Martial Gauthier studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris with Gérard Jarry. He graduated in 1990 from the violin and chamber music classes. Alongside these studies he also took part in numerous masterclasses with Ivry Gitlis. Since 2005 he has held the position of principal second violin with Les Siècles, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, performing in Europe’s most prestigious venues (Philharmonie de Paris, Berlin Philharmonic, Alte Oper Frankfurt, the Cologne Philharmonic, and the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms).
Photos: Les Siècles
February 26, 2022
Do you see yourself as left-handed or right-handed? And is that a part of your identity as a musician?
I see myself as a left-handed but I’m not thinking about this every day! Yes, it is probably part of my identity because I built myself with that difference. I met two teachers in my life who refused to teach me. I was 18, during my preparation for the entrance exams to the Paris conservatory. It has been a very difficult period for me but finally it gave me strength and perseverance. In a way, it was a challenge to show them I could succeed!
Have you always played your instrument the other way round?
Yes, I am left-handed and it was totally natural for me to take my bow in my left hand!
Have you faced reservations or concerns from other people about learning the violin left-handed? From where did you get support?
When I was 17, I wanted to work with Pierre Doukan (concertmaster at Paris Opéra) at the Paris Conservatory. He refused to teach me. Then I tried with Michèle Auclair another teacher there and she refused, too! I got support from my very first teacher Narey Muller, then Fora Elphège, my second teacher, Ivry Gitlis, I met when I was 12 and finally Gérard Jarry my last teacher at Paris Conservatory. Later, at the announcement of the results of the London String quartet competition, Yehudi Menuhin said that every second violin should play like Martial Gauthier!
How did you come by your instruments?
My father was playing as an amateur in a folk band and I used to play with his violin for fun!
What are your experiences with playing left-handed in an orchestra? Have there been any problems?
I am principal second violin in Les Siècles Orchestra for about 16 years. You should ask my colleagues if it’s a problem. :))
Seriously, the two things I would say: It takes a little bit more space and It is easier if I seat on the left side of the stand.
Has your left-handed playing ever caused any funny or strange situations?
Yes! During the ending concert of a summer academy with Ivry Gitlis, after my performance, he came on stage and talked to the audience about our meeting and to make the the audience laughing, he played on my violin!
The second time was during a string quartet academy with Norbert Brainin, first violin of the Amadeus quartet. We asked Mr. Brainin if he would like to play with us (Castagneri and Belcea quartet) the Mendelssohn Octet after dinner. He said ‚Yes, but I need a violin!’ I was sleeping because of a migraine and my colleagues gave him my violin!! It took him some time to realize that it was my violin! He couldn’t stop laughing!
Does playing left-handed present any advantages – in general and in your award-winning string quartet playing?
I think so, in general. All instruments are in the right direction! It makes the balance easier. For competition, I don’t know – You just need to play well!
As a violin professor at the CRD of Créteil, what experiences did you have in teaching your instrument left-handed?
You won’t believe me, but I haven’t had to start a lefty in a long time! It was in 1998 at Chalon-sur-Saône music school. The little kid was 5 and totally left-handed. He was very good! I left my position in 2000 so I don’t know what happened to him later… For sure, I would not hesitate to do it again.
Bow technique is so difficult for all of us! Music intention, sound, personality, phrasing are 99% in the bow. That’s why I think the bow has to be taken in your guiding hand. We all look for a natural posture, so why should we start with a handicap?