Why do violinists now sound the same?

Why do violinists now sound the same?


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2020

From my monthly essay in The Critic:

The loss of character hit me one summer’s day in the 1990s when an ephemeral star was making an arse of himself in a German studio, insisting that analogue recording was “purer” than digital. At close of play, I hit a bar with the audio team and was halfway down a wheat-beer when the Mendelssohn concerto came over the sound system. We tried guess-the-soloist. Not Heifetz, Milstein, Ida, Oistrakh. Not x, y or z, the recent Gramophone covers. Not anyone else we recognised. Who, then?

I asked to see the CD cover. To our horror, the player was the same overrated soloist whose vanities we had endured all day long, his sound as insipid as instant coffee.

The kaleidoscopic art of violin playing had lost its flavour, like chewing-gum, in the pop song, on the bedpost overnight.

For the causes of homogenous playing, read on here.


  • A.L. says:

    Same argument can be launched against present day singers, pianists and you name it. It is a pandemic with no mask or distancing or vaccine to contain it. That said, mention should be granted to the tragically short-lived Ginette Neveu, a contemporary of I. Handel.

  • Fiddlist says:

    An excellent and beautifully-written article, Norman. I most definitely agree with your general argument, though I take exception to a few points made:

    – calling the U.S. and Russia the two “nurseries” of violin-playing today is not apt. The “American” school, most famously led by Galamian and Gingold, came from Russian pedagogical traditions. A more apt comparison would be between Russian and German pedagogical traditions. Completely agreed that both schools are pumping out mostly monotone, cookie-cutter players, but it’s important to accurately identify the geographical origins of the “nurseries.”

    – Vengerov never sounded like “nescafé.” Furthermore, have you heard him play live since returning from injury a decade ago? He came back with a gutsier, more lush sound, but also less outward flashiness and more inward intensity. I could easily identify his sound, blind, on any recording.

    – It’s unfair to put Janine Jensen in the same category as Hahn, Benedetti, Josefowicz and Batiashvili. Jensen always performs with immense amounts of passion, and her unique and rich vibrato makes her sound easy to identify blind as well.

    Vengerov and Jensen are both at the top of the violin world technically, and also possess unrivaled levels of musical intensity and unique personalities of sound. They’re the greatest two “violin artists” of their generation.

    Completely fair to mention Pat Kop for her brilliance and originality, though that opens the door for Nigel Kennedy and even Gilles Apap. And, dare I say it, Chuanyun Li.

    • V. Lind says:

      I liked the article too. And even the hint that Hilary Hahn may not be the Second Coming of Christ gets a distinct thumbs up from me. Oh, of course she is good — but for me she is one of the least inspiring musicians I have ever seen on a stage. She is technically very proficient, but as chilly as it gets.

      I am much more drawn to Benedetti, whose reading of the Sibelius remains one of the transporting experiences I have had in a concert hall. (Another, featuring a musician I generally don’t care for and a composer ditto, was Zukerman playing the Berg).

      Hope Pat Kop comes my way once musicians can travel again.

  • Ramesh Nair says:

    Your German soloist may have simply used the wrong word about analogue recording – not ‘purer’ than early, 16 bit 44.1 kHz digital, but more accurate to the musical waveforms. A case in point is your featured soloist, Ida Haendel. Her Testament release of Bach’s solo violin partitas and sonatas was recorded on analogue tape, not the 16 bit digital then in use. Even on CDs, Haendel’s Testament Bach set had more appealing violin sound than the well-recorded early digital of Itzhak Perlman’s EMI set. Apparently this Haendel set, on LP, had significantly better violin sound played through a good record-player set-up than the equivalent CDs.

  • Anon says:

    Influence of period instrument players, devotion to Urtext editions and “what the composer wanted”, trying to play in the style of the composer’s time, suppressing vibrato to fit with the time period the music was written, avoiding virtuoso romantic music and short pieces that great young artists once performed in order to develop their voice, and so on.
    The greatest individual artists of yesteryear studied and played the music under no such constraints.

