What’s the difference between a violin star and a legend?

What’s the difference between a violin star and a legend?


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2016

In the Lebrecht Album of the Week on scena.org, openlettersmonthly.com and elsewhere, I try to draw a defining line between highly paid stars and the ones who really matter.

Great violinists come in two forms: stars and legends. Think about it. Jascha Heifetz was a star, Nathan Milstein a legend. One was a household name, the other inspired a kind of spiritual reverence among musicians of all stripes, not just violinists.

Read on here.



  • ANDY LIM says:

    Heifetz was a star AND is today a legend!
    so as Gitlis and Shafran are legends, unfortunately only for some connoiseurs a star when still living.

  • Milka says:

    It is just your opinion with which many people would differ , violinists included .
    Heifetz was a household name because of his talent Milstein was not a household
    name due to his talent .You could easily find “spiritual reverence ” in both players
    except with Heifetz it was coupled with awe .Heifetz was both -star&legend.
    With Kreisler you enter a different world ,of the three he was the most loved even
    when he was falling apart …to-day he would get short shrift …. you went to hear
    Kreisler playing the violin …Heifetz master the violin …and when they weren’t around
    you might buy a ticket to a Milstein violin recital. Of the three only Heifetz leaves a
    legacy, and a dreadful one at that.As for the rest, many had a good run and will go down as foot notes to the history of the violin .

    • John McLaughlin Williams says:

      One should note that the above is also just your opinion; worse, it is mere opinion, and not a considered or learned one at that.

      You may want to consider a waiting period before you post anything; you’ll likely think better of your manner of expression and offer revision. Everything isn’t personal, and it is certainly not personally meant for you, which is why so many of your responses seem odd and angry. Discourse is welcome when it is posed with reason.

      • Milka says:

        In your observation you have no idea how learned or not is the response.
        One can easily note you disagree and one suspects reason is a stranger to you .My comments may seem odd and angry but are far from that , one also suspects
        that discourse providing it meets with your desired conclusions is also a stranger to you .
        Every thing is personal opinion even your faulty opinion.

        • Andy says:

          Hows does Heifetz leave a dreadful legacy?

          • Milka says:

            Through no fault of his own ……from the 1940s on up coming violinists were all compared to whether they were the next Jascha Heifetz. His technical perfection became the goal
            for most violinists,to be the next Heifetz, admitted or not …he as an executant became the standard of comparison .. no self respecting fiddle player wanted to be like Milstein much
            less the inimitable Kreisler. There was more to Heifetz than technique . To this day it is to match the icily controlled technique, vibrato, tone , the whole bit that violinists are up against . He did change the art …most fiddle players think it is about technique alone,some western &especially asian performers, some who are are quite dazzling think only technique ..but they lack the magic that went with the Heifetz technique .Kreisler was also magic , but of a different type. To be the next.Heifetz is still the invisible standard .

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Christ on a bike, you are the most confused and confusing commenter that ever there was! You don’t offer anything worth having a conversation about, but I would, just for the hell of it, put before you a poser. Heifetz gave each of his students a ‘bank’ of points which were their points to lose. They knew the rules, and any transgressions resulted in points deducted. One invariable rule was this: when Milstein was playing in the L.A. area, all Heifetz’s students had to attend his concerts. Be absent and you lost points. So now, in Heifetz’s view, do you think he thought of Milstein as a star? Or a legend? Or just, as you would have it, someone you might buy a ticket to hear when Heifetz and Kreisler weren’t around? Or, of course, none of the foregoing for it’s inconceivable that any of the great artists of that era thought in such damn stupid terms.

      • Milka says:

        Seems the bike seat has worked its way into your head . It is well known that Milstein
        voiced the opinion that Heifetz was the supreme master violinist . I was making
        a point as to the Heifetz legacy which you seem too dense to understand .

        • John McLaughlin Williams says:

          Enough indulgence; Heifetz’ reputation and legacy is secure. It remains an influential, visionary beacon of aspiration for violinists and musicians, even those for whom his personal expression may not be to their taste. It is incontrovertible, and to say otherwise casts away the credibility of he who utters such inanities.

        • Steven Holloway says:

          Strange how often anything heralded with the words “It is well-known…” is not. But the point here is that your ‘riposte’, like many you conjure up, is an ignoratio elenchi of the first water. It has nothing to do with what I wrote. You write of what Milstein thought of Heifetz. I was writing of the opposite. Conversation does rather depend upon people responding to points made, not to any point but the one in hand. Otherwise, as here, it’s a waste of time.

  • lancelot says:

    Is this the same old Story that a “virtouso” can’t be a “serious musician”? Boaring!I
    If I had to choose to hear tonight Haifetz or Milstein I mostly would like to choose the more thrilling Heifetz – except the Bach Solo-Pieces…

  • Peter says:

    Kavakos v Bell. Discuss. Or any other modern-day pairing?

  • steinwayfanatic says:

    Such legendary giants often elbowed out some fabulous players who truly deserved equal status. Could Heifetz or Milstein have played the Beethoven Sonatas as beautifully as Henri Temianka? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uePtpQsFw5I

  • Frederick West says:

    No difference except for opinion, I don’t really get the point at all. I’m no violinist but Heifetz, Milstein and Kreisler all have something of worth to say musically.

