue my cello’s studying.
Where did you train yourself and where did you study? Who were your teachers?
How come that your closeness to Maestro Lucchi was so meaningful to you? Which was the inheritance you got from this teacher and friend of yours?
When I reached Cremona, with the intention to continue my cello’s studying, I had the perception that I couldn’t attend the Lutherie School at the same time. So I decided to enroll in Giovanni Lucchi’s courses in order to learn how to build violins. In the beginning, at I felt a bit frustrated because I wanted to learn how to recognize the different kinds of sound among string instruments, but I soon realized that the sound depends on the bow. So, since that time, I have been glad to study how to become a bowmaker and to work on it.
Today I feel a total passion for the bow. After ending my studies, I shortly worked with my teacher Giovanni Lucchi. He welcomed me with open arms in his school and in his laboratory and he has always shown his support for my curiosity and interest. We had a very close professional relationship, initially as a teacher-student, and then as colleagues till he passed away in 2012. Obviously, I owe him a lot of what I know as a bowmaker. Although I settled in Madrid, I regularly went to Cremona every year to meet my teacher and to continue learning and exchanging knowledge, till he passed away. I restored a collection of bows in Sion, Switzerland, where I learned a lot about the bow. I also performed at the “Cremona Triennale” in 1982.
What does your laboratory offer in terms of skills and services and where is it located?
You are also an expert in the evaluation of musical instruments. What skills are required in order to work in such a field?
I settled in Madrid to build and to repair bows in 1983, initially at home and then by a workshop near the Teatro Real, in the center of Madrid. I create new instruments and repairs, I restore and sell antique bows and I build bows for all the strings. I have a lot of knowledge about instruments but I am not an expert; my specialty is the bow. I do cellos assemblages that many clients are asking for considering that I started as a luthier, but being also a cellist, I know what musicians need.
Obviously, manual dexterities are required for this work, an expert eye to discover good bows and instruments, a tireless eye that analyzes what it sees, and knowledge about the way the wood is treated and selected for each bow. Furthermore, it is important for me to love music: I am a musician, I am a cellist.
To which trade associations and not only do you belong?
I have been part of the “Spanish Association of Bowmakers and Professional Bowmakers” (AELAP) since its foundation, I am a member of the “Corporation of Various Professions of the Madrid Community”, and a member of the “INSTRUMENTA”, Association for the Collection and Preservation of Musical Instruments in Spain. Since 2002 I am also a member of the “Ente Internationale de Maîtres Luthiers et Archetiers d’Art” (EILA), an organization that holds a congress every two years giving me the chance to learn a lot and to meet several of my colleagues.
What titles and honors have you been awarded?
I received a Diploma as “Traditional Madrileno Artisan” in 2004, issued by the Municipality of Madrid and the Chamber of Commerce; the “Carta de Empresa Artesana” of Madrid; the “Finalist Diploma of the National Handicraft Award” in 2007 awarded by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism; the Award as “Traditional Madrileno Artisan” in 2013 given by the Community of Madrid in 2014.
Can you tell us about your “Decalogue of Excellence”? In ten points you describe the art of the bow-maker in a complete and highly professional way.
On my site, inside the presentation, there are the 10 points of my “Decalogue of Excellence” that I can summarize as follows: good craftwork is mainly handmade, created according to the highest standards. There is a sort of inner talent/attitude that puts us in connection with historical, social, and artistic values. The talent of the craftsman gives him creativity and ability, it requires knowledge of materials, techniques, rules, and craft’s regulations and their application, that’s why the craftsman needs a learning phase. Furthermore, we must create new ideas and innovations, we must satisfy the actual needs and sensibility of musicians without forgetting the “tradition” because the tradition stays alive and brings us into the future.
Each bow is different in comparison to others and the concept of originality is a balance point between the “old” and the “new”, using ancient techniques in order to create something fresh and unique that must also perfectly work. The musician identifies his instrument and his bow with its creator and with materials originated through natural resources, making them more beautiful and precious. The craftsman in his workshop uses all his knowledge about tradition and inheritance from the past, transmitted from generation to generation, providing the continuity of a professional heritage. The profession of craftsman requires knowledge, training, job’s expertise, mastery of the tools needed to create something useful that properly works and at the same time is good and beautiful.