    • Dan P. says:

      Playing the notes, phrasing, etc. intended by the composer is, to my mind, an admirable constraint. And while we may enjoy individual flights of fancy from musicians who were part of another age, it is no longer that age so why would we still be doing it? And why would the reference to a clean text drain a performance of the performer’s individual personality. Is that where personality enters the equation? That’s not my idea of personality and I don’t think that’s what made violinists like Heifetz, Kreisler, or any of their great peers sound like themselves. They grew up in a specific culture and tradition. That culture and tradition no longer exists, whether we like it or not. And, even if it did, are these the violinists who would win competitions? I doubt it.

  • DAVID says:

    Even though I do not agree with your assessment of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s playing, as I feel she does belong to this bygone age that still had soul, and is definitely recognizable as a soloist, I overall agree with your article. The problem, ultimately, is much deeper than just violin playing; as one commenter noted, it is a trend that is truly universal among today’s soloists and which ultimately has much to do with the current Zeitgeist, which does not tolerate anything that is not immaculate or antiseptic, and for which any expression of human vulnerability, personal character, or human weakness are nothing but sheer anathemas. We notice very similar trends in singers nowadays; an overwhelming majority of them, including some of the biggest names, are simply expunged of any genuine, authentic personality: many of them have incredible technique and in many cases beautiful voices, but the soul is missing. Maria Callas wouldn’t have a career today. What we want are clean, predictable, reliable, and beautiful to look at singers whose every note is carefully manufactured and choreographed, but who never overstep the bounds of acceptable propriety — it is what I would call merely “aesthetic” playing, in the sense that it is clean beyond reproach, spotless, but as bland and milquetoast as a macrobiotic diet. Part of this has to do with our contemporary obsession with appearance vs. substance in all areas of life, and with our sheer intolerance for anything not fitting the standards of a perfection devoid of any possible blemishes. In the musical arena, this means that the slightest technical imperfection has become simply unacceptable (competitions have certainly done much harm in this regard) and it must be reminded that soloists in former times were far from perfect technically, but they brought their whole being into their art, which is exactly the opposite of what we have today: soloists whose being is utterly detached from their musicianship and whose only goal is to bring a nice, polished, marketable product that does not deeply engage and which ultimately leaves one cold. Perhaps when our current mentality does change — and it actually might, after what we’re currently going through — we might also see a change in the kind of musicianship the world is longing for. Until then, we are probably stuck in the same rut — which is exactly why I personally attend just about one concert a year at the most, as I only buy tickets to see people who can actually surprise me (such as PatKop, incidentally) because in most cases, I know exactly what to expect beforehand — a nice, clean, technically beyond reproach, and ultimately eminently forgettable performance.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Apart from the obvious observation that a macrobiotic diet is quite healthy, even for a short period, I agree with this comment. The cause of this general trend towards sterile quasi-perfection (because a rendering which lacks authenticity and emotional depth is far from perfect), is the idea that classical music is a chique brand of elite entertainment, something like a Versace or Prada business, polished fun for the well-to-do bourgeoisie.

      But crazy women doing away with footwear is, ironically, a form of the same: seeking attention for the wrapping paper instead of the content.

    • William Safford says:

      I agree with your comments, so the following is in addition to them.

      In decades past, I used to hear violinists as soloists, who could make their fingers fly but who couldn’t play in tune or even play all the right notes. This was true even of more than a few major names.

      I’m sure that many in the audience were dazzled by the pyrotechnics, but those of us who can discern intervals were nonplussed. I imagine it must have been agony for those in the audience blessed (cursed?) with perfect pitch.

      It’s one thing to make an error or two when otherwise making beautiful music. Also, of course, anyone can have a bad day, and allowance should be made for that. But it’s another thing when the soloist can’t handle the basics. All else equal, I would rather hear something less flashy but impeccably played, than something bravura and sloppy.

      This was not limited to violinists, alas.

      This is one reason why I enjoyed listening to Perlman live. In his prime, he would play both accurately and with great musicality. With him, you got the whole package.

    • Roman Spitzer says:

      Bravo, David!!

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Love that.

