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ilovefiddle

Cello sound - projection in concert hall

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Hello everyone,

I've participated in a student concert recently, 3 student soloists were playing the Haydn Cello Concerto in C in a 1400-seat concert hall.  From the feedback, the sound of the soloist is nearly inaudible, even from the center of 4-6 row.

Can someone shed light on this topic?  What kind of quality should I look for regarding the cello sound projection in Concert Hall?  Should I look for sound "edges"?  More high-frequency harmonics? More bass?

2 soloists were using Warchal Amber, and one of them is using Larsen (DA)/ spirocore  (CG).  Thank you!

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There can be many reasons for those soloists not to be audible. The cellos sound range is very much in the middle and gets covered quickly. The soloist Needs to know how to produce a sound that project well. Roughly said, that means the soloist Needs to bow close to the bridge, which is something most amateur cellists - Cello teacher writing here - do not enjoy doing, as it Costs a lot of effort and doesn't reward you when playign in your bedroom. So they need an instrument that is set up well, so that it allows for playing closer to the bridge. Good Instruments will then reward you with proper projection. Yes, the cello Needs to have Edge to the sound and have a rich high harmonic content, the more the better. Still my bet is that Your amateur cellists were not playing close enough to the bridge and their Instruments were not set up for soloistic playing.

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Most important is that the orchestra understands how to play convincingly but with lower dynamics!

But realistically, bass will not help, and string choice is a minor consideration. I'm of the Luddite school and believe that the style of playing is the most important thing - great concert soloists put out massive volume, just like great singers. The physical volume (sound output) of the instrument would be the next most important thing, followed by an appropriate frequency emphasis/balance (with plenty of good stuff going in in the high frequency band).

edit : I see baroquecello has posted pretty much exactly the same thing!

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It sounds like the orchestra was playing too loud.

Sound projection describes a bias towards higher overtones that will help the audience focus on a soloist being accompanied by an orchestra as if they are standing in a spotlight. It is cultivated with good bow technique and also an important feature of fine instruments that are set up well.

No matter how much "projection" a cello soloist has, the sheer volume of an orchestra will overpower them if they are not properly trained and held in check by an experienced conductor.

edit: to Martin's comment about great soloists, eg. Rostropovich spent most of his rehearsal time on balance, i.e. telling the (professional) orchestra to play more quietly.

edit 2: an elevated and acoustically enhanced podium is also advantageous.

Edited by jpclos
typo

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I attended a chamber music workshop last summer where we had a coach who spoke about timbre. He had us sing as a choir in a pleasant voice and recorded the result. He talked to us about sing with a "forward vowel" sound, bright edgy to our ears. We recorded the strain of music again and compared the result. The second example was brighter clearer...more transparent and it projected better.

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I recently went to see Stephen Isserlis play Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and I found his cello (a Strad) muffled and hard to hear at times. The orchestra were using mutes and are one of the best chamber orchestras around so I'm sure it was not them playing too loud. Maybe his cello was just having a bad day!

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On 8/2/2018 at 4:33 AM, jpclos said:

I

edit 2: an elevated and acoustically enhanced podium is also advantageous.

Not to pick nits, but over the past four decades, I've played with most of the (deservedly) world-famous cellists, and not one has ever requested "an elevated and acoustically enhanced podium".

Also, it should be noted Isserlis plays gut strings, which generally trade edge for beauty of sound.

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18 hours ago, Michael Bridges said:

I recently went to see Stephen Isserlis play Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and I found his cello (a Strad) muffled and hard to hear at times. The orchestra were using mutes and are one of the best chamber orchestras around so I'm sure it was not them playing too loud. Maybe his cello was just having a bad day!

Stephen Isserlis is one of the foremost advocates of the concept that Strads have unrivalled powers of projection - a concept which of course pre-dates the advent of synthetic strings.

He wrote a very impassioned refutation of the Fritz-Curtin experiments.

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There are too many variables in this problem to adequately respond but I notice you didn’t say what cellos were being played.

I’m also a cello teacher and I’ve found that the goal is to maximize vibration of the string. Pushing on the string creates the sound but also, after a point, stifles it, so the speed/pressure ratio must be optimum. Use as much bow as the music will allow but also the proper weight for that length. I also use bow vibrato to maximize string freedom, but the cello itself is a major factor. The most powerful cello I’ve played was a Carl Becker Jr, but my own instrument is plenty powerful.

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1 hour ago, AtlVcl said:

Not to pick nits, but over the past four decades, I've played with most of the (deservedly) world-famous cellists, and not one has ever requested "an elevated and acoustically enhanced podium".