Aside from working as a bowmaker, Maestro, you are a cellist: where did you study and who were your teachers?
Yes, I am also a cellist, I played in several orchestras but I have been teaching for the last 34 years. In Mexico, I listened to Bach’s “Viola da Gamba” Sonatas played by Professor Marçal Cervera who shortly became my teacher in Freiburg, Germany. When I arrived in Cremona I didn’t find any teacher good for my level and someone recommended me Prof. Cervera who passed away only one year ago and with whom my family and I had a close friendship for many years. He advised me to continue my cello’s studying at the “Conservatorio de Mùsica de Madrid“, where I graduated. I attended several international courses in France, in Alcalà de Henares, in Santiago de Compostela….with several teachers.
You hold several courses mainly in schools: can you tell us about the most remarkable or noteworthy of them? Is it meaningful for you to convey to the students the principles of professionalism but also the passion for this art?
As a matter of fact, I wish I could hold lessons about the bow by Universities, in Summer Courses, Conservatories, and Music Schools, both in Spain and Mexico. The knowledge about the bows is very poor, while the bow is actually the voice of the instrument: without the “bow” the sound is small and poor. Every musician would like to have a Stradivarius, but it is the bow that moves, that flows, that gives colors to the music: the bow is the perfect instrument. That’s why it is held by the right hand.
It is more difficult to study the technique of the bow than the technique of the instrument. Playing the instrument with a good bow allows you to get out the best of the instrument, to save effort and time as any good tool that simplifies the work.
Pablo Casals said that “the bow is the extension of the arm”.
I really like giving lectures on educational themes because it creates a direct dialogue between students, relatives and teachers who are involved. I really enjoyed presenting my lectures by the “National Conservatory of Mexico” where I studied, by the “Higher School” of “UNAM” and by the “Higher Institute of Music” in Puebla, attended by about 500 children, some of them just at the beginning of their musical studying, some of them (after finishing high school) already enrolled by the University of Aguascalientes, by the Conservatories of Music in Madrid, in Toledo, Avila, Mèrida, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Salamanca, Valladolid, Alcalà de Henares.
During the “Sarasate Violin Competition” in Pamplona, children are often extremely curious and when they are shown on slides the Pernambuco Tree in Brazil, the ebony tree in Africa, or the mammoth fangs from Siberia and the horsetail manes from Mongolia, their eyes are wide open with admiration. They realize that we are in a global world and that a simple bow is made of materials coming from the five continents. This is fascinating for children and young people! That means also instilling values, respect, love for nature that offers us everything we need and we must take care of.
Your bows are located in several museums in the world and very significant musicians are using them: can you tell us something about it?
Several Conservatories of music have my bows: for example the “Museo del Real Conservatorio Superior” in Madrid; other Conservatories have also bought my bows even if, at the moment, the difficult economic situation doesn’t facilitate the business.
The “Orquesta Nacional de Espana” in Madrid also has a quartet of my bows and many students or professional musicians use my bows in Spain, Portugal, the United States, Mexico, Korea, France, and recently in Berlin. That said, I was born and I remain a craftsman and I will not produce bows in series.
You also have several awards: can you mention to us the most significant ones and those ones who gave to you the greatest satisfaction?
Well. I already mentioned the awards and acknowledgments that I received. I was particularly honored in receiving the Diploma of “Traditional Madrileno Craftsman” in 2004 awarded by the “Municipality of Madrid and the Chamber of Commerce”. I have been requested by the Institution to deliver a speech in front of several craftsmen’s representatives and official authorities: I stood up for the crafts and craftsmanship defining them as unique, personal. and of high professional quality. I was requesting more attention and protection as far as craftsmanship is concerned, which is also a people’s and country’s heritage. I was also very happy to get the “Finalist Diploma of the National Handicraft Award” in 2007, awarded by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism. I wasn’t the winner but one among the finalists, considering the high competition for such beautiful jewels and crafts that still we have in Spain.
Aside from the already mentioned activities, you also have published some books. Which are these books and their subjects?