    Thinking about the spiritual link between Ida Haendel and Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a few examples from Ida Haendel’s lesser known repertoire:
    Allan Pettersson’s second violin concerto, dedicated to her. Dallapiccola’s “Tartiniana seconda”. She even managed to illuminate an impossible oeuvre, the violin concerto by Max Reger, a composer whom I usually find rebarbative beyond redemption.
    To whom would I entrust such works nowadays?
    -Pat Kop for sure.
    -Gidon Kremer, were he so inclined, which I doubt.
    -Thomas Zehetmair. But would he? Pettersson, perhaps. The others, I don’t think so. And what different musical worlds they seem to inhabit, Ida Haendel and Zehetmair.
    -Isabelle Faust. (Just for the contrast. Among the few violinists I love, I can imagine no sharper contrast than between Kopatchinskaja and Faust.)

    Indeed, I can hardly think of another violinist more able to fit in the perilous stilettos worn by Ida Haendel better than Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Interesting topic.

    Bland, OK-playing is indeed a problem of personality and of emotional authenticity.


    “…… if there is a personality it’s coming through naturally.” (Ida Haendel)

    And what does personality mean?




    Is it ‘good playing in the spirit of the music’ or is it ‘the music as a vehicle to express myself’?

    It is a more complex issue. Exitable women throwing themselves barefoot into the score to have their emotions spill over the brim into the auditorium, is not a viable alternative to lack of expressive authenticity. Ms Kop maybe authentic, but it is the authenticity of neurosis and hysteria. Classical music is not about exhibitionism.

    • Edgar Self says:

      What does personality mean? It is sometimes a result of conflict between emotion and intellect.

    • Bruce says:

      Just listening to her Tzigane without video, it’s actually … riveting. It makes me think of old-school violinists who weren’t afraid to take risks. Not every sound is “pretty,” but every note sounds like it’s produced according to the performer’s vision of the piece. She obviously has the technique to do anything she wants, as most soloists do.

      Just checked in on the video: yep, she’s dancing around and making faces. It’s still terrific to listen to.

      The Beethoven cadenzas sound like a fun experiment — see Kremer and Tetzlaff for other fun experiments. There are probably others out there too.

      Actually had to turn off the Kreutzer video after a few minutes because it kept grabbing my attention — I couldn’t get anything done 😀 (Again, this was based on audio only — watched a minute or two of video but, as much as I like listening to Fazil Say, I couldn’t look at him for long.) Oh, the irony.

    • sam says:

      She seems like a feral child who somehow got hold of a violin, probably after eating the owner, and started playing on it.

      Or Elektra, consumed by grief for Agamemnon and possessed by hate for Clytemnestra…and somehow got hold of a violin.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Good article and comments, though some analogies wouldn’t have occurred to an odl-fashioned stick-in-the-mud.

    I liked Jensen’s Beeethoven concerto with Masur, which sounds as as influenced by Hubermann-Szell, an accolade, and saw Vengerov rehearse and perform before his injury, about the same time as Salerno-Sonnenbeerg, Joshua Bell, Znaider, and Mutter’s Beethoven sonata tour with accompanist in leg-cast, not impressive.

    The differences between today’s violinists are more visual than tonal. Vengerov’s backward leaning, Salerno-Sonnenberg’s grimaces, Bell’s floor-sweeping swoops and tip-toe ascents, Znaider’s impossibly too-tall out-reach.

    I think I could identify by sound Kreisler, Adolf Busch, Yoscha Seidel. Jack Benny, Bronislaw Hubermann; Vasa Prihoda, Leonid Kogan, Mischa Elman, Szigeti, Heifetz, the young Zukerman’s incisive ben marcato, young Menuhin by repertoire. All but the first five I saw play.

    I could not recognise by sound others I’ve hear: Erica Morini, Jacob Krachmalnik, Francescatti, Denes Szigmondy, Kremer, Stern (more visual).

    I look forward to reading David’s and Greg’s comments. Have you seen the You Tube video of Leonid Kogan playing Paganini’s “Nel cor piu” variations, frighteningly intense, and unlike Prihoda’s, unabbreviated. Astonishing! Verb sap..

