South African Luthier Constructs a Tribute to Peace

It took 15 years to build the Quartet of Peace

st_lisus

Photo by John Warren

In 1994, as Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, before anyone realized that the long struggle to end apartheid would produce four Nobel Peace Prize winners, violin maker Brian Lisus had an idea. It took 15 years to build the Quartet of Peace, with each instrument bearing an attribute of the nation’s long struggle for peace and subsequently dedicated to one of those four Nobel laureates: Hope for Nelson Mandela, Peace for Desmond Tutu, Reconciliation for F.W. De Klerk, and Freedom for Dr. Albert Luthuli.

“I have witnessed such a transformation living here in South Africa,” says Lisus from his workshop near the southern tip of Africa. “This was the inspiration behind the Quartet of Peace, which is shared by all of those involved. We all want to share the message that the new South Africa embodies, that of peace, reconciliation, freedom, and hope.”

Today, the Quartet of Peace has grown from an inspiration into a project that includes musicians, composers, apprentice violin makers, organizers, and a series of concerts in Africa and Europe. “Each new person contributed something to the project,” Lisus says.

An early organizer brought in Eugene Skeef, a South African composer living in London, who composed a piece called “Uxolo,” which means forgiveness. Skeef also landed the first concert booking, providing a hard deadline for completion of the instruments. “Miraculously, we have secured the fifth of December for Kings Place,” he says, “and we need to finalize the musicians and a program in 24 hours!

The musicians are all South African, though some live in Europe: Suzanne and Peter Martens were concertmaster and principal cellist, respectively, of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra; Gareth Lubbe, principal violist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig; and first violinist David Juritz, leader of the London Mozart Players.

In the spirit of the quartet’s message of peace, proceeds from the first few concerts will benefit MuseQuality, an organization founded by Juritz to bring music training to children in the poorest parts of the world, teaching life skills and providing an alternative to dangerous street culture.

Lisus began his career in 1976 at the Newark School of Violin Making. His class included several of today’s leading experts in making, expertise, and restoration, but Lisus returned to South Africa to work in relative isolation. “I have had to work things out for myself,” he says, “and being away from the mainstream, I have not needed to conform to the general trends of violin making that I probably would have done if living in Europe or the US.”

He works mostly on commission, making instruments for professional musicians from around the world who are in search of a particular sound. “Every instrument somehow turns out to have the exact quality of sound they desire,” he says. “This is still a great mystery to me.”

Learn more about the Quartet of Peace Project at quartetofpeace.com.

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