Joseph Silverstein Master Class

I attended Joseph Silverstein’s (former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) master class yesterday at the Heifetz Symposium in CT. He made a lot of important points that I thought I’d share with you. The first student played some unaccompanied Bach and he suggested that she use the thumb and middle finger, not the arm, to make a smooth bow change. In other words, you play the violin with the hands not the arms. The improvement was noticeable and immediate in all of the students’ playing.

Another principle was keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings, holding the fiddle high so that the strings are parallel to the floor, and keeping the shoulders down and relaxed. He however, played with the violin lower than parallel to the floor and played somewhat on the edge of the hair. Perhaps this was because he was sitting down just demonstrating to a small group of people and did not have to project to a large audience in a big hall. (He’s also 81 years old). Nonetheless, his sound was rich and beautiful and his facility fluid.

His playing is also effortlessly relaxed. His head and neck were especially free of tension and he was able to turn his head wherever and whenever he felt, like the master Nathan Milstein. He uses a shoulder rest though I believe he did not in the past. His position is to use whatever you want to support the violin be it a shoulder rest, sponge, pad etc., though he advocating not using anything if you can do so. Most importantly he said, is to keep the shoulders down and relaxed. At one point during a, Silverstein got up and weighed the student’s shoulder down. The student admitted that this liberated the student’s his left hand.

During performance, whatever is giving you problems or anxiety, Silverstein suggests to do the opposite. For example, if you have trouble making a bow change at the frog, bring the elbow in closer into the body. He also advised to practice slowly and carefully and to not spend five minutes without making the piece better. He practices at 1/4 his performance tempo though he admits to sometimes practicing too fast.

Regarding strings, he admits that he is not able to use gut strings because his hands are sweaty and corrode the strings quickly. He is not strictly conservative when it comes to using guts strings like some of the old masters did like Heifetz (who used a plain gut A and D) and made the analogy to tennis players not still using wooden racquets.

Well, that’s all for now. Let me know if you have any questions.

Emil