We received this very detailed letter from a cellist in Rome that poses questions interesting for cellists, so I’ve decided to answer them here the best I can.
Marco: I wanted to thank you so much for posting the videos on your website, I found them extremely useful and, most important, synthetic but very clear, please continue! The other reason I’m writing you this email is that I would like to ask you some questions.
The first is about rosin: I’m not very happy with the ones I can get from my local dealer so I got curious when you said that your rosin is custom made mixing cello and bass rosin: If you make it can I please ask you the recipe or if someone does it for you is it possible to have the address in order to try it? If it’s not a secret, of course.
David: As of now, it is a secret recipe that only my friend who makes it knows. I’m just guessing about the bass rosin aspect because it feels a bit like when I’ve tried bass rosin, but of course much better. It gives me the same extreme grabbing power without the bow literally getting stuck mid-note, which can happen (be careful!). I will do my best to try to persuade my friend to offer his rosin commercially so that many cellists can enjoy the same advantage I have. I’m playing in Rome on November 21, and if you come to the concert and bring your bow, I invite you to take a good scraping off my rosin backstage to see how you like it.
Marco: About your bows: you talked about modern bows, can I ask you which bow maker do you trust and for you which is your ideal weight?
David: I’m not so aware of or concerned with bow weight, but here’s all I know about it: If a bow is heavy, it will make a bigger sound more easily but be more difficult to handle. If it’s too light, you have to apply a lot of pressure to get into the string and close to the bridge, and that can cramp the hand and lead to bad habits. I need a bow to be stiff enough that I can put a lot of pressure on it and the wood does not touch the string, and it should feel good in the hand – not too heavy or clumsy, but light and facile, like a fencing sword. The bow should produce good, clean articulation and bounce well, and draw an even sound all the way to the tip without having to press too hard.
My bow is made by Bernard Walke of Ottawa, Canada, and he’s made many great cello bows. There are a lot of very productive bow makers now in the Seattle area, among them Ole Kanestrom, whose bows are very distinguished.
Marco: Scrub pad: is it made of metal or natural fibres?
David: Metal. I use it every day, many times, and so far I have seen no wear on the string from the scrubbing.
Marco: About bow change at the frog: I was taught the first way you showed in the video no. 10 about holding the bow in a sort of French (?) school as I was told, but I tried your way and found it very comfortable especially when playing from mf to ff while the other way (French one?) when playing p or pp. Can you please talk about this matter one day in your videos?
David: I guess I’m not much of a pedagogue, because I don’t really know what the French school is! I can tell you one piece of information that I’ve kept with me my whole cello-playing career, and it came from Rostropovich. When he was asked how to hold the bow, he always said it didn’t make any difference: the only thing that matters is what the bow itself actually does – does it move evenly, straight, at the right speed, in a straight line, etc. But that was just like him – he rarely imparted to me any specific technical information like bowings and fingerings. He only articulated, very clearly, the end goals and made me figure out how to get there on my own.
Marco: Spirocore A and D strings: my grandfather used to play with a complete set of chromesthal spirocore strings (no wolframs on the bottom) and I still can remember the great sound he had. So I also started to play with these strings but when I got to conservatory I was forced to use Jargar as top strings. Now I tried the Spirocore A and D but they sound terrible! They are quite nasal and they require a total different way of drawing the bow in order to play them compared to solid steel strings as Jargar, Larsen, Pirastro and it’s easy to “squeeze” them if I press too hard midway between the end of fingerboard and the bridge but if I play close to the bridge, about 3,5 cms or less when going in the upper positions, they sound great. So is it the same for you? Do they require some days to play better? Did you have to make some adjustments in your cello set up in order to play them?
David: I have found that the Spirocore A does two things for me: one, it sounds great in the hall, bright and clear, and cuts through the piano, orchestra or chamber ensemble in the solos; two, because they are thinner (I believe) I seem to be able to get vibrato to sound with less hand motion, especially in softer dynamics. Remember that brightness, or high overtones, sound the most right under your ear, that they dissipate over distance, and that these same overtones help a sound to project. As for the D string, I have always found (on my cellos and most everyone else’s) that I need as bright a string as possible to make a smooth tonal transition from the G to the A string. Notes on the D string are often part of a melody that includes the A string (Arpeggione Sonata opening) and the color change should not be disturbingly abrupt, in my opinion. Jargar A is for me the best of the darker, richer strings, but the others like Larsen or Pirastro I find just too stiff and hard to play.
I agree with you that one has to play the Spirocore differently, however, if you cannot apply enough pressure on them at the mid point between bridge and fingerboard, it’s possible that your sound post is not tight enough or fitting correctly. Try an adjustment with the Spirocores on before you reject them.
And good luck with all of these suggestions! I hope they are helpful.
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