Who Plays Both Violin and Viola Equally (Quantity Wise), or Almost
Hi all, I'm just posting this out of interest, but who plays both violin and viola equally (quantity wise), or almost?
I have heard of a number of professionals who seem like clear hybrid players (e.g Pinchas Zukerman), and a gazillion teachers who teach both equally. However, I've noticed that most people have one as their primary instrument. If you're a pro, do you perform on both equally? I personally would love to play both equally. What are your stories? Thanks.
That's a good question. I went into violin playing fully with the intention of it being a step towards viola playing.
My primary instrument (obviously) is violin by an enormous margin, but I can and do double on viola for the occasional gig, and I have found it a very useful skill. I also teach a couple of intermediate viola students on scholarship.
It's funny. I really consider myself a violinist, but I play both instruments equally now. It's nice to be able to step in where I am needed. Right now I play viola in two groups and violin in two groups. Though honestly, I would never have predicted this situation when I started.
I think a more equal distribution between the two instruments is more common for freelancing pros, since playing both increases the possible gig opportunities.
I think it is rare for anyone to play both equally in a professional context. In the freelance world you become known as a violinist or violist and are usually asked to play the instrument you are known for (hopefully your primary instrument), but I think most jump in on their secondary instrument occasionally. If you have a regular quartet etc.. that you fill based on who is available, your distribution may be more equal. I would say that I play 90% of my performance gigs on viola (my primary instrument) and sub in on 2nd violin on occasion. For teaching, though, only about 1/3rd of my 45 students are violists, so I guess I earn income about equally with both instruments, but for performance situations I prefer to play viola.
I started playing Viola in college and have always done both. I kept secret which one I preferred. For me, as a lower-level pro. in a small city, I get called a little more often to do Viola. I find the technical difficulty of orchestra Viola parts to be similar to Second Violin. I have always had trouble measuring those tiny half-steps on the second half of the violin E-string. I have fewer "accidents" on the Viola; I like the greater inertia, having to fight against the resistance of the instrument, while playing violin seems like a delicate balancing act. For physical reasons I recently switched from a 16" to a 15 1/2 " viola.
I play both equally badly
I wouldn't mind learning viola, but I've finally got my small-ish hands adapted to the violin and I fear a viola's extra size would not work out well.
Thank you so much for sharing your stories. They are very interesting. I seem to like both violin and viola equally, have thought about playing violin in one orchestra and viola in another, performing solo recitals on both equally, teaching both equally (probably more violinists due to population), and doing whatever comes my way for chamber music and short-term orchestral jobs while finding a balance. I am such a multi-instrumentalist (plays one other instrument besides violin and viola at the same level but won't mention due to privacy) that I feel like they all have to be my primary instruments.
I think it all comes down to what you want to focus on. I've played very little solo repertoire on the viola, but have invested a lot of time in chamber music, so everything I do on that instrument stems from the requirements for quartets, quintets, sextets, etc. Teaching and playing chamber music is my primary line of work, so developing and maintaining competency and fluency with the demands of both instruments in that repertoire is my primary concern.
I was playing violin when a friend dragged me into a local community orchestra, pushed a viola into my hands, and told me to learn to play it. He insists on playing viola in our impromptu string quartet (he find it harder to switch back and forth than I do), so I play second violin there. And then there's my bluegrass fiddling (although I have brought my viola to a jam and turned a few heads).
Now in my 80s, I probably play violin and viola on an equal level, although during most of my life I played 1st violin parts in orchestral and chamber music. I also play cello and found it very interesting as I moved to viola that some of the great cello works (z.b., Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, Elgar Cello Concerto) were much easier on the viola which I was just starting to play than on the cello which I had actually studied for some years and played for decades.
Charles Pickler, former principal violist Chicago Symphony, plays both equally well. He was iriginally hired to play in the second violin section with the CSO and often played in other groups as soloist and concertmaster.
Masao Kawasaki and Sergey Malov comes to mind.
I am a failed violist: my (semi-pro) orchestra prefered another (very good) violist and asked me to play violin. I think I held my viola too high, used vibrato on all four fingers, and played in tune!
The cello was my instrument for orchestral playing for most of my life, but when I took early retirement from work I got interested in the violin as a second instrument. At first the interest was in folk music (Irish/English - that interest is still there) but later, after some years of very good teaching, I discovered the violin to be my main instrument and in orchestra made a successful changeover to it from the cello.
I’ve played principal viola, principal second violin, and principal bass in several community orchestras over the last couple of years. I play chamber on all three as well. I dabble on cello.
I've only really had lessons on violin. I bought viola because the small orchestras around where I live always are desperate for violists. So for the past few months it's quite possible that I played violin and viola about equally as far as time. I'm not as proficient on the viola as I am on the violin. Partly the issue is that some of the biggest persistent problems that I have on the violin (tension, reaching my elbow underneath, general reach and flexibility, etc.) are only compounded on the viola. However, playing the viola is sort of like warming up in the on-deck circle with a lead donut on your bat. When you put down the viola and take up the violin again, it's like having this weightless little toy on your shoulder, and so easy to play (by comparison).
Paul, that’s why the main viola I play is a 15.5 with a thin neck like a violin and thinner bouts only a few mm thicker than a violin, but still needing a viola chinrest clamp. It’s playable to the point of being able to do the two and three parts of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas (& 4 note chords with my normal sized hands) in tune without much of the stretching or cello fingering needed on longer scale instruments. It’s also light and balanced well enough that I rarely use a shoulder rest.
In terms of fingerings, I think it largely depends on hand size and shape in relation to viola neck size and string length. You must be able to play octaves in first position with ease and comfort, however.
I met Julian Rachlin here some weeks ago for some viola test drive, he is a darn good violinist/violist (had a Strad violin and a Storioni viola in his double case).
I find the viola gives me the better left hand, while the violin refines my bowing.
Similar for me Adrian. I often play transcriptons of the bach cello suites and violin sonatas & partitas as exercises on each instrument with a different focus to try to get the same musicality. The challenges of each instrument can be enlightening.