    • Milka says:

      Yes they did , but it was to what degree , each had their own audience of admirers. The young Menuhin should be mentioned , every one went to hear him, he was a phenomenon who sadly bore out Ysayes’ dire prophecy.

      • Frederick West says:

        Don’t get me wrong here, of all three I’d go for Heifetz anytime, the first violinist who I listened to who sold the instrument immediately. And, even though some me take issue with Menuhin he was very persuasive and musical. I’d always been a piano fanatic but Heifitz convinced me the very first time the needle hit the groove – I didn’t realise you could do so much on four strings.

  • M2N2K says:

    All those labels – star, legend, demi-god, whatever – are purely arbitrary and highly subjective. One either is interested in listening to a musician (to a various degree) or not at all. The rest is superfluous semantics.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Isaac Stern was a Stah! AND a Legend!

  • Roy Lisker says:

    It is well known that Heifetz’s recording of the Beethoven violin concerto is legendary. Showmanship is not a vice in and of itself.

  • Eric Bond says:

    What an amazingly stupid thesis, Norman. Heifetz most certainly inspired all the reverence you could think of across cultural boundaries. Have you ever seen the documentary about him entitled God’s fiddler? Are you suggesting that Heifetz was merely paid well while Milstein actually mattered? (Why do you supposed he was the highest paid performer?) Try telling that to Milstein himself- who in his last years would often dream of Heifetz and the extraordinary way he made music. Or read what Fritz Kreisler had to say repeatedly about Heifetz. Or read Paul Zukofsky’s article on Heifetz published in the strad in 1986 if you wonder, still, why Heifetz mattered.


  • Higgins says:

    ‘No self respecting fiddle player wanted to be like Milstein much’????? If you were ever fortunate enough to hear Milstein play unaccompanied Bach and his own transcription of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz in the same evening, then you would understand why many violinists would want to play like him. I saw Milstein play several times. He was always quite astonishing, but that particular concert was something very special, and in my experience no other performer has come close to touching the heights he reached that evening. There is a live, private recording of the Liszt floating around, and I live in hope that somewhere in a vault a studio recording exists that will eventually see the light of day.

    • Milka says:

      Sorry but did hear him ..and he was a very fine and highly respected violinist ….
      but he did not occupy the position that Heifetz held with the up coming batch of
      would be violin virtuosi …everyone has their favorite that can do no wrong but
      somehow to the general run of players Heifetz( for good or not) was considered the
      standard of comparison.One could marvel at Milsteins’ playing but always in the
      background loomed the Heifetz mystique. Having heard all three I always felt one
      could afford to miss both Heifetz and Milstein for a season but Kreisler was not
      to be missed under any condition, memory lapses and all…for with Kreisler when
      all was well ..you entered a divine territory denied other players no matter how good .

      • Daniel F. says:

        You must be in your 90’s if you were lucky enough to have heard Kreisler live over a number of seasons. Did you get to hear Enesco play, and if so did you feel that Menuhin’s enormous admiration was justified?

  • FreddyNYC says:

    And then there are legends not well known to the public at large but are held in very high regard by their peers – like former NY Phil concertmasters David Nadien and Eliot Chapo……

  • Mick says:

    “a defining line between highly paid stars and the ones who really matter.” Oh well…Tab closed

  • Richard S says:

    I posted a comment on this article. It appears to have been removed. Why?

  • Milka says:

    Yes I have a nodding acquaintance with number mentioned , not quite there but …….you can find much of the Enescu influence in the playing of the younger Menuhin .It was
    Ysaye who predicted Menuhins’ future problems.One cannot contradict a personal
    opinion as held by Menuhin but it is open to question whether Enescu could have not but
    seen future troubles for Menuhin as Ysaye noted.The young Menuhin was not well served
    by many who should have known better in caring for this rare bird . My first hearing
    Kreisler was at age 8 and the wonder of the audience all standing up as he came out on
    stage and I asking why is all everyone standing up ..the answer “because it’s Kreisler .

    • Daniel F. says:

      You’ve not answered my very simple question, Milka: did you ever hear Enescu play the violin “live”? Only if you had heard him play live could you authoritatively speak to my 2nd question: was Menuhin’s enormous admiration for GE’s playing justified (implicit: in your opinion)? As to what you DO write about–the famous episode first recounted in Robert Magidoff’s bio, in which young Menuhin, after wowing Ysaye with Lalo’s Symphonie espanol, struggled to execute an arpeggio in three octaves, after which Ysaye admonished him to practice arpeggios, it is entirely unclear if so doing would, in the long run, have helped him with the overwhelming technical problems that he fought unsuccessfully to overcome in adult life. These had mostly to do with his bow arm, at least to judge from recordings and video. None of his teachers–not Persinger (a Yaye student, not Enescu, not Busch–thought it prudent to get in the boy’s way during his progidy years, assuming they were keen enough to have noticed what old Ysaye noticed. Menuhin himself is (typically) less than fully forthcoming about this episode.

