At the Third Mirecourt International Violin Competition in France, jury members Marianne Piketty and Nora Chastain gave some helpful advice on technique and interpretation in a pre-semifinal masterclass
On Interpretation• If you’re not sure how to phrase a line, sing it or imagine you are playing a saxophone. You’ll find it comes more naturally this way, and then you can transfer that to your instrument.
• Rests are music as much as notes. Interpret them.
• Always ask questions. If a part has been edited by someone other than the composer, ask yourself why certain marks have been made.
• When playing contrasting sections within a work, the important point is to alter your intention. Changing dynamic alone won’t alter the message of the music.
• Practise phrases very slowly to make sure that you have the right sound colour.
• You might be able to hear yourself when you fade out at the end of the phrase, but that sound may not carry to the audience; when you play roughly, some of the nastiness under your ear won’t carry far either. Remember to play for your listener, not just for yourself.
• Test the limits of your instrument by playing scales. How hard can you play, and how near the bridge? Knowing this is valuable for concerto playing.
• If you use less pressure in your left hand, your pizzicato will carry better.
• Identify how you make every movement: how you lift the bow and fingers off the string; what you do with your wrist and arm. If you can attribute every sound to a movement and part of your body, it will give you more control.
• Practise memorising which position you are in, to help you shift more authoritatively. Understand how this corresponds to the music.
• When playing harmonics, the note won’t resonate properly if you remove your finger from the string too early.
• Vibrate under the note, not around it (eg for vibrato on a G, rock down to the F sharp and then back up to the G), or you will sound unfocused and out of tune.
• If you have large hands, try practising fingered octaves so that the first four notes sound individually, but don’t move your left hand. For example, play A–B, A–B, fingering 1–2–3–4, then shift to the next four notes. Then try playing the octaves as double-stops.
• When your finger is trilling, think of a piano hammer: the trilling hammer moves cleanly up and down on a perfectly in-tune note; the neighbouring hammers stay still.
• Position your bow at different angles on the string for different sound effects. The higher your right elbow, the greater the resistance on the string. Greater resistance is especially good for a clear G-string harmonic.
No first prize was awarded at this year's Mirecourt International Violin Competition. Read The Strad's Mirecourt news report here. Our Letter From feature on the festival will be published in the February 2015 issue, out in January.