As I often point out in this column, the portfolio of activities in which artist managers involve themselves has markedly diversified over recent decades. Now I note that the International Classical Artists office has just taken on the representation of London/New York-based violin maker and restorer, Florian Leonhard. With the background of an international reputation as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of violin authentication’, Leonhard is renowned for his copies of great instruments.
The fact that violinists of the stature of Leonidas Kavakos, Maxim Vengerov and Daniel Hope are among Leonhard’s clients tells its own story. ICA stepped in when its chairman/head of artist management Stephen Wright witnessed one of the artist management office’s ‘more discerning violinists’ try out Leonhard’s copy of the 1742 ‘Lipinski’ Guarneri del Gesù. ‘I saw first-hand the initial scepticism melt into disbelief upon playing the instrument. That was when it became clear to me that Florian, like any other artist, should have representation in order to best spread word of the quality of his work.’
German-born Florian Leonhard dates his obsession from childhood, to the morning when over breakfast he happened to closely scrutinise his mother’s violin and very swiftly saw where his future should lie. After intensive studies at the Mittenwald violin-making school, he came to London at the age of 22 to work with industry giant W E Hill & Sons, becoming head restorer. Leonhard has been making violins since student days, but only in more recent years has he been willing to sell. He sees his strengths as a maker stemming in large part from the fact that his violin-making is grounded in an all-round expertise ‘as a restorer, authenticator, owner and trader of quality historic violins. Few violin makers have that sort of access to great instruments … it takes you far beyond what you can tell just by working from photographs.’
As for the new relationship with ICA? Leonhard is ‘Delighted. The warmth of Stephen Wright’s personality and his ability to open doors convinced me to agree to work with him. For ICA I think it will be much like representing any artist. It’s all about targeting musicians who may like to have one of my violins. Clearly I especially want the best players to get their hands on one.’
Leonhard is also passionate about loaning quality instruments to solo performers, the challenge being to find a really good match – a process he’s described as ‘a bit like running a dating agency.’
Leonhard’s manager at ICA, Alexandra Knight, is herself a violinist by training. Her excitement at the ‘look, feel and sound’ of a Leonhard copy meant that she was instantly engaged by the thought of representing a very different kind of client ‘both so that the quality of these new instruments could be better known, and also that violinists who’d long dreamt of owning a Stradivarius were able play on something just like it. I have regular, direct access to string players of all levels – from leading soloists, chamber and orchestral players to conservatoire professors and students. So there’s a great synergy between my work, the work of my clients, and the work of Florian and his team. I’m excited to begin our relationship!’