Teacher Talk: your string teaching questions answered by our panel of experts


Where should violinists look when they are performing from memory on stage? DANIEL ARSHAVSKY, ATLANTA, US

GÉZA SZILVAY Performing from memory on stage is admired by many people, though without real reason. Béla Bartók, one of the finest pianists of his time, always played with the score in front of him, and today other soloist giants like Gidon Kremer also prefer to perform from music.

Artists of that stature do not really read or play the music from the part in front of them, though. The sheet music merely embodies the great work of art. The soloist is looking at the musical monument itself, not at its building bricks – that’s to say the individual notes. They feel that behind the hundreds of bars and thousands of notes, the composer is present. The music stand with the score on it functions as a musical altar, and the altar demands dignity. The soloist should control their manners, and only beautiful movements are acceptable. The music stand with the music aids the placement and poise of the player. They should not stare at the audience or gaze at the ceiling of the hall, but neither should they keep their eyes closed for too long.

The stand does not hinder the visual connection between the soloist and the conductor or sonata partner. On the contrary, it widens the soloist’s visual field. You can easily control the fingers on the fingerboard and at the same time receive supportive smiles from the viola or cello sections in the orchestra, and you might even answer them with a wink.

Next time, try taking the music on stage with you.

BORIS KUSCHNIR The direction the violinist looks on stage is a very individual matter, and it often depends on the player’s character, the piece and its technical difficulties, and also the player’s nervousness and tension while playing. Some violinists focus on their violin; some look in the direction of the horizon; and others play with their eyes closed.

Maybe it’s better to think about where the violinist should not look. It’s bad when a soloist looks into the audience, searching for people they know. It’s not good to look permanently at just one spot, either – for example, the point where the bow touches the strings, or the lefthand fingers. And looking up at the hall ceiling as if searching for an imaginary score doesn’t look good, either.

If a violinist knows the piece they are playing very well, if their thoughts and feelings are on a high musical level instead of being concerned with trying to master the piece’s technical difficulties, and if their hands are free from tension and nervousness while playing, I believe that wherever they look, they will appear natural to the audience.

GÉZA SZILVAY is co-author of the Colourstrings teaching method and principal of the East Helsinki Music Institute

BORIS KUSCHNIR is violin professor at the Vienna Conservatoire and at the University of Music in Graz

This article was first published in the October 2011 issue of The Strad. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial. To purchase single issues click here