Also, it should be noted Isserlis plays gut strings, which generally trade edge for beauty of sound.

The OP was about a student playing Haydn with a student orchestra. A standard platform like most professional orchestras uses is elevated, no? Most are big pieces of wood and reflect and amplify the sound a bit in addition to raising the soloist above the stage. It only seems logical that in a hall seating 1400 people, a kid playing Haydn C on a student cello with a (too big) student orchestra needs that boost even more than a world-famous soloist playing a Stradivarius with a reduced orchestra of seasoned professionals.

I do think Isserlis and especially some other modern gut string soloists like Harrell with his Monty, Rose and Hoffman on the Amati could make their instruments project very well with gut strings. I know that in his teaching, Harrell puts an emphasis on cultivating a breadth of timbre varying color with different contact points, bow speeds and vibrato, rather than one particular end of the spectrum. The power he gets with gut is legendary. I never heard Rose live, but having studied with students of his who described his sound in a large hall as "coming off the walls".

Of course Steven has played a couple great Strads, and before that a Guadagnini, but apparently they are not all are suited for concerti. I don't think that either Harrell or Yo-Yo Ma have played their Strads in large halls with orchestra as much as the Montys. Du Pré also wasn't ultimately satisfied with the projection of those instruments either. Truls Mork had the opportunity to play a Strad a couple years ago and let it go to a younger colleague. Jan Vogler has a superior one that was out of the concert halls for decades. 

Edited by jpclos

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18 hours ago, jpclos said:

A standard platform like most professional orchestras uses is elevated, no? Most are big pieces of wood and reflect and amplify the sound a bit in addition to raising the soloist above the stage.

 

Well, you've got it half right.  They are, indeed, "big pieces of wood."  Whether they "reflect and amplify" anything is a matter for science and conjecture, as I think the elevation is more for "show" rather than "go."  One or both of us may be thinking of a so-called "acoustical platform" that was being marketed a number of years back.  

 

Quote

I do think Isserlis and especially some other modern gut string soloists like Harrell with his Monty, Rose and Hoffman on the Amati could make their instruments project very well with gut strings. I know that in his teaching, Harrell puts an emphasis on cultivating a breadth of timbre varying color with different contact points, bow speeds and vibrato, rather than one particular end of the spectrum.

 

 

Yes, it's undoubtedly easier to get a breadth of tone color when you have fingers as thick as sausages.  He produces a ravishing sound with very little noticeable movement of his left hand, even on the modern instrument he's played for a number of years now.  I can only speculate he sold the Strad for monetary, as opposed to artistic, reasons, although of course neither of us can speak to that issue with any surety.

 

 

 

 

Of course Steven has played a couple great Strads, and before that a Guadagnini, but apparently they are not all are suited for concerti. I don't think that either Harrell or Yo-Yo Ma have played their Strads in large halls with orchestra as much as the Montys. Du Pré also wasn't ultimately satisfied with the projection of those instruments either. Truls Mork had the opportunity to play a Strad a couple years ago and let it go to a younger colleague. Jan Vogler has a superior one that was out of the concert halls for decades. 

What the last paragraph illustrates is that there's probably no one instrument ideally suitable for all applications.  In the days of the large concert hall, many fine cellists choose Monty and Gofriller over Strad.

Of course, it also brings to mind the evergreen argument on MN about professionals never being able to reliably and repeatedly distinguish between modern and "old" instruments in blind tests, but that's a subject best left for another thread.

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1 hour ago, AtlVcl said:

What the last paragraph illustrates is that there's probably no one instrument ideally suitable for all applications.  In the days of the large concert hall, many fine cellists choose Monty and Gofriller over Strad.

I think it was Ed Smith who told me, long ago, that although the single best cello in the world was a Strad(the Davidoff, I think he said) the best cello MAKER was either Gofriller or Techler.

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15 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I think it was Ed Smith who told me, long ago, that although the single best cello in the world was a Strad(the Davidoff, I think he said) the best cello MAKER was either Gofriller or Techler.

For once I'm speechless.

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Perhaps some projection is related to the player. I remember Roberto Dias testing violas during a viola Congress. I was in the back of the concert room, and he managed to make almost all the violas sound the same and project.

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I had an interesting experience some years ago listening to a young Russian soloist playing a concerto with our local orchestra.

I don't remember what the piece was but it had a long orchestra introduction that had me dozing when suddenly the cello comes in like someone starting an electric saw. First thought through my mind was "Lord that is a nasty sounding aggressive cello!" second thought through my mind was "But this kid can really play!"