I haven’t published books yet but only some articles in specialized magazines such as, for example, Scherzo n. 353 (July 2019) an article about bow’s materials, and also in TLM All Music (April 2019) another article about the importance of the bow for strings instruments. Furthermore, I do have several interviews dedicated to me in “Diario de Soria”, “Diario de Cuenca” and “Twelve Notes”.
On 24th September 2012, you were the protagonist of a very meaningful event: the official presentation of the restored Stradivari cello, and on such an occasion you have been requested to be the first to play the instrument! Can you tell us something about such an event? Can you describe the emotion in playing this cello that belongs to the history of the string instruments making and to the music history as well?
The truth is that I have been asked to play the ornate Stradivari cello (from the “palatine” quartet of string instruments) recently restored; at the beginning, I didn’t want to play it for such a presentation, in front of several national and international journalists, also considering that other solo cellists more titled than me should have played it. As a matter of fact, the hosts of the event wanted to give me that award because I followed the entire restoration process, starting from the first assessment of the damage to the instrument until the final arrival at the Royal Palace in Madrid, which seemed a sort of “tragedy”.
Fortunately, I was able to reassure them when I told them that the cello was perfect and that the keyboard, even not being the original, had been successfully repaired. Obviously, it has been very exciting to play that instrument, especially in front of the international press and I was very proud once I read the news in national and international newspapers, as well as broadcasted information on several TV networks. Looking at the instrument with the split keyboard was such an amazing experience but the cello was very beautiful.
Later on, upon the restoration by Carlos Arcieri (one of the best luthiers in the world), the instrument started to sound better than ever. It was a very exciting experience because it was a special Stradivarius, the only ornamented one that the great Italian luthier built more than 300 years ago with such a wonderful and full-bodied sound! That instrument, together with the entire “palatine” string quartet and another Stradivari cello, is located by the “Royal Palace” in Madrid. These instruments are not only a Spanish heritage but also a treasure for musicians and people all over the world. They need very careful attention and preservation in order to stay with us for the next few centuries.
In quality as a privileged observer and performer in your Country, what can you tell us about the diffusion of classical music in Spain? What relevance does this discipline have in the musical culture of your Country and beyond?
As far as the diffusion of classical music in Spain concerns, I can say that there are excellent classical music programs on the radio, unfortunately getting less and less; while there is very little diffusion on television. Very synthetic information on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. only during the Opera Season or other performances. Every day. at 3:00 p.m., after the daily news, there are updates about festivals or recording productions but always limited space for classical music.
It seems so strange, music is a European heritage and of every country, a lot of money is spent in training for musicians, there is really a lot of talent but the culture in classical music doesn’t spread among children and young people who aren’t properly educated: a lot of people have knowledge about some basic classical music topics only through advertising and spots. I do not want to dislike singers and musicians of any current musical genre but classical music is underestimated day by day.
How is the diffusion and relevance of the cello in your Country? Which kind of inheritance and how much is it present in schools, theaters, and within the diffusion among young people?
In Spain, there is an excellent tradition in cello school: by G. Cassadò and P. Casals, for example. There are excellent and very talented cellists but only a few opportunities to perform. Every year, a lot of young musicians who graduate from the Conservatories of Music start to look for Master Courses in Spain or abroad, they seek for a position in orchestras or as teachers and, nowadays, it is even more difficult because of the pandemic. Now everything seems uncertain while the economy suffers a lot. There are only a few concerts although music is always present in every moment of our life.
I would like to encourage musicians to buy modern instruments and bows as well. Today the craftsman works even better than before because there are excellent tools and a lot of talent. There are a lot of musicians who play with high-quality modern instruments and are very happy; there are young luthiers who work very well and need the trust of musicians in order to develop themselves, to evolve and live, just like the string instruments, just like the musicians. My daughter Cecilia Gonzalez Gutierrez, a graduate from the “Newark College School of Violin Making and Repair” (UK) with very high marks, will continue the third generation saga. At the moment, she lives in Berlin.
Dear Maestro Gonzales thank you again! To you a lot of wishes for your professional career and for every other aspect of your life.