April 2010

Trick Your Way to Virtuosity

April 20, 2010 11:21

There was a time when I did quite a bit of playing with a Russian émigré violinist by the name of Daniel Shindarov.  Daniel is pushing ninety now, and recently gave a full recital at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles.  It was packed with virtuosity.

By all reports he’s playing with the same Mercurial energy and velocity he did thirty years ago, just after he left pre-Glasnost Russia, and at the time I first heard him.

Daniel was the sort of ‘high energy’ guy that could not have a violin in his hand without scrambling all over it.  At film recording sessions he would ‘noodle’ constantly during what down-time we had; unless, that is, he was regaling us with stories from Khrushchev era Russia.

Stories about wooing ballerinas mid-performance while sitting in the concertmaster chair of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Yet Daniel has always been a true gentleman and a man with a great heart, when it comes to art.  I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and encouraging roll model during the time, in my early twenties, when I strove to understand the instrument technically.

In the intervals between Milstein visitations, I had Daniel.

And I remember, one day, complaining to Daniel that I couldn’t do this or that virtuosic skill clean enough, or fast enough – maybe both, actually!

Daniel’s reaction, ‘Ah, those are tricks only, but you make very good music.  This is much more important!’ 

As you can see, that comment has stuck with me for a long time.  Yet today I understand ‘tricks’ much better than I did then.  And for three reasons.

Number one, I know how to practice slowly in such a way that a good foundation is put in place. 

Number two, I know how to shift my thinking when it comes time to play fast.

And number three, I understand that both of the above are really tools for ‘tricking’ the body to play beyond one’s ability to think.

Yes, it takes regular practice, and plenty of it, to confidently lay down many of the 'tricks' you'll find in the violin repertoire.  Just don't forget to keep the 'little gray cells' involved when you do it.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

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