Thomas Gould

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The British violinist describes a recent week’s practice, including reacquainting himself with his six-string electric violin

I like to play from a part that I’ve marked up with lots of cues

Today I concentrate on my left arm, which has been feeling a bit tight recently. I dig out the violin solo from the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and deliberately vary the speed and amplitude of my vibrato, all the time checking for tension in my shoulders and arms and that my right wrist remains unblocked.
In a couple of weeks I’m playing Nico Muhly’s concerto for six-string electric violin, Seeing Is Believing, and today I refresh my technique on that instrument. The hardest thing is to get the bow arm levels just right for each string. Having the extra low C and F strings makes it easy to accidentally brush a neighbouring string as there is much less clearance between them.
Another important element in the Muhly is using a loop station to record myself and layer solo lines one on top of the other. These moments in the piece offer the greatest opportunity for public humiliation, so today I make sure I’ve still got a good grasp of how the technology works – I don’t want to kick a floor pedal for a fade out and inadvertently start a 12/8 shuffle instead.
Today I think about bow distribution, and practise an exercise that the cellist Riki Gerardy showed me. You play a legato passage at tempo, half-speed and then quarter-speed, holding the bow normally. Then you hold the bow halfway up the stick and repeat the passage at tempo, half-speed and quarter-speed. Then you repeat the process, holding the bow three-quarters of the way up the stick. When you go back to playing normally, the bow feels as if it has magically grown in length.
A lot of the orchestral playing I do is as a leader and director. This requires a really good knowledge of the score, and I like to play from a part that I’ve marked up with lots of cues. A necessary evil of a leader’s job is bowing front-desk parts – and the RSI-inducing tedium of rubbing out previous markings in foreign languages, in today’s case Finnish, in Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Today I’m working on three pieces by Unsuk Chin for a concert with London Sinfonietta. Learning new repertoire quickly, especially contemporary repertoire, can feel a bit like computer programming. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find the best fingerings and bowings for a tricky passage, rather in the way that people enjoy Sudoku. These pieces would be rated Killer.
A little while ago I had to learn Paganini’s Caprice no.5, and I surprised myself by actually being able to play it. I periodically play through it to keep it in my fingers, thinking about coordination between the hands and string-crossing, and hoping that someone is listening and is impressed!

Originally published in The Strad, April 2011. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.

Photo: Mira Stout

Limited time only offer - 42% off


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Google+

Reading The Strad puts you at the top of your game - Save 42% off a subscription today.