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Book Review: The Orchestral Violinist’s Companion

Martin Wulfhorst, The Orchestral Violinist’s Companion (Bärenreiter, 2012) 483 pp.

ISBN 978-3-7618-1758-2, BVK 1758

Reviewed by Cyrus Ginwala

Many books on conducting deal primarily with stick technique or score study, important topics to be sure but, with the exception of the final edition of Max Rudolf’s Grammar of Conducting, few address the inner workings of the orchestra. Though not described as a conducting text, conductors (string players and non-), orchestral string players and those who train them, will find Martin Wulfhorst’s  The Orchestral Violinist’s Companion invaluable. TOVC helps bridge the gap between ‘platform and podium’.

TOVC is written to address the issues faced by section violinists in orchestras – a topic which has not been written about in such a comprehensive and systematic manner before.  Conductors who rely on their concert masters and string principals to translate their ideas into “string-ese” can use this volume to participate more fully in nuts and bolts technical discussions, which are essential elements of interpretation. With less experienced orchestras, it is often not enough for the conductor to describe the desired sound, but also what players must do to achieve that sound.  TOVC will help conductors understand what a string section can and cannot do and offer specific instructions to help them.  Can’t figure out why the tremolo isn’t sounding right? Check out Chapter 5.18.  Looking to devise a practice routine for a particular passage? See Chapter 4. Want to mark the parts before sending them out? Chapter 9.

The book examines issues related to Bowing Technique, Sound Production and Coordination, including subsections on traditional topics such as: Controlling and Adapting the Elements of Bowing, Bow Divisions and Articulation, as well as fascinating discussions on vibrato, soft playing and “good” and “bad” bowings.  The book includes extensive citations from respected authors in many subject areas, addressing Working in an Orchestra, Auditions (including coping with post-audition stress).

Perhaps the greatest strength of this volume is the author’s ability to reduce the most challenges to component parts – helpful both for practice and score study.  For example, while many conductors speak of halves of the bow, and Joseph Silverstein described dividing the bow into thirds, Wulfhorst goes several orders of magnitude further, dividing the bow into six sections, with a total of eight points (including frog and tip). In several of the many orchestral excerpts, the author has devised a particularly helpful notation for showing not only where the bow stroke begins, but also where it ends.

A helpful supplemental website (www.orch.info) includes a study guide specifically for conductors, marked parts, additional material and errata from the printed volume.  Updates and supplements are scheduled to appear in the future. Along with essential volumes, including Norman Del Mar’s Anatomy of the Orchestra, Martin Wulfhorst’s The Orchestral Violinist’s Companion should be part of every conductor’s reference library.

Martin Wulfhorst is Associate Concertmaster of the Hamburg Symphony. He is a member of the Hamburg Quartet and the Syracuse (NY) Society for New Music.  Trained in Germany and the USA, he has served on the faculty of Colgate University, teaching violin and chamber music.  He published editions include a volume of violin solos from Bach Oratorios and Mozart’s complete works for violin and orchestra. He has recorded CD’s of New American Works and Romantic Chamber Music from Northern Germany.

Cyrus Ginwala recently joined the faculty at San Francisco State University, where he is director of the University Orchestra.

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