    • John Borstlap says:

      I prefer some unadorned, unsensationalist, entirely dedicated playing which goes straight to the heart of the music entirely unconcerned about any wrapping paper:


      Listening to this, it is the music you hear, and not this or that big ego that uses the music to ‘project’ itself. And strangely enough, by completely identifying himself with the music, such players become great, in another way than the ‘great names’ who play for themselves instead of the music.

      When discussing, with the theater’s staff, which singers would be best for the Pelleas premiere in 1902, Debussy was offered the great names of the day. But he said: no, I don’t want that, good singers are enough. And they became great because of their dedication to the score. There’s a lesson there.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Indeed! And this is an argument against the idea that instant identifiability of fiddlers via their sound is, in itself, the criterion of excellence. I’d rather have ‘devotion to Urtext editions and “what the composer wanted”, trying to play in the style of the composer’s time’ than a performer’s personality constantly thrust in my ears. The ideal is the melding of an individual personality — or, rather, an individual musicality — with the composer’s intent.

        • John Borstlap says:

          This is so entirely true, it is stunning that such basic things of the art form are still something contested by many so-called music lovers. It´s like books being used as door stops or as show-off items on salon tables instead of reading and understanding them. Also that goes on all the time.

          • Eugene Tzigane says:

            Dear John,
            I often agree with your many comments and enjoy reading you. But I’m afraid I need to disagree with you here. What you call a “basic thing” is actually a topic of very serious debate. The purpose of a performance and the definition of fidelity to the score (Werktreue) changes drastically depending on what era the performer/composer lived. If we are trying to perform a Romantic work, shouldn’t we aspire to understand the work in the same way as the composer? I think you actually may agree with me here. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to see the biases that come from a chronocentric, Modernist milieux. As David Foster Wallace said, “the most obvious important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” Thus it is Modernism that pervades and poisons our Zeitgeist. It is the water in which we swim.

            It is important as a performer to understand and empathize with our Romantic era counterparts. We must let go of our preconceived notions and realize that they thought differently… very differently. For them, infusing a performance with one’s personal interpretation was not only de rigueur but an essential element to a good performance. The fight back then was more a matter of degree. That battle was the “War of the Romantics”, an epic century long battle between the conservatives (Mendelssohn) and the avant-garde (Wagner). Eventually, the conservatives triumphed and many of the hallmarks of Romantic style went out of fashion. The rise of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) was the dawn of Modernism as we know it and the two World Wars were the final nails in Romanticism’s coffin. Finally, with the advent of recording, perfectionism and replayability have become king.

            It is because our musical forebearers killed off Romantic style so effectively, that we have the current problem of homogeneity. Everyone is racing towards the abyss of perfectionism and literalism. I, for one, advocate re-examining Romanticism and mining it for the many riches it once offered. We mustn’t be afraid to embrace our humanity and share it in performance. The imperfections are what make each of us unique. As in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, it is in these imperfections that we find beauty.

      • Edgar Self says:

        One of Debussy’s vifst concerns in casting his opera was to escape Maeterlinck’s suggestions that his amistress be in it. which led him first to Mary Garden, with whom he recorded, and later to Maggie Teyte, whose reminiscences of “Claude” and herself are delightful.

        A 1940 Voix de son Maitre recording of “Pelleas” under Roger Desormiere with excellent cast in occupied Paris is in the circumstances miraculous. The baritone lived to sing in a later recording. There is an interesting “Pelleas” from La Scala with Schwarzkopf and Karajan.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Well I was nearly done with a very lengthy reply when my computer choked on something and I assume it was never “sent.” So here is what I remember of it. I assume our host will catch and prevent a double posting of nearly identical replies

