Our Sound Concept

When I went to study with Mrs Nora Grumlikova in Prague, there were much larger concert halls than I used to play in before. The Music Academy was located in an historic building in the centre of Prague and even the classrooms were huge. Mrs Grumnlkova told me at the very beginning: “Bohdan, you are talented for sure, but why I am not able to hear you?”. I was taken aback by her criticism. I heard what I played very well, and I believed that I was playing loudly enough. However, I started to think about what she had said. She was an inspirational and knowledgeable lady, and she went on to teach me many things about creating sound.

A year later I was to play a Mendelssohn concerto with a semi-professional local orchestra. The orchestra had a tendency to play slowly and loudly. At the time I was playing a very new violin made by Vladimir Pilar. It was finished just a few weeks before the concert, and unfortunately I was not very happy with it. The violin sounded very bright, without any warmth or colour in it's tone. So, there was the problem of a loud orchestra, and I had a instrument which played quite harshly, especially in forte passages. What really confused me though was that everyone told me that the sound was beautiful in the auditorium. I found this difficult to believe so I asked some classmates to play the instrument in a large hall. The results were really amazing and in the end I decided to play the concert with this instrument. My friend recorded the concert with a portable recorder. The violin had a really great warm, well-balanced tone and it was so loud. Just as it would be if it had been recorded professionally with a separate microphone.

Later on I learned much more about sound production by conducting many sound tests. My father always asked me to check the sound balance at the rear of the hall during chamber orchestra rehearsals. This was done in various halls worldwide, especially when solo pieces were to be played. I was able to judge how the sound balance differed from what we hear on the stage. The results were always the same. The higher frequencies are damped to a much larger extent than the low frequencies when the sound travelled from performer to listener. Low frequencies are even able travel in a curve, whereas high frequencies travel more or less only in a straight line. The player can hear whole spectrum of overtones, but the listener hears mainly reflections from the hall walls. If there are not enough overtones in the sound on the stage, there will be very few in the auditorium.

Finding an ideal instrument, bow, set up and strings is not easy. Especially if we want to play under different conditions (different halls etc). But we always have to remember that we are like actors on a theatre stage. If one stood beside an actor, one would hear him speak quite loudly. Even when he didn't need to express intense emotions.

We need to seek a sound that is a little brighter than maybe we are used to hearing. One that we would like to hear in auditorium if we were part of the audience. This is why we try to include enough overtones in all our strings, especially the Brilliant line. Of course there are circumstances where we don't always need maximum projection. This is why I recommend using Karneol if you want to have a mellower tone close to the ears, or possibly also if you have a very bright instrument.