While I agree that orchestras (and piano accompanists) need to park their egos at the door and deliberately play below the soloist I think that an unusually bright or edgy sound is helpful in being heard and that as one of my clients says  "The audience does not come to hear my instrument" "They come to hear me." Most listeners will quickly get used to the cello and be listening to the performance.

Unfortunately for we cello makers most people who buy cellos need  to play in  a broad range of situations so a compromise must be made which provides the greatest  number of options at the expense of the ability to cut through the orchestra. Having said that, a clear and powerful A string goes a long way toward helping the soloist rise above the background.

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4 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I had an interesting experience some years ago listening to a young Russian soloist playing a concerto with our local orchestra.

I don't remember what the piece was but it had a long orchestra introduction that had me dozing when suddenly the cello comes in like someone starting an electric saw. First thought through my mind was "Lord that is a nasty sounding aggressive cello!" second thought through my mind was "But this kid can really play!"

While I agree that orchestras (and piano accompanists) need to park their egos at the door and deliberately play below the soloist I think that an unusually bright or edgy sound is helpful in being heard and that as one of my clients says  "The audience does not come to hear my instrument" "They come to hear me." Most listeners will quickly get used to the cello and be listening to the performance.

Unfortunately for we cello makers most people who buy cellos need  to play in  a broad range of situations so a compromise must be made which provides the greatest  number of options at the expense of the ability to cut through the orchestra. Having said that a clear and powerful A string goes a long way toward helping the soloist rise above the background.

Hear, hear! It's simple, a piano by design or an orchestra simply by arithmetic will always be able to produce more sound than a cello. Treble instruments like trumpets, flutes and violins have a natural emphasis in the range between 2,000 and 5,000 HZ, but if a bass instrument like a cello, no matter how beautiful sounding up close, is lacking those special overtones in that first octave on the A-String, it will just be mellow.

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Nonetheless, we are Talking Haydn C-Major here, a concerto that is very well written in that during the solos, the orchestra has very Little to do. If you as a soloist can't make yourself heard in that concerto, then you most certainly don't know how to produce a proper soloist sound. 

7 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

First thought through my mind was "Lord that is a nasty sounding aggressive cello!" second thought through my mind was "But this kid can really play!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing with a soloists sound usually doesn't sound very nice under the ear, or at least not nicer than a mellow indifferent cello sound, and I almost repeat myself when I say that if the bedroom is the usual venue for playing, the student will not likely enjoy producing the kind of sound needed for a solo, likely will not even see the Need for it, as this sound doesn't necessarily sound louder in the bedroom. It is a personal Frustration as a teacher that I can't seem to convince many of my students of more often using a slower bow with more arm weight close to the bridge. At best they will Play halfway between bridge and fingerboard. If they have a dull sounding instrument, then usually the Motivation for finding a soloistic sound is even smaller, as it Costs even more effort. Such is life.

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7 hours ago, jpclos said:

Hear, hear! It's simple, a piano by design or an orchestra simply by arithmetic will always be able to produce more sound than a cello. Treble instruments like trumpets, flutes and violins have a natural emphasis in the range between 2,000 and 5,000 HZ, but if a bass instrument like a cello, no matter how beautiful sounding up close, is lacking those special overtones in that first octave on the A-String, it will just be mellow.

What's wrong with just being mellow?

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

Nothing, except in the specific context of being heard over a large orchestra.

Can a mellow sound be loud so it can be heard or does it have to be soft to be considered mellow?

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A mellow sound could theoretically be loud but the energy required to drive those low frequencies to that intensity is outside

the range of bowed strings so in effect mellow sounds are generally also soft in stringed instruments.

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I suspect Nathan and Baroquecello are on the right track.

Low sounds are somewhat different than high sounds.   For one, we are perhaps more acute at hearing the higher tones.  For another, it takes MUCH more energy for a low tone to be heard as equally loud. And for a third, any tone is actually a stack of partials, and low tones present a much taller stack of partials before passing out of clear audibility. 

For warmth and sweetness in a small room, it probably helps if player and instrument direct more energy into the lower parts of the tone.    For clarity of articulation, and for projection, the opposite is probably better.  

I don't imagine responsibility for this tonal balance falls entirely on any one of instrument, set up, or player.  

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Thank you for all the inputs here!