      First I would observe the obvious that it always seems like we have lost a golden age, that things were better than they are now, and so on and so on (all movie actresses today look alike etc.). Mischa Elman was complaining about a lack of individuality some 60 or more years ago (his famous line that greatness was still rare as ever but the level of mediocrity had gone up tremendously) and he was talking about what we now think of as a time of highly individualistic and instantly identifiable violin sounds and styles. Indeed I do recall when my late father and I would turn on the radio and a violin performance live or recorded was already in progress, we’d challenge each other to name the violinist based on sound and style. Was it Heifetz, Francescatti, Ricci, Stern, Szigeti, Milstein, Menuhin, Rosand, Oistrakh, Gitlis — one or both of us would guess and nearly always be right. Of course one reason we were right is that those guys made so many recordings. If the announcer said it was Franco Gulli or Toshiya Eto or Valery Klimov or Viktor Tretyakov, well then we’d be flummoxed, but happy to have heard them.

      But there is the rub, and maybe one explanation. From the 78 era to the stereo LP era a surprisingly small sample of the fine violinists actually had major league record contracts and made enough concerto and sonata and recital recordings to let their sounds be heard and become known. It was not easy to know how a Berl Senofsky sounded, or a Harry Shub, or a Florizel von Reuter, or a Benno Rabinof. It may well have been an era of even more “sound alike” violinists than today. There just isn’t a broad enough sample of available recordings to say. And the stronger and more individualistic the profile the more those are the ones we do remember. So we tend to have pleasantly vague but not super-clear recollections of an Albert Spalding, for example.

      Thanks to an explosion of available media and not just those controlled by a relative few arbiters, when we compare violin tones today we are comparing more violinists – and perhaps more opportunities for us to think their tones and styles resemble each others. I do not insist on this explanation but I offer it up.

      Second, I do not find the concentration of top level violin teaching to just a few locales and a few teachers to be a problem. Such a concentration has always been the case, going back to the Baroque. From the 1880s to 1910 it was pretty much Joachim, Auer, Dancla, Marsick, Hubay, Schradieck, Ševčík, and a few other names – these were the teachers who taught the generation of violinists who started to make recordings. Soon the list included Carl Flesch who had so many noted pupils who, again, did not sound like each other. Boris Schwarz’s book on violinists talks about various “schools” based on country or nationality, with the general notion that a violinist of a nation would study within the “school” of that nation, so that we can speak of a Franco-Belgian “style” and sound. Yes there was a degree of travel within Europe to different schools, so that the Hungarian Carl Flesch, the Romanian Georges Enescu and the Frenchman Jacques Thibaud could all study with the French teacher Martin Marsick. They hardly resembled each other in how they played, if available recordings are any indication. Ditto with Morini and Schneiderhan who both studied with the controversial Otakar Ševčík.

      So let’s talk about Auer. While there is a “family resemblance” in their tones, Heifetz, Elman, Toscha Seidel are hardly sound alike violinists, and while Shumsky, Zimbalist, Rabinof have perhaps a more generalized “Russian” sound, they are not generic. And the Auer “school” was as powerful, almost monolithic, then as is any today.

      My point? Narrowness of school and what might be called a strongly parochial or localized element to violin style hardly resulted in sound alike violinists in the past so I am reluctant to blame it today.

      What is different is that today’s top violin students have more opportunities to travel and more opportunities to work with more teachers and advisors. This means that, say, a Czech violinist isn’t likely to be primarily and certainly not purely a product of local Czech teachers. It is rare, and perhaps has been rare for some time, for one teacher to be really responsible for how a particular pupil plays, but now there is a long list of violin pedagogues who seem to play a role even if a tiny one in how nearly everybody plays. So rather than a narrow concentration of teachers with strong opinions about tone and style being the culprit, I put forth that perhaps it is the wide dispersal of teachers plus the easy ability to travel and work with lots of them, that has tended to chip away at the individuality. Maybe they are hearing too many opinions and voices and not too few.

      Many years ago our local classical music radio station, when we had one, had morning contests and I once won free tickets to a concert by being the first to answer that day’s quiz: they played the first fifteen seconds of two recordings of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saëns and said “name the violinists.” I immediately knew it was Heifetz and Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg, and of course I knew both had recorded the piece. (The concert was great, a piano recital by Vladimir Feltsman during one of his early tours of the USA when he made such a splash.)

