Masterclass: Baiba Skride on the Berg Violin Concerto, first movement

Baiba skride by marco borggreve030

The Latvian violinist discusses the importance of thorough planning, together with emotional engagement, when playing this awkward work

Working with the orchestra

This is an extremely polyphonic orchestral piece with a solo violin in the middle of it, and there are many places where it’s necessary to pay close attention to what the orchestra is doing. Berg writes where the violin has the theme and where it is less important, so if you follow his markings it’s very easy to see what you’re supposed to be doing.

One of the most difficult moments is at the beginning of the concerto, where the soloist has to answer the winds with the theme. It’s one of the shakiest beginnings for violin – pianissimo on open strings – and you have to practise it a lot to get it completely secure! It’s scary, but it is complete genius; if you follow the music and the orchestra, it creates the most amazing atmosphere.

Where the quicker notes start in bar 63, be aware that the horns are playing the melody. It’s better to follow them than to insist on doing your own thing (especially because they are sitting far away and it’s hard for them to follow you). For the Viennese theme from bar 127 it is important that you can hear both the orchestra and the soloist, and the way that they answer each other. Another important place is bar 167, where the tuba has the theme…

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