Masterclass: Arabella Steinbacher on Ravel’s Tzigane

Arabella steinbacher crop cr sammy hart

The German violinist gives advice on how to inject character and charisma into the daunting solo introduction of this much-loved work

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I first played Ravel’s Tzigane  when I was 14 years old and immediately I loved it. It isn’t a typical virtuoso piece, where the aim is just to show off: there is so much depth and musicality to it. I had the opportunity to play it with a student orchestra when I was the same age, and it was a very scary experience, to play completely alone for the first five minutes – almost half the piece – with the orchestra sitting behind me, listening. It taught me, as a young player, to be confident.

I found that the best way to deal with the situation was to breathe deeply, to imagine that I was like a huge tree and then to start the forte  theme full of presence. You cannot begin this piece shyly, no matter how scared or nervous you are! The way you begin influences the rest of the piece. It was a great challenge for me to think, by myself, about what I wanted to express through the music.

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