      Now when Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg first came on the scene she got some very negative reviews because of her utterly distinctive sound and style. She had to work hard to create a career. I think it would be even harder today. Her individuality was not regarded as a plus by many critics.

      So my third point is – just what would today’s classical music “industry,” if there is still one, do with violinists who DON’T sound somewhat like the “norm?” Just how would a Salerno-Sonnenberg or a Ricci or a Szigeti or a Kaufman or a Huberman or an Enescu fair if they were new talents? I think they’d find it an uphill battle. I suspect there are still ample numbers of violinists coming up the pike with distinctive sounds and styles, and my hunch is that those who decide who gets the big contracts for concerts and commercial recordings are weeding many if not most of them out.

      Plus we the listeners tend now to be listeners to recorded rather than live performances by violinists. That means we are not forced to confront new approaches the way you are if you are an avid concert goer. We know what we like, click a mouse and we can hear what we like, and we seem to all like the same list of names. An Alexandre Dubach or a Joanna Madroszkiewicz or even an incredible talent like Alexander Markov — all with really distinctive sounds or styles — either fall by the wayside or are less known than they should or could be.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Edgar,
      Unfortunately, after your nice mention, all I can say is that I agree with you 100%!
      But I must add the name of Kyoko Takezawa. She absolutely astonished me when I heard her play the Tchaikovsky concerto with the SFS. She simply blew my mind with her brilliance, musicality, technique and stamina. I then immediately bought every CD of hers I could find (all on RCA), and they are ALL great. She also has (had) a video of the Bartok 2nd concerto on MTT’s old “Concerto” series, which is superb despite the goofy set and camera work.
      (BTW, I finally got around to replying to you on the recent Bjoerling post. Check it out if you can.)
      – regards, Greg

  • Rab C Nesbitt says:

    The problem is they need to learn to enrich their playing from folk fiddle players. Just listen to Paul Anderson play Cradle song by James Scott Skinner.

  • Garech de Brun says:

    Yes one classical fiddle player can sound much the same, however I see many baroque players have actually learnt from us at last. Remember Schmelzer and Biber were influenced by folk players in their time as Gunnar Letzbor pointed out a while ago.

    Listen to J H Schmelzer Ciaccona – A major. To me he sounds as if he played at Naughtons in Galway.


    • Peter San Diego says:

      Yes! One of my favorite albums is of the music of Telemann juxtaposed with gypsy music of the sort he encountered while in eastern Europe; the influences are clear and shed a wonderful new light on Telemann’s compositions. (“Telemann, Les Gitans Baroques” — Analekta AN 2 9919, in case anyone wants to give it a listen)

  • V. Lind says:

    As I write I am listening to James Ehnes’ Mendelssohn. I’ve seen him a lot, and he never fails to move me. Give me him over Hahn any day.

  • Jonathan says:

    Might the problem be the ease with which student violinists these days can base their approach on multiple recordings by the same group of current “big name” soloists (often those who achieved their reputation as prizewinners)?

    Would Ida Haendel have listened to different recordings of Sarasate (on 78s!) before playing it herself, or developed her own response to the music?

    • Herbie G says:

      A fascinating debate, and what about orchestras? Aren’t they becoming alike too? Where are the braying brass from the USSR, the ‘al fresco’ woodwind sounds of the Czech Philharmonic and the supreme strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra of the 1960s?
      As for violinists, it’s all a very personal choice and most of the above-mentioned do the biz for me too but I was brought up in the last millennium; at the time Grumiaux, Szeryng, Ferras, Gitlis and Kogan always seemed to deliver the goods – Kogan’s Khachaturian Violin Concerto almost had me standing up and cheering at the end!
      Then there’s Josef Hassid – tragically short-lived having left only a handful of 78s and Michael Rabin at his best – another premature demise.
      This might be anathema to you all but I never rated Menuhin very highly, at least after he was old enough to shave. Same goes for Nigel Kennedy – not because the punk act is a cynical sham and not because he likes to micturate over the audience or smash up hotel rooms but I simply find him too interventionalist an interpreter; he seems to tug at your sleeve every now and then (by empahsising a passage) and whisper ‘get yer lug’oles round this bit wot the dead geezer wrote’.

  • William Safford says:

    You allude to a major reason for this: the fact that we live in a homogenized global community, with an aural record of performances going back over 100 years.

    There used to be as many schools of playing as there were cities with thriving classical music activity. Travel was difficult, and recordings nonexistent. Instrument makers were often local. You learned from your teacher and your colleagues, you worked with them, you listened to them, and you played on what instrument you could obtain.

    Today, of course, is completely different.

    One still hears vestiges of regional styles. For example, one can compare and contrast the Viennese styles of horn, clarinet, and oboe playing (and instruments) with other schools.

    But just as the instruments are increasingly standardized, so too has the playing become increasingly standardized.

  • violin accordion says:

    Exceptionally individual are American Nadia Salerno Sonnenberg,
    And Canadian Russian Oleg Pokhanovski whose warmth and vibrato take you back 100 years

  • Gaetano says:

    Credo che non si possano fare comparazioni tra le grandi personalità violinistiche del passato e la maggior parte degli interpreti attuali. Forse tra 30 anni sapremo andare oltre questo modo di suonare sciatto o isterico, penosamente emotivo o schizofrenico, senza centralità spirituale, quasi sempre insignificante (nel senso che proprio i significati musicali più nobili e profondi vengono sacrificati per primi in nome di una tecnica tanto cinica quanto puerile. Questo vuoto e sterile atteggiamento è figlio dei nostri giorni dove ogni cosa e il suo contrario trovano posto. Interpreti Cannibali o Vegani sulla stessa isola non fa differenza se la differenza la fa la presenza o l’assenza della musica al centro del cuore….per i barocchisti puristi attuali (sempre che non siano accecati dal loro narcisismo e che posseggano la rara qualità di saper veramente “ascoltare”) suggerisco di ascoltare uno strepitoso Francescatti nella ciaccona di Vitali -Auer. Ecco un vero senso del flusso ritmico… lo “spirito musico” aleggia sulle acque.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    So you think that Pat Kop sounds like Daniel Hope or Joshua Bell?
    Think again….

  • Garech de Brun says:

    As an Irish trad performer and composer, I have always admired the music of James Scott Skinner, the Strathspey king.

    Here my friend Alistair Savage plays The Cradle Song, the Queen’s welcome to Invercauld, the Glenlivet, Spey in Spate, composed by James Scott Skinner.

    Those interested in learning more about James Scott Skinner, this site in Aberdeen has archive material.


  • Monty Earleman says:

    You’re kidding, right? There are more amazing, and amazingly varied violinists now than at any time in my 61 years. Not all of hem have 1st tier solo careers, but they are there! Perhaps you are just talking about certain superstars who are recycled around the world.

  • M2N2K says:

    Most leading performing musicians of recent decades sound more similar than those born before Second World War mainly because during the third quarter of the last century the cult of the performer was replaced by the cult of the composer. Most of the finest performing musicians of the relatively recent past used music to display their skills. Most of the finest performing musicians of our times use their skills to communicate the content of the music as they understand it. This is of course a generalized simplification, but it is nevertheless based in reality.

  • Jonathon says:

    Augustin Haedlich….a truly great violinist.

    • M2N2K says:

      As an admirer of Augustin Hadelich, I believe that the word “great” should be used more selectively and that the last name of this wonderful musician should be spelled correctly.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I recently listened to Kopatchinskaja play Bartok, on youtube, and I loved it. Had to get used to it at first. Never heard anyone dare to phrase and inflect the way she does. One hears really simple inflections that exist in the music beyond the metronomical linearity of lining the notes up like they’re standing in military lineup, or walking up on stage to get their diploma, or waiting in line to get blessed by the pope or get wafers at mass, or sitting neatly at their desks all lined up at school being indoctrinated, that’s something one indeed doesn’t hear with others whose playing sounds like the product of a school, any school for that matter.
    Although I might think comparing her to others is a bit exaggerated since many of the others having something