Priceless violin loaned to Shropshire musician for his debut album

A musician has been appointed master violinist of the London Baroque Orchestra – and is being loaned one of the world's oldest and most priceless violins to record his debut album.

Conor Gricmanis 26, has been loaned this Andrea Amati violin which dates from 1572, to record his new album
Conor Gricmanis 26, has been loaned this Andrea Amati violin which dates from 1572, to record his new album

Conor Gricmanis grew up on a farm with his family near Bishop's Castle and started playing the violin when he was five years-old in primary school.

His career has skyrocketed the past few months as restrictions on the music industry have lifted, and he has been jetting off across Europe to perform at prestigious concerts. He has also been appointed concert master violinist of the London Baroque Orchestra at just 26 years old.

WATCH an interview with Conor here:

The past year and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Conor's career were drastic. Conor had no income after he graduated was a masters at the Royal College of Music last summer and couldn't apply for any funding.

He was on the verge of having to sell his own 17th century violin just to survive, when he spoke to residents in Bishop's Castle, where he was staying, who helped set up a GoFundMe to help get him back on his feet.

"Last year I did struggle," Conor said. "Having no money, I was about to sell my own violin to survive. It's a 17th century Italian violin and I love it, but I had no money.

Conor Gricmanis with the 1572 Andrea Amati violin

"I mentioned this to people in Bishop's Castle and they ended up starting a GoFundMe and donated to it which was amazing. So it really saved me and saved me selling my violin. Without that help I would not have been able to do all my auditions and performances."

His career has now led him to playing an Andrea Amati violin from 1572 to record his debut album in a few weeks time. Benjamin Hebbert, who owns the violin, recently restored it and said it is possibly one of the oldest violins in playing condition, and Amati, the maker, was the first violin maker to develop the violin as we know it today.

Benjamin Hebbert

Benjamin is allowing Conor to use his violin for free to record his debut album, which Conor said was amazing, since it usually costs a lot of money to hire rare instruments.

Amati founded a dynasty that stretched four generations working in Cremona in northern Italy, and his grandson trained Antonio Stradivari, the greatest of all violin makers.

Conor Gricmanis with the 1572 Andrea Amati violin

This particular violin, Conor, said, was believed to have been commissioned by Catherine de Medici and ended up in the French Court under the reign of her son, King Charles IX of France.

Conor said: "I am used to playing these older instruments and a lot of people always say am I worried I'll drop it or break it, and of course I am but for me it's just the excitement of playing it and knowing its amazing history.

"The album I will be recording in London is Marco Uccellini, who was a big Baroque musician, which has never been recorded before – and why I was loaned this special instrument.

"This make of violin is the original. They are the family who basically invented violins and it is one of the oldest surviving violins in the world from this family – it's history is amazing.

Conor Gricmanis with the 1572 Andrea Amati violin

"It was commissioned by the Medici family and ended up in the French court so there's a chance Marie Antoinette would have heard it played. I am recording the album with my group, Noxwode, and we are actually still crowdfunding and have a bit left to go so we would be grateful for any donations."

Conor moved to Europe for around 12 months last year, playing concertos across the continent, and has recently returned to the UK.

As the pandemic put a stop to all live performances, Conor said it was hard not playing in front of audiences and he is glad things are opening back up again now.

Conor Gricmanis with the 1572 Andrea Amati violin

"I finished my studies half way through the pandemic and we had to do our final exams on a recording on our phones," he said.

"It was just a really bad time for graduates because we did not have a history of paying tax so we had no income percentage to show, so we couldn't apply for any government funding.

"I moved to Europe for a year and performed a lot to keep my career going. I have only recently come back to the UK but I feel in a stronger place to have come back. Things are opening up and more concerts and events are happening now but it's still a little bit difficult and more work is needed.

"This CD will boost my career so much by having my first solo album but it will be great to be back performing in front of audiences again. For musicians, that's what it's all about."

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