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

The whole of the first page, until bar 28, has to be played on the G string. The closer you are to figure 2, the harder, higher and more uncomfortable it gets!

Almost every instrument has a wolf note high up on the G string – on mine it’s around the C and C sharp – and unfortunately in this piece you really need those notes. Every time I approach this section I feel stressed, and I find it best to breathe deeply and try to ignore the wolf notes: stress will only make them worse. It can help to use more bow and to bow more lightly, without pressing too much, so that the string vibrates more freely despite its shortened length.

When I practise this passage I use an exaggerated vibrato to strengthen my left hand. I also like to practise while sitting on the floor and resting my violin on something. The first thing I do whenever I’m in a new hotel room is think, ‘In which corner can I sit?’ Then I build up a pile of pillows and play with my violin resting on a chair or a table, so that my left hand can just hang from the fingerboard and I can play using my arm’s natural weight. It is actually very heavy, so it’s good training for the fingers. Afterwards, when I play normally again…

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