Fears for future of Romania’s master violin makers

REGHIN, ROMANIA (AFP) – Surrounded by violins hung from the ceiling and lined up on shelves, Vasile Gliga looks proudly on the fruits of his labours.

From his factory in the central Romanian city of Reghin, Gliga has been one of the city’s world-famous instrument makers for more than 30 years.

His business is one of the city’s large-scale producers in a city that also hosts master craftsmen turning out just a handful of instruments a year.

The secret to his success, he said, is simple: “Putting a little of your soul into it.”

Gliga turned out his first two violins in a box room in his flat in 1988 when was 29.

Last year however his business sold 50,000 instruments – from violins to double basses – only two per cent of them going to Romanian customers.

Romania is the European Union (EU) country that exports the most violins outside the bloc, according to Eurostat’s 2018 figures.

Vasile Gliga runs one of the larger producers of stringed instruments in Reghin. PHOTO: AFP

But like many in his trade, Gliga worries he may be one of a dying breed.

For Romania’s renowned luthiers – the craftsmen who specialise in making stringed instruments – face a twin challenge: cheaper competition from abroad and finding the next generation of craftsman to carry on their tradition.

Virgil Bandila works at the other end of the scale. In a city where, he said, “virtually every street” has one or two luthiers at work, his small workshop employs seven craftsman.

Last year, they produced just 25 violins, and all of them went to foreign clients – mainly in France and Germany, but but also to Japan and China.

Bandila, like Gliga, has concerns about the future.

His main worry is whether he can find apprentices to pass on the secrets of the craft.

“We were all born in the 1970s and after us there’s no-one left,” he said of the current generation of craftsmen.

Four million Romanians have left the country in recent years, mostly for Western Europe, in the hope of building a better life for themselves. “Young people are keener on computing,” he lament – or finding less strenuous jobs abroad.

Gliga agrees that the craft is an exacting one. “A high-calibre violin takes 300 hours of work over the course of a year – and that’s after leaving the wood to dry for five years,” he said.