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Home >> Culture >> Article
French luthier works to find the perfect note
From:chinadaily.com.cn  |  2016-01-29 13:31

Fabrice Beluze shows one of his works at his Beijing studio.[Photo by Zou Hong/ China Daily]

Fabrice Beluze usually begins his day by putting on a black apron. He then sits down with different tools to either repair stringed instruments or make them.

The curly-haired French citizen also has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Bach, his favorite composer, to heavy metal.

Beluze, 40, is an artisan who lives in Beijing, spending his time keeping the traditions of a luthier alive.

He likes to start his work early as mornings are "quiet and peaceful", Beluze tells China Daily at his workshop, which is tucked away in a sunlit corner of a building in downtown Beijing.

Musical instruments hang from a wall, and the air inside is heavy with the scent of wood and lacquer.

For Beluze, the most enjoyable part of his job is finding the right instrument for the right person.

"You sit on a chair, and you feel very comfortable. You don't know why everything is adjusted for you. An instrument is like that. You play it and everything works for you. You just need to focus on playing," he says.

Beluze has been purchasing, repairing, modifying and restoring instruments for musicians in France and China for the past 20 years. In 2012, he moved to Beijing from Shenzhen in the country's south and has since worked for many Chinese musicians. A few like renowned cellist Chu Yibing have even become friends.

Chu led his cello ensemble to a performance at Beluze's workshop last year.

In fact, Beluze is expected to give a lesson on being a luthier at Chu's "super-cello" party in the city for Chu's friends and fans in February, when the cellist celebrates his 50th birthday.

"When I met Beluze in his studio, I was very excited because the place has tradition," says Chu, who is considered among the country's finest musicians.

Chu started learning the cello at age 8 and went to Europe to pursue his music studies in 1983. He returned to China in 2004 as the head cello teacher for the capital's Central Conservatory of Music after working and living abroad.

At a time when stringed instruments are being mass-produced in factories, Beluze is offering something authentic and customized, Chu says.

Born near the French city of Lyon, Beluze learned his skills from Russian musician and luthier Alexandre Snitkovski. So impressed was Snitkovski with Beluze's work that he turned his former student into a business partner for their company Beluze & Snitkovski, a Lyon-based enterprise that sells, repairs and modifies instruments.

Beluze's attraction to wood started in childhood. He grew up in the countryside and enjoyed being surrounded by trees. One day, he tried to make a wooden sculpture without proper tools, he says, and it worked.

"I understand wood by instinct and I've always been obsessed with detail," Beluze says.

He learned the guitar at a young age, too. Each stringed instrument has its own personality just like a human, he says.

Antique instruments tend to be his favorite pieces, taking between six months and a year to repair.

"They bring something back from the past. The scratches and marks on the instruments reflect the story and emotions of the people who once played them," he says.

"Everything is quickly obsolete nowadays but wood instruments can travel centuries - not only do they not lose their power but sound even better with time."

Eight years ago, when his wife found a job in Shenzhen, Beluze followed her to China. Until then, he knew little about the country.

"China is an adventure," says Beluze, now a father of two.

Beluze's only apprentice at his workshop is 24-year-old He Yuxin, a graduate of the Sichuan Conservatory of Music, who has been learning how to make stringed instruments from her employer since last year. Trained in violin, she says she enjoys the quietness of her new workplace.

In the past few years, the country's classical music scene has developed much owing to factors, such as the emergence of more professional symphony orchestras and a sustained interest among young Chinese in such music.

Earlier, Beluze had planned to stay in China for only three to five years, he says. "But I'm still here and wish it (my stay) will last long."