The Russian–American violinist recounts a week’s worth of practice in our February 2013 issue

philippe quint

Philippe Quint

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This article was published in The Strad February 2013 issue


I start by playing open strings, four beats per stroke with the metronome set to 𝅘𝅥𝅮 = 75, and then move on to four-octave scales. Then I work on John Corigliano’s The Red Violin: Chaconne, which I’m playing at the beginning of January. I start by listening to my live recording from about two years ago, although I plan to make some changes. I work on passages that are full of fast semiquavers (𝅘𝅥𝅯) mixed with double-stops, and also include big jumps from the G string to the E string. I play sections in dotted rhythms at forte — it equalises each note in my mind and helps to stabilise the intonation, sound and rhythm. The insanely diffi cult double-stops at the end still need work. Next I move on to the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which I’m recording soon. I play it slowly (𝅘𝅥 = 110) to secure intonation, sound and articulation. Finally I practise the last movement of the Barber Concerto.


I start with open strings again, before moving on to vibrato exercises — building up from a slow to a fast speed. My fingers are cold and it takes a while to warm up. Although I have to take many breaks, I get through the Corigliano at a faster pace.

I work on the difficult fast passages again, still using dotted rhythms. Then I start to think about new ideas, trying out colours and paces. The passage in 5ths is still very frustrating. Even though it’s mostly covered by the orchestra and should sound like an effect, I’m hoping to make it clearer. Next I play the last movement of the Tchaikovsky slowly, before practising the first and second pages of the last movement of the Barber Concerto. I start concentrating on learning the movement by memory.


A change of pace today: I start with the Tchaikovsky. The sweeping melodies drag me into playing the first movement through without a warm-up. Bad idea. My body, the violin and Tchaikovsky are all very unhappy about this lack of discipline. I have to stop myself and take a break to calm down and get back to systematic practice.

I finally make some improvement with the passage in 5ths in the Corigliano by playing the section slowly and détaché, using dotted rhythms. I also adjust my hand to a more guitar-like fi nger-stance and bring my elbow more towards my chest. I play through the last movement of the Barber slowly, looking for clarity and precision in the sound. Then I work on fi nding the right soundpoint for the different sections of the movement.


A friend who’s a conductor calls me looking for a last-minute player for the Tchaikovsky. Suddenly my day is planned out: Tchaikovsky non-stop at an accelerated practice speed. If I’m needed I’ll have to dismiss some new ideas and go back to old established ways. I practise in three sessions totalling about eight hours.

Until today my focus has been on intonation and sound but now I work on playing the whole work at concert speed.


I find out I’m not needed for the Tchaikovsky. I’m disappointed from the challenge and adventure aspect, but also relieved that I can concentrate on new ideas for the recording. I go back to the Corigliano. Surprisingly it sounds better after two days of rest. I think the Tchaikovsky has improved my stamina for the work’s demands. Next I work on the Barber, reading through the whole concerto slowly, memorising the orchestral score simultaneously with the violin part.


Back to scales and open strings. Doing a slow warm-up is sometimes challenging but extremely beneficial. I study the score of the Corigliano and play a few bits on the piano while badly humming the violin part. I won’t win American Idol but it helps to get a better idea of how the phrases flow.

I also work on the Tchaikovsky, starting with the third movement. I try to build stamina by increasing the speed. I start at 𝅘𝅥 = 120 and build to 160 to make sure the 152 marking is secure. I also work on several new ideas for the second movement. I try to emulate the voice with my playing, and sing some phrases out loud. The places where I need more breath indicate that I should take more time when playing, and bits where my voice keeps the phrase going lead to new slurs or separations of existing ones. Finally I record the entire concerto on my iPhone. The recording quality is horrendous but it helps to narrow down several questionable spots.


A day off. My resolution for 2013: practise even slower.

Read Philippe Quint’s Life Lessons in our December 2023 issue here

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