December 2011

Teacher Talk

A series of teaching-articles in the Strad Magazine

Where should violinists look when they are performing from memory on stage?
Daniel Arshavsky, Atlanta, US
Boris Kuschnir: The direction the violinist looks on stage is a very individual matter, and it often depends on the player’s character, the piece and its technical difficulties, and also the player’s nervousness and tension while playing.
Some violinists focus on their violin; some look in the direction of the horizon; and others play with their eyes closed.
Maybe it’s better to think about where the violinist should not look. It’s bad when a soloist looks into the audience, searching for people they know. It’s not good to look permanently at just one spot, either – for example, the pointe where the bow touches the strings, or the left-hand fingers. And looking up at the hall ceiling as if searching for an imaginary score doesn’t look good, either.
If a violinist knows the piece they are playing very well, if their thoughts and feelings are on a high musical level instead of being concerned with trying to master the piece’s technical difficulties, and if their hands are free from tension and nervousness while playing, I believe that wherever they look, they will appear natural to the audience.

I often see top soloists arching their backs and putting up their violins when they play loudly and high on the string. It looks impressive, but not very healthy. What do you think about this?
Christian Garvey, Stockton, California, US
Boris Kuschnir: In the history of violin playing, a large number of very good players were able to continue their careers in their middle and older ages.
Today, however, there are very few very good middle-aged or older violinists who are still active. There are a lot of reasons for this, and one is certainly the overuse of body movement during concerts, and playing in an unnatural way – having the violin too high, pulling faces, having the right elbow too high, tension, using unrestrained and badly coordinated vibrato, and so on. The element of show becomes too important for these players. Although audiences might like to see performances like these, they shorten the period a soloist can play successfully and still maintain their health. It’s very hard for our bodies to cope with these effects for long periods of time. Even aside from this, focusing too much on showy playing can also kill the music that you are performing.