What made the performance unique was that both grandfather and grandson were playing Boiangiu’s handmade violins.
A Romanian defector, Boiangiu, 67, began his musical career as a performing violinist with various European symphonies, orchestras and philharmonics, but a passionate curiosity about what made his instrument work never escaped him. He read every book he could find on the great violin-making masters of the 15th and 17th centuries. Boiangiu was most fascinated, however, by the craft of one man: Antonio Stradivari.
“I learned making violins through books,” Bioangiu said. “Making (them) is not a secret.”
He said the mystery about Stradivari was the type of organic varnish he used on his violins. After experimenting with different ingredients, Boiangiu joked that he had the answer in his workshop, though it had not revealed itself yet.
With thousands of tools at his fingertips in his garage workshop, many adapted to meet his specific needs, Boiangiu combines maple, with its low pitch, and pine, with a high pitch, to form his handmade instruments.
Each violin, he said, takes about 400 hours to complete, and every inch represents years of study.
This summer, Boiangiu is passing the knowledge of his craft to his grandson Daniel, who is one of five grandchildren with musical talents. Kageff’s father was also an accomplished musician, he said.
“It’s something I wanted to do since I got one of these,” Daniel said, touching his violin case. “I asked him when I was 12 to teach me, and he said he would when I turned 14.”
The teenager, already an accomplished musician, also composes music, and Boiangiu proudly described his grandson as a Renaissance man. He said Daniel was a genius with music.
Sitting at his workbench Monday, Boiangiu chiseled away small pieces of pine at varying depths while Daniel watched carefully. He used bores he had previously drilled as depth markers, shaping the developing violin body from a homemade template of a 17th-century instrument made by Stradivari.
Boiangiu called the process the heart and soul of his piece.
“I prefer Stradivarians; it’s easier to play,” he explained, pulling a book about Stradivari’s work off a shelf in his workshop.
Opening the book, he showed detailed information on the craftsmanship that went into making a Stradivarius.
As pristine Stradivarius violins are valued in the millions, it’s difficult for most musicians to find and play an original instrument. It wasn’t until Boiangiu was 51 that he said he got the opportunity to play one through a friendship he struck up with the curator of the Library of Congress musical instruments collection, Robert Sheldon.
The experience changed his life and increased his admiration for the master luthier, Boiangiu said, passion audible in his voice. Boiangiu said he had played violin since he was 5 years old, but the work of other violin makers paled in comparison to the sound of a Stradivarius.
“I got the shock of my life,” he said. “It sounded like a pipe organ in a church. All of them have the same color and sound the same. Cello, violin, they all sound the same. It was the first time I got to play a good Stradivarian. It’s indescribable.”
Boiangiu started making violins a couple of years after he immigrated to the United States in 1973. He had defected from Romania in 1972 at the age of 26 while touring in Italy with the Romanian orchestra. Although he spent six months in an Italian refugee camp, he said he was allowed the freedom to soak up Italian culture and study the musical masters.
As he spoke about visiting the church in Italy where Stradivari was wed, tears welled in his eyes and his voiced cracked slightly.
“I love Italy,” he said. “It’s the country of my heart.”
Since settling in America, his musical travels have taken him through the cities of New York, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., ending up in Tracy in 2009.
Boiangiu’s handmade violins are available for purchase at Main Street Music on 10th Street, where each is priced at $1,500. Store owner Ken Cefalo described the violins as remarkable pieces.
“They’re not an entry-level instrument,” Cefalo said. “His are handmade. Truly handmade are hard to find. For years, I told customers the best violins come from Romania, and then I met Adrian.”
Outside of Tracy, a similar instrument might sell for more, Cefalo said, but Boiangiu said he doesn’t craft the instruments for the money. He said he wanted to make just enough to buy more wood to make more violins.