Dispatch from Mayfair

The Amati Exhibition proved to be a posh presentation
It was a lavish affair, held October 26 and 27 at the regal Lansdowne Club in the posh Mayfair district of London. The third Amati Exhibition drew hundreds of exhibitors, musicians, and the just plain curious who’d gathered to buy instruments and bows, attend one of nine symposiums, or savor the snacks at the pop-up cafe.

This publication was among the exhibitors—the Strings table was located in between auction house Gardiner Houlgate (the company had just two vintage Gibson guitars on display and, as they told me, they quickly realized that they would not be finding their ideal audience here) and Florian Leonhard Fine Violins, one of the most prominent London dealers. The exhibition is the brainchild of Amati.com co-founders Sarah and James Buchanan who hosted the event in one of the most expensive areas of London, producing a free exhibition guide as well as a “goodie bag” for visitors while lining up well-respected industry figures for talks that ranged from life in a string quartet to violin makers of the Mantua School.

Of course, James Buchanan is no stranger to this world. He started as a porter at Bonham’s, and ended up running the music department in London for Christie’s auctioneers. In 2005, he left Christie’s Auctioneers to co-found Brompton’s Auctioneers. He then left Brompton’s seven years later to set up Amati, an online auction house and media company. He has also commissioned and helped edit The Brompton’s Book of Violin and Bow Makers.


I attended several of the talks and was especially interested in two: “The Million Dollar Question: Because They’re Worth It” (on the state of the high-end instrument market) and “No Strings Attached: What’s Needed to Help Philanthropists Donate Musical Instruments” (mostly UK focused, about how donating an instrument to a museum will get you a tax break, but donating the same instrument to a soloist or orchestra will not). I was also very charmed by the young members of the Kelemen Quartet, led by the Hungarian violinist Barnabas Kelemen, who was the subject of an onstage interview with classical-music critic Jessice Duchen. Philip Kass’ look at the violin makers of the Mantua School was typically thorough and demonstrates his incredible passion for ferreting out the truth about instruments and their makers. On the other hand, the talk with the topic “Does Music Make a Difference?” bogged down because both presenters seem to be reading from a Ph.D thesis. Overall, Amati.com seems to be positioning itself as the middle man between those who sell and make stringed-instrument products and buyers whose budgets fall in the vast area between students and collectors of Cremonese and other fine instruments. As we know from Internet success stories like Amazon and eBay, being in the middle between buyers and sellers can be quite a lucrative place to be.