James Ehnes

Friday, 08 November 2013

The Canadian violinist gives an insight into his practice routine

My personal motto for practising during the final periods of preparation is: "Every note, every day"

This week I have the final two of four performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto in Houston, Texas – I’ve done all the preparation, it’s just a case of maintenance and refining any details I wasn’t happy with in the first two. As usual in situations like this, I spend most of my time practising something else – in this case, Philippe Manoury’s Synapse for violin and orchestra – I’m giving its US premiere next month. It’s a very difficult and complex piece and I’m focusing on getting the more intricate bits under my fingers. I practise sections, often under tempo, and then start stringing them together as they feel more comfortable.

Before each of the Brahms concerts I head over to the hall and play through the concerto in my dressing room. My personal motto for practising during the final periods of preparation is, ‘Every note, every day.’ I’m not one for warming up as such. I start with the second movement – which will get me stretched out and limber – then move on to the outer movements. Playing through the piece will get me warm and ready, while at the same time, focus my mind on the piece, and only the piece. It rinses any other repertoire I’m working on out of my mind.

After Houston, I return home to Florida for a couple of days. I’m feeling increasingly comfortable with the Manoury, and try to play it through (from beginning to end) – this allows me to see where the most troublesome parts are. It also gives me a sense of pacing for the work.

After working on the Manoury, I move on to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which I’m preparing for a concert next weekend in Oklahoma City. I have played the work a lot and have a clear idea of what I want to do, so it’s just a case of cleaning it up.

I have a couple of recitals next week. I’m playing Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata, Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata, four Paganini caprices, and either the Franck or Elgar sonata, depending on the city. I focus on some of the more treacherous bits – the cadenza in the ‘Devil’s Trill’, the tricky bits from the last movement of the Beethoven, the whole of Paganini’s fifth caprice and the 10ths and left-hand pizzicato of the 24th, and some of the big shifts in the Elgar. I’ll get into my ‘every note’ routine once I’ve performed the Tchaikovsky.

Originally published in The Strad, November 2011. Download the digital edition of the issue or subscribe to it as part of our 30-day free trial.

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

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