From the Vancouver garage to the orchestra stage, a locally made instrument makes music for the ages
An instrument that was popular centuries ago in Europe is experiencing a resurgence in appreciation in Canada.
Vancouver-based Craig Tomlinson builds harpsichords – a keyboard instrument – and recently made one for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
He has been making instruments since he was 14, but the harpsichord is his specialty.
One instrument takes him about 1,000 hours to complete.
“Harpsichords, unlike pianos, get better with age,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a bit like a good whiskey or a good wine. In about 150 years it will be wonderful.”
He added that although they may look similar, the strings of a harpsichord are plucked while those of a piano are hammered.
While he has been making harpsichords for decades, his latest creation is special, since he teamed up with his mother, Olga, who painted everything by hand.
“She’s 92 and she’s done this. And it’s just mind-blowing,” said Jerrold Eilander, director of operations for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
“There are hummingbirds on it. There are blue jays. There are bees, there are butterflies, lots of flowers… when you look at it, you see all the golden leaves there. on it. So it really sparkles on stage with all the lights on it,” he continued.
Eilander has decided to give the instrument his name, and it already bears his signature.
“It was a real surprise, because they usually have French names and not Ukrainian names. She’s of Ukrainian descent. And that was really, really nice,” Tomlinson said.
“You know, long after she’s gone, 150 years from now, she’ll still be recognized as the painter of this.”
For Tomlinson, his favorite thing about making the instrument is listening to it play the symphony.
“It’s kind of like having one of my kids on stage. You’re kind of proud of the sound coming out of it,” he said.
The instrument made its debut this week at the Winspear Center in Edmonton.
“It looks like something from the old days. It looks like it’s 400 years old, and it should,” Eilander said, adding that the harpsichord peaked in popularity in the 16th to 18th centuries.
The orchestra will again play Baroque classics on Friday evening, including music by Vivaldi and Handel.
“It’s really the music that was used at the time for the harpsichord, so this whole gig is all about that,” Eilander said.