In the October issue of The Strad magazine, out today, I reflect upon the aftershocks of the Gidon Kremer letter
and ask why it is that no violinist today enjoys genuine world fame. Here’s the conundrum:
Try a simple test. Ask your neighbour, newsagent, nursery teacher or neurosurgeon to name a famous violinist. Paganini, Menuhin, or Kreisler, they’ll say. Then ask for a living soloist. In England, one of them might say Nigel Kennedy, in America Joshua Bell, in Germany Anne-Sophie Mutter, in Estonia Gidon Kremer. But that’s it. There is no string player today who commands the global reach of past masters.
Now why is that? Nothing to do with how they play. Note for note, Alina Ibragimova and Gil Shaham can hold their own with any legend in the archive, so why aren’t they better known? Milstein, in his eighties, told me that he could never play as fast as the current crop, no could he put a finger on what it was that made them less imposing.
The truly worrying thing for Strad readers is that this image decline affects only string players. Lang Lang, Helene Grimaud, Kissin and Richard Clayderman are recognised wherever they go. Anna Netrebko is no less famous than Callas. Domingo is a household name. No drawer of bow across bridge can match their celebrity.
Now why is that? Your thoughts please.
This will be my last conversation in The Strad for the time being. My time has got too tight, and the magazine is taking a slight shift of editorial focus. It has been great fun talking straight to the stringies. I’ll probably do it again some time.