Emma Alter

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The period bow maker and viola player gives an insight into her daily life

The comforting sound of planing is one I’ve known my whole life – my father was a cabinet designer–maker

Monday I catch a train from London to Cambridge for a meeting with the Stradivari Trust – they are helping me to find a viola. We talk about the different instruments we have seen and loved, as well as bows and what kind of instrument I’m looking for.

Tuesday Today I’m teaching, and in the gaps between pupils, I practise Bach and Biber solo pieces that I’m preparing for an upcoming concert.

Wednesday I work on a copy of a William Forster II violin bow in my workshop. It has the most elegant trumpet-shaped head, and I find a nice piece of pernambuco for the task. I do the rough shaping of the head, underside first, with a large cylindrical rasp, then the rest before starting the rough planing. The comforting sound of planing is one I’ve known my whole life – my father was a cabinet designer–maker.

Thursday I do two rehairs – a clip-in Baroque and a modern bow. The clip-in needs to be as tight as possible and I find it best to do it from the tip first (the opposite of a modern bow). A colleague turns up asking for advice on some bows – they turn out to be an interesting collection of John Dodds, the Dodd family and 19th-century copies.  In the afternoon I take some pictures and measurements of an original Italian Baroque bow recently sold at auction.

Friday I rehearse with my quartet, working on Beethoven’s String Quartet op.95, the ‘Serioso’. We start with slow scales, to get our ears in before a run-through, followed by deconstruction and slow practice of the sections needing clarity.

Saturday I spend the morning making leather mutes and then my order of old-style French screws arrives. This means I can continue restoring a Dodd family cello bow that I’m returning to playing condition. I pick out some mammoth ivory which will make a nice frog for a bow I’m halfway through.

Sunday I have a concert today. I pack my clothes and check I’ve got the right viola and the appropriate bow, and head to Kings Place. Bach is on the menu today – playing his music always feels like coming home.


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