      • Milka says:

        No I never heard Enescu live…
        BUT ….if I had it would still make little difference and would be pointless in analyzing
        Menuhins’ great admiration for Enescu .One cannot speak on Menuhins’ reaction to
        Enescus’ playing , only Menuhin could have told us how it was “justified ”
        You very well know the art being abstract it comes to listeners at various levels
        of acceptance and each listener determines from worldly experience what justifies its acceptance .

  • Richard Hendrix says:

    Norman, what’s wrong here ? You keep creating articles which aren’t articles: they’re opinion pieces. The unfortunate result is that you end up with people lambasting you over your verbiage. I don’t like seeing this happen here because I really appreciate the forum you’ve created.
    Maybe, is there a way people could suggest articles which you could write or research ? You have a wealth of experience.
    I never had the career, but was I was still very well-known among the people who mattered. I didn’t want the career: I just wanted to be able to express myself in playing at the highest level I could. The career is terribly difficult and not much fun in my book. I don’t like being in the public spotlight, either. I’m a very private person, although my personality is quite ebullient. It wouldn’t be easy to keep that with a major career, so by the time I was 24, I basically gave up.
    But one thing I notice from players is that everybody should try to communicate something through their playing, some ineffable quality which goes beyond words. Some people had an ability to convey the messages a composer wished better than others, according to even the composers themselves. In the world, I’ve never heard everyone be able to do everything with great passion or carry-through. The best recordings and performances don’t necessarily involve the best technique.
    Yehudi Menuhin remains best Elgar I’ve ever heard (the recording from when he was in his 50’s).
    Heifetz did the best Prokofiev #2.
    Oistrakh did the best Shostakovich #1. I can literally hear the terror of living under the Soviet regime…..
    Hillary Hahn does the best Stravinsky, it’s perfect, clean, icy, and detached. That’s exactly how Stravinsky wanted it performed, even though the arias are very passionate…..and she conveys the pathos also in a way which reminds me of the Saltimbanques paintings of Picasso.
    Stern does a very sloppy job of the Stravinsky and never really played perfectly in tune, but he made music with his palette he used and his intonation was a means of making color. It’s powerful, but his Hindemith is from the beyond, other worldly….
    My point here being that each person contributes something….. but that
    comparisons are personal. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me here.
    Also, greatness always comes in the moment. The fact that we have records of these moments is proof of some of the agreed greatness. I am told by my teachers that Grumiaux had stage fright and his recordings are better than his live performances. But these are opinions and stories, whether from Gingold, Galamian, Aitay…..
    I can’t decide who does the best Brahms. I have a recording of Szerying which knocks my socks off, but Francescatti touches my heart, and Heifetz dazzles as usual. I guess it depends upon moods.
    My only real lament is that in the past, you could tell the players apart because they were so distinctive. Years ago, I was asked once by an audiophile expert in violin recordings to identify a very rare recording which was out of print. From the first notes, I knew it was a woman by the touch. She had thin fingers which weren’t thick like Perlman’s or Oistrakh’s. I’d never heard the recording before, but was thrilled when I realized who it was because I had known of this recording of the Tschaikovsky but it was never available. Nobody had ever gotten all of the answers to his test correctly until I heard all of the players. It was Erica Morini. If he’d put Enesco on, I might have been stumped, but if it had been one of his sonatas, the genius would have been evident from the first note. I’ve heard him since. His sonatas aren’t performed enough to my tastes.
    Today, I can’t tell Midori apart from Perlman, Schlomo Mintz, or Sarah Chang. They all sound like an imitation of Oistrakh to my ears….but they all do what they do and it’s a very very hard life to live. I support all of them in whole and would go to hear any violinist I could, not just the gods because sometimes, you just can’t get a ticket, right ? You’re luckier than I am.
    But my lament is that I feel subjectively that the players of today are far more difficult to identify because I feel the art has been homogenized by the teachers who show the way instead of allowing the player to develop their voice. And if you haven’t had life experiences to the effect that the previous generations have, in world wars and devastating regime changes and so forth, the playing might sound a bit mechanical. You can only pull from the life experiences you have and then it’s a matter of your facility to execute. It’s like Perlman said, “If you can hear it and you can’t do it, it’s going to drive you nuts.”
    I love Perlman, but he’s never made me cry. It’s like Pavarotti: the instrument and technique was so glorious that it excluded any struggle. I strangely prefer Carreras because there is a sense of struggle in some form which makes for emotional tension. He can thrill me of the older singers.
    But I would still call Perlman a great violinist and Perlman has always been a natural. Given the work and stress, there is room for all, but it’s always ephemeral. Milstein seemed to get better and better as he aged until he had his first accident. I worked with him three time when he played the Brahms: when he was 76, 79, and when he was 83. They were all incredible performances which Heifetz could never have done because he never took the time to speak the words the way Milstein did….but I can guarantee you that his last performance of it in 1986 was the best of any of them I ever heard….
    Good luck to you…..but I just don’t like seeing fights here; that is all.
    Thanks for your articles !!!