On 8/2/2018 at 4:11 PM, baroquecello said:

There can be many reasons for those soloists not to be audible. The cellos sound range is very much in the middle and gets covered quickly. The soloist Needs to know how to produce a sound that project well. Roughly said, that means the soloist Needs to bow close to the bridge, which is something most amateur cellists - Cello teacher writing here - do not enjoy doing, as it Costs a lot of effort and doesn't reward you when playign in your bedroom. So they need an instrument that is set up well, so that it allows for playing closer to the bridge. Good Instruments will then reward you with proper projection. Yes, the cello Needs to have Edge to the sound and have a rich high harmonic content, the more the better. Still my bet is that Your amateur cellists were not playing close enough to the bridge and their Instruments were not set up for soloistic playing.

4

1. Better player 2.Edgy Sound 3.Orchestra with lower dynamics, I can imagine it is pretty much the same as what we are looking for in a solo violin. 

Apart from the student soloists, my friend, their teacher, is a qualified cellist.  He pulled a big "edgy" sound in front me at the backstage with the student's cello (1900 Mittenwald), I'm so surprised the cello sounded kind of mute on stage as well (although it already sounded 50% louder than the students).  The cello didn't project like what I would expect at all.

What puzzles me the most is what David Beard has just mentioned.  Since the low tone cannot be heard as equally loud with the same energy input, will modern cello makers tend to make cellos with more high harmonics?  I can imagine a lot of cellists dislike a "bright" sounding cello. 

What will you do?

 

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40 minutes ago, ilovefiddle said:

1. Better player 2.Edgy Sound

Apart from the student soloists, my friend, their teacher, is a qualified cellist.  He pulled a big "edgy" sound in front me at the backstage with the student's cello (1900 Mittenwald), I'm so surprised the cello sounded kind of mute on stage as well (although it already sounded 50% louder than the students).  The cello didn't project like what I would expect at all.

 

Sounds like the cello and its set-up wasn't the problem. It would be interesting to know what the acoustics of the hall were like. Some "multi-purpose" spaces can be very dry and difficult for solo strings, even bright violins.

12 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

What's wrong with just being mellow?

Mellow can be wonderful in an intimate setting, but if you sing like Mel Tormé, you probably won't be singing Wagner in Bayreuth.

1 hour ago, ilovefiddle said:

3.Orchestra with lower dynamics

What puzzles me the most is what David Beard has just mentioned.  Since the low tone cannot be heard as equally loud with the same energy input, will modern cello makers tend to make cellos with more high harmonics?  I can imagine a lot of cellists dislike a "bright" sounding cello. 

What will you do?

 

As Leonard mentioned, the Haydn is written well as the important solo lines of the cello part are not in such a low range that it would matter in terms of the equal-loudness contour, it lies more with the acoustic nature of cello in general. What makes it incredibly beautiful in chamber music can be an achilles heel in concerti. Could this be the reason for the lack of quality of cello concerto literature to that of piano and violin between 1750 and 1850? Mozart? Beethoven? Brahms?

Keeping the orchestra out of the way isn't just a matter of dynamics, but other things like articulation. An example would be playing the eighth notes very short and light by lifting the bow so it doesn't get muddy, esp. Vc and Kb. Depending on the acoustics, experience of the players, cutting down to one stand in the solo sections would not be unheard of either. It's always best to have someone in the hall in rehearsal to make balance adjustments.

Hopefully getting on stage will turn out to be a good learning experience for the participants.

Cheers!

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In my totally unscientific (and impossibly small sample) survey of the problem, the concerto-inaudible cello problem's pretty much in the nature of the beast.

In the few years I spent laboring in the orchestral vineyard, the 'cellists I could hear (on stage with them) were, first and foremost Greenhouse (Bach Aria Group gigs) (Stanlein Strad),  Harrell (at that time, at least, a little lady-sized Montagnana that, had it been human, could have filed a protection-from-abuse order against him), and Rose (Amati,.  I believe). (Greenhouse got the only standing ovation from the orchestra during a rehearsal I can remember).

Those I heard only off-&-on in the course of a solo were (names withheld) playing a Tecchler (I know -- big reputation and big bucks. But not a big, projecting sound) and a Lott (another surprise. His basses are gangbusters, and Joe Fuchs did pretty well with one of his fiddles).

Even with the recommended "forcing" of the sound approach (drive the top hard, like Harrell was doing then) (a year or so after the Cleveland Exodus), it's pretty hard to imagine expecting a garden variety 'cello in the hands of a young & instruction-resistant 'cellist managing what the last two (who had teaching gigs at big state schools) couldn't with "good" 'cellos (and bows).

FWIW

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