Friday, July 29, 2011


I come back to this blog after a long hiatus due to my travels. Before leaving in early June I finished a viola bow for Toronto violist Ivan Ivanovich. The thought process for that bow was interesting and subsequent long email exchanges with Nicolas Cords, violist with the Brooklyn Rider quartet, reinforced an important dialogue on what a viola bow can be and what development of the form can be anticipated.

In Ivanovich’s case, he plays a 16 ¾ “ Greg Alf viola that he loves but he felt it needed to be paired with a bow that had plenty of power to drive the ‘C’ string. He also wanted the flexibility to explore the nuance and color his instrument was capable of. Here the challenge was to select a strong, resonant wood and camber the stick to match his playing style. In Ivanovich’s case he likes to play with the hair fairly close to the stick so there had to be enough camber to bring the hair to tension before it got too high. The important thing here was to apply exactly the right amount of camber to keep the hair reasonably supple at playing height. A hair band under too much tension would have compromised his violas sound potential. The bow had to have enough power without exceeding that level unnecessarily and the wood chosen could not be too heavy.

Finding the right balance of power and flexibility is of particular importance with the viola bow. Another viola bow, for British violist Helena Baillie, took advantage of her comfort playing with the hair up high. A similar wood was indicated but the camber could be different. Here she had the option of playing with a more relaxed hair band for certain repertoire but most importantly, the match was right for her instrument, a Zygmuntowicz.