By Marie Louise James
The sweet tree-sap smell of rosin and rich antique wood hangs in the air. Beautifully renovated violins and violas of different sizes hang proudly in a glass display, and five or six cellos line the other side of the room.
Several old-fashioned armchairs, a vintage secretary desk, and a framed case of bows hanging above an oak table furnish the elegant room. In an adjoining workshop, Jarek Powichrowski stoops over a violin, sits by the light, carefully handling a tool in his fingers, one of which is bandaged.
Powichrowski, founder of Princeton Violins, studied as a concert violinist, and now runs a full service string instrument shop and violin-making atelier. A native of Poland, he began taking lessons at just 10 years old. His interest in playing the violin began with his attraction to the instrument itself.
“I started to play violin because I was passing by this shop back in Poland, and there was this tiny fractional size violin on display at the antique store. And I always wanted that violin: that’s how it started,” he said.
He graduated from the Chopin Academy in Warsaw and then studied in Salzburg with American virtuoso violinist Ruggiero Ricci. In Salzburg, he met Professor Lewis Kaplan whom he followed to the United States as a student at Mannes College the New School for Music and The Juilliard School. Powichrowski has a master’s degree from the Chopin Academy and Mannes College.
“I was a player,” Powichrowski said. “But I was probably more interested in how it works than other players.”
The Montgomery resident’s entry into the field of violinmaking was then partly pragmatic: a response to an obvious need.
“As always in life, usually what makes you do something is the need and interest in something. As I was playing, I was also interested in instruments,” he said. “And then my wife was a teacher, and she had a really hard time finding good instruments for her students, I was helping her find the instruments, and then I was finding instruments that were in bad condition and then there was a need to fix them.”
He started by renting violins to students of his wife, Katarzyna. Once he found the right violins, however, they were often in poor condition and needed to be fixed. So Powichrowski went to a violinmaker in New York, and became his apprentice.
For seven years, he focused on restoration. He then went to Cremona to study in the workshop of Luisa Campagnolo and took a “speed course in violin making,” he said.
Violin restoration and selling was also a good way for Powichrowski to settle down. He was looking for a way to work with music and musicians while staying close at home.
“Being a concert violinist means a lot of travel,” he said. “There was a year when I made more than a hundred flights. When you think about settling down, having a family, and having kids, that’s not the best scenario.”
Today, Princeton Violins is highly appreciated for both its prestigious and international selection of violins as well as its variety of good quality fractional violins—smaller instruments sized for children. One of his clients, Michael Rogers, a resident of Cherry Valley Road, has known Powichrowski for six years; his son Henry is a violin student of Powichrowski’s wife, Katarzyna.
“We rented [a violin] from him, at least initially, and now we’ve purchased two violins. I’ve been impressed with his ability to find high quality instruments at a fractional size – instruments that you wouldn’t find just anywhere,” Rogers said.
For Powichrowski, providing exceptional instruments for younger students is important since the need for good quality smaller-size violins is often ignored.
“Today, people think of fractional size instruments as whatever – it’s like the kids will take whatever. There are very few high-quality instruments that are made in fractional size, and they are more exposed to more damage than full-sized instruments because they are played by kids,” he laughed.
Powichrowski’s workshop offers an international selection of violins, violas, and cellos, and he also sells bows and accessories. His stringed instruments are made by 18th century makers from around the world as well as contemporary artisans from Cremona.
Powichrowski now represents several of the individual violinmakers of Cremona in the Princeton Violins shop, traveling several times a year to pick up instruments. He also works on his own violins.
“The motivation I have is my passion for making. I would like to make more instruments. I would like to sacrifice two to three hours a day for violin making, so that I could make maybe two or three violins a year,” he said.
He finds that the musical environment of Princeton encourages his work. With the Princeton University Concert series and artistic venue of McCarter Theatre, Powichrowski has discovered that there are many people who are musically inclined in the area.”
“All kinds of musicians come down here: different genres: fiddlers, jazz. They are good, and they are not just professional musicians, they are doctors, scientists,” he said.
Princeton Violins is not, however, restricted only to serving local needs.
The business’s website, princetonviolins.com, has a global reach. While Princeton is a artisanal workshop, it is unique as online it is available 24 hours a day to everyone around the world.
Address: 4444 Route 27, Kingston. Phone: (609) 683-0005. On the Web: princetonviolins.com.