Holst Planets bow dilemma

July 14, 2016 at 09:20 PM · Holst's "The Planets" has heavily percussive col legno in the "Mars" movement. I've always used a carbon-fiber bow for concerts I've played where The Planets have been on the program.

However, this upcoming season I'm performing it for the first time as the concertmaster, and while I have a CF bow that handles well enough (it's a Jon-Paul Avanti), and the tone is fine for blending into a section, I'm less keen on the tone for solo playing, especially something as delicate as the Venus movement of the Planets.

I'm trying to decide: Do I risk using my regular bow (old, French, decidedly not inexpensive) and attempt to be very careful with the col legno, or do I stick with the CF and just live with the tone quality? I don't think I've ever seen anyone switch bows mid-piece for this.

(I'm the soloist for The Lark Ascending on the same program, but for that, I figure I have a moment to switch bows backstage.)

Replies (15)

July 15, 2016 at 01:50 AM · I don't see a problem with having a second bow on stage, as long as it isn't in the way. When a passage calls for scordatura, a second violin is taken on stage, after all.

As a matter of fact, the concertmaster in Tucson brought two bows outvfor one series...don't recall why, it was years ago, but no one gave it a second thought.

July 15, 2016 at 03:13 AM · Christian Tetzlaff switches bows for different movements of concertos. I can't see why you shouldn't. Your judgement and experience are much greater than mine though.

July 15, 2016 at 04:48 AM · Under no circumstances would I play col legno on an old French bow, and frankly I'd be worried about accidental damage to the bow if it were sitting onstage for you to switch to in Venus. Where would you put it? Surely not on the stand where it could get knocked down or bumped during page turns. And definitely not on the floor.

I'd just play the whole Holst on CF and switch bows backstage for the other piece. It's vanishingly unlikely that anyone in the audience would hear the difference on the Venus solo.

July 15, 2016 at 06:59 AM · I'd just play the whole Holst on CF and switch bows backstage for the other piece. It's vanishingly unlikely that anyone in the audience would hear the difference on the Venus solo.

Absolutely agree - although bows make a small difference no normal public cocert-goer is going to have a clue.

Reminds me of the story about Lionel Tertis (English eccentric viola player) who phoned up a composer and played the passage in mind twice over the phone. When he asked the composer which he preferred the answer came back "I heard no difference." The response from Tertis was "But I did it the second time starting with an up bow!!"

July 15, 2016 at 12:01 PM · My experience of audiences is that most audience members are remarkably unobservant - unless it is a special occasion like a competition. A concert-goer who is observant enough to notice a change of bow is likely to be knowledgeable enough to understand (may even have been there themself).

I believe there are bowstands available for orchestral and band use.

July 15, 2016 at 12:18 PM · Or you could just use a stick or pencil for the col legno...

July 15, 2016 at 01:11 PM · I am just a humble amateur but I fully agree with Mary Ellen that nobody would notice the difference! After all the solo part is not that extensive. I am quite confident Lydia that you will be able just fine to make it sound well with your CF bow!

July 16, 2016 at 09:06 AM · I keep a few disposable wood chopsticks in my case for col legno passages (I am being totally serious here) so I don't have to subject my old French bow to such stress, unless the performance is okay to play on my JonPaul Avanti.

July 16, 2016 at 04:51 PM · I've played the piece multiple times on different fine French bows. I've never cause any damage whatsoever. I'm not sure what kind of damage you could cause. The bow isn't going to just break. Bows aren't varnished like violins and nothing is going to chip off. They're generally rubbed with oil. Pernambuco supposedly has the strongest strength-to-weight of almost every wood. I've never seen any marks or damage to the bows apart from a little rosin. Few people, as far as I know, worry about col legno that much and don't change bows just for that.

You don't have to smack it THAT hard. It's all about the brass anyway. It's rhythm, not a death blow. People who are worried about their fine French bows should be more concerned about the grip area, because that is where the wear occurs. That's why I've always had the stick covered with leather.

July 16, 2016 at 09:17 PM · Hi Lydia! I agree with Scott here, and usually it's because I forget that there's col legno on the program and there I am with my usual (French) bow in hand. The stuff in Mars is quiet enough I never worry about it.

Venus is such a beautiful solo, isn't it? A difficult key though; I'm surprised it never shows up on auditions. Good luck!

July 16, 2016 at 11:25 PM · Gene, how in the world do you switch from bow to chopstick fast enough when there is no rest? We're playing a piece this weekend in which I have to go arco-->col legno-->arco with no break. Fortunately my JonPaul Avanti is doing just fine.

And I do have a leather on the grip of my fine French bow, but why take a risk, even a small one?

July 17, 2016 at 03:35 AM · Our conductor asked for a very heavily percussive col legno, in a previous season's performance of The Planets. Our then-concertmaster demonstrated a window-wiper motion of large-drop, struck technique for col legno that made me immediately decide it was time to get a carbon-fiber bow that I liked!

July 17, 2016 at 03:44 AM · I have a small padded friction clamp glued onto the chopstick, so I can clip it to the edge of the stand and grab it off when I need it. Trick I learned from a percussionist who used a variety of small beaters for various instruments. :)

I had an older German bow split at the tip in col legno one time, so it can happen...I'm sure it was already damaged and banging it on the string simply was the straw that broke the camel's back so-to-speak.

July 17, 2016 at 03:55 AM · Wow Lydia! That's quite a choreography. If I ever run across that I'll leave stage and get my cheap bow. :)

July 19, 2016 at 08:48 PM · I was always taught that for col legno you just roll the bow so you're playing part on the hair and part on the stick. Of course, it's up to you just how much of the stick you utilise :-)

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