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James Ehnes on Breaking a String Mid-Performance

"How do we professionally handle a string break mid-performance?" We threw the question over to Canadian violin virtuoso James Ehnes to seek his advice.

The inevitable string breaks, coupled with your adrenaline rush while performing on stage might seem like a spell for disaster, doesn't it? Worry not, for this seemingly scary event happens to most performing musicians and you're not alone! What then, should we do when a string breaks, and how can we handle that professionally when on stage? VC reader Jason was keen to know.


Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

James Ehnes on How to Handle a Broken String Mid-Performance

Dear Jason,

Great question. I would say the answer would depend very much on the circumstance, though. When performing with an orchestra, I think it's best to quickly swap violins with the Concertmaster.

This does happen to me every few seasons, and the switch always seems to take forever with your adrenaline going like crazy, but for the audience, I'm told, it usually appears lightning-quick! If one is performing alone, with piano, or in a chamber group, I think it's best to stop, explain to the audience what's happened and change the string off stage.

This is why it's important to always have a spare set of strings in your case – preferably an old set that are already stretched out.

Finishing a piece on the lower strings a-la-Paganini-style seems a little silly to me. Mind you, I did once break an E string about 8 seconds from the end of a concerto – so finishing on the lower strings was my only real option. It worked out – more or less! I hope that helped, Jason? Thanks for your question. Thanks VC. All the best



Do you have a burning question for one of the Pros? Simply email: [email protected]


James Ehnes has established himself as one of the most sought-after violinists on the international stage. Gifted with a rare combination of stunning virtuosity, serene lyricism and an unfaltering musicality, Ehnes is a favourite guest of many of the world’s most respected conductors including Ashkenazy, Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Denève, Elder, Ivan Fischer, Gardner, Paavo Järvi, Mena, Noseda, Robertson and Runnicles. Ehnes’s long list of orchestras includes, amongst others, the Boston, Chicago, London, NHK and Vienna Symphony Orchestras, the Los Angeles, New York, Munich and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras, and the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Philharmonia and DSO Berlin orchestras.


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