Sleep and performance with award-winning violinist and her husband, a renowned violin maker
Known for her remarkable interpretation of Paganini’s work, Elly Suh is a multi-award-winning artist. Together with her husband, Florian Leonhard, a renowned violin maker, they reside in London’s charming Hampstead Village.
With passion for excellence and attention to detail ingrained in their DNA, they share our considered approach to craftsmanship. Join us in Pillow Talk with Elly Suh and Florian Leonhard and peek behind the scenes of our new campaign.
In 2020 Elly was approached about working on a project of recording her interpretation of all 24 of Paganini’s Caprices. “I always felt that his music fits my hand better than any other virtuoso composers”, she says. Titling the project the Paganini Vault, she spent the past year creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind videos performing these caprices.
Her husband, Florian, is one of life’s true master craftsmen. With over 40 years of experience working on the world’s most beautiful violins, his appreciation for mastering a skill is one we can truly appreciate here at Savoir. Florian’s exceptional eye for detail and dedication to perfection is what established him as a world’s leading violin maker.
Last year, as Autumn started to set in around London, we visited Elly Suh and Florian Leonhard at their Hampstead Studio. We sat down in their light-soaked lounge, filled with tropical plants from Elly’s latest recording for the Paganini Vault. And in between conversations about the importance of sleep in performance, slow living, and music, we embarked on a journey that inspired our latest campaign, titled ‘A Place to Dream’. Join us in Pillow Talk with Elly and Florian and peek behind the scenes of our new campaign.
Two artists, one language
Florian: I met Elly in Singapore at an international violin competition. I was fascinated by her ability to play the violin on a world-class level. The way she expressed colours with such humbleness, power, and clarity. I was absolutely moved. To have her in my life every day and be able to test some of the violins that we make, it’s really a treat.
Elly: My mother is an amateur pianist. When I was three years old, she started teaching me the piano at home for fun. I enjoyed it, but when I was five, I saw and heard a violin for the first time. From that moment on, I was completely fascinated, I just found it so interesting. I begged every single day for a violin and my parents thought, you know, eventually, she’ll forget about it.
But I never forgot, and I kept asking. Finally, they signed me up for violin lessons. And I was so disappointed because the sound I heard was not a violin!
F: I grew up in a family of artists. My father was a painter, my mother played the violin, and they both studied literature. Therefore books, theatre, music, and all those kinds of things were part of my life since birth. And so, to fall in love with something like violin making that seems to be a romantic idea wasn’t impossible.
I was always called a little bit of a perfectionist because I enjoyed detail. I loved to go into museums and see the best sculptures and paintings. And to create those things very well, you will need some perfectionism in your heart.
True masters of craft
F: My fascination for violins came from the precision that is required to create them and the beauty of their sound. Such a small item can fill a large concert hall without any electronic amplification, which is quite incredible. So, I enjoyed being able to hone my skills with my hands, and of course, my eyes.
E: I think what Florian has now achieved, and I can see it because I’m next to the process, is that he has this clarity of vision and the mastery of the technique that allows him to make that come to life. And that is also what I, as a violinist, try to achieve.
I remember when I was younger, when I was in my early 20s, I thought this is probably my peak. But now, I do feel that with age comes a better understanding and a calmness of approach. As I get older, I realise that true mastery takes a lot of quiet study. It took many years to learn to create a decent sound on the violin. After that, it took an even longer time to learn to play like myself.
And now I am still continuing to find my voice – I think that only comes with living and experiencing things.
There’s a lot of precision and craftsmanship involved when playing the violin because we’re moulding the sound. The pursuit of perfection in technique is an important part. In the end, having that absolute control can lead you to have absolute freedom when you’re on the stage. And at that moment, you’re not thinking about the technique and how difficult it is, but rather you’re translating that into magic.
Power of performance
E: When I’m on stage, I feel I’m in communion with the great masters of the past. When I’m playing the music of Bach or Beethoven, it’s like spending time with a genius. So, I feel very privileged to be able to get to know these composers. And, of course, when I’m on stage, I’m just a vessel through which the audience and the composer can connect.
Practising too much on a day of performance can actually do more harm than good. So, the day of a performance is probably my favourite day. It’s really a time I can just take to rest and pamper myself. I don’t do much practising, maybe just a bit of warm-up – I just try to take it easy. Two or three hours before the concert I’ll take a little nap. And the rest of the time I just relax, drink tea and enjoy some good food.
F: I enjoy going with her to a concert when she performs. This summer she played the Elgar Violin Concerto which is a 50-minute piece. It’s an incredible, difficult, and long piece. And to have that up in your mind and to just play this piece by heart
When I first cradled it [my violin] in my arms and under my chin, it just felt like home before I even played a note. To play the first note and just feel like your voice coming out, not a foreign object, it just happens to be you know, there at the moment. It just felt like I was speaking.
Connected through a shared passion
F: I find that in life when you find a partner, you tend to find somebody who speaks the same language. You don’t have to necessarily be the same character. But for me, it was very exciting when we embarked on our life together. We have the same language, in musical terms. We can observe, listen to, and even share thoughts about music in bed.
In some ways, we’re helping each other to [hone each other’s craft]. It’s complimentary to fulfil each other’s craft. Because even the musician who is an artist has a craft part. And I have the craft side with an artistic angle if one can say it that way.
E: And I think regardless of the profession when you meet someone who has the same level of passion for what they’re pursuing or striving for, that automatically gives you that connection. And you’re with other friends of the same ilk, you’re a community and you can get together and discuss things and inspire each other.
Discover more about our ‘A Place to Dream’ campaign here.