After a duel with the devil, Anchorage symphony concertmaster returns to stage with a ‘Frankenstein fiddle’

Anchorage Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Ludek Wojtkowski was performing the famed fiddle face-off “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” at last fall’s annual ASO Champagne Pops gala fundraiser when his violin shattered, cracking off a huge section of the instrument’s top layer.

Despite the fractured instrument, the absurdity of circumstance wasn’t lost on Wojtkowski. The song pits the devil against Johnny in a fiddle contest, with the latter wagering his soul for a prized gold fiddle, a classic deal-with-the-devil scenario.

“It’s some pretty funny irony,” he said. “It’s this iconic song about the fiddle duel. There are some parallels. ... Did the devil win? I’m not really quite sure.”

Round one may have gone to the devil, but Wojtkowski is returning to the stage with a unique “Frankenstein fiddle” that’s almost 350 years old.

With the help of a GoFundMe fundraiser launched last month, Wojtkowski was able to purchase a replacement for the instrument, and last week he returned from Europe with a new fiddle that has an interesting story of its own.

Wojtkowski had already been considering trading in his violin, a nearly 30-year-old instrument crafted by Polish violin maker Marek Woźniak, for an upgrade. The incident at the symphony gala hastened that trip to Warsaw for a repair.

Wojtkowski was looking for an older instrument, and wasn’t able to suitably trade-in his violin at the Polish shop. He said there are a number of reasons older instruments have appeal. Their characteristics are not only dependent on construction and wood, but even by varnish. Some instrument makers spend a decade developing their own unique varnish.


“Old instruments just have different qualities,” he said. “People who made instruments 200-250 years ago were a little different than we are now. They knew stuff we didn’t. Their approach to instrument-making was different.”'

He traveled to France, where he has family, and on a whim ducked in to a Parisian instrument shop. Spurred by local donations, the online fundraiser had raised more than $11,000, so the first instrument Wojtkowski tried was priced right in that neighborhood at 10,000 euros. The store owner said it was the cheapest one he had, but it was also his favorite.

The violin played like a dream.

“I thought, man this sounds great, plays great, it’s got this really great brightness to the sound, but also a depth,” Wojtkowski said. “It’s got a little bit of everything that you want, all the ingredients that you kind of want an instrument to have.”

For comparison, Wojtkowski kept trying more expensive instruments, including a Goffriller likely valued at nearly a million dollars.

“And still, the one I was looking to buy played just as well if not better,” he said. “So I said, ‘I’ll take it. I’ll take it on the spot.’ ”

Part of the reason it was selling for just $10,000 was because it had no signature, and therefore couldn’t be given a proper appraisal. But the instrument did offer some clues. It has a baleen purfling, or trim, around its edge, which was a trait of Flemish builders from the late 17th century.

That meant the instrument was likely built around 1680 from one of three luthiers: Cornelis Kleynman from Amsterdam, Matthijs Hofmans from Antwerp or Jan Boumeester from Amsterdam.

Like his previous violin, this one had encountered some hard times and had the top plate replaced around 1780, likely by a member of the Klotz family of Bavarian makers.

“You could say it’s a hybrid,” he said. “It’s kind of a Frankenstein fiddle.”

Wojtkowski will be back with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 27 for a performance titled “Dreamscapes” featuring violinist Tim Fain.

Named concertmaster in October 2022, Wojtkowski said he’s incredibly grateful for the Anchorage community that helped contribute to the online fundraiser.

“I’m overjoyed and filled with gratitude,” he said. “I just don’t have the words to express the gratitude. It was incredible. It made me believe people here really care about the music and really care about the symphony and they care about it going onward. It makes me want to do an even better job and make the strings sound even better and just be a better leader to my colleagues.”

The instrument that broke during the performance of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was repaired in Poland. And while it wasn’t quite at its previous standard, Wojtkowski said it’s still a good-quality, useable instrument.

“I think I might try to lend it out to a high school or college student,” he said. “See if I can find an avenue at UAA or (Anchorage Youth Orchestra) to see if somebody could play the violin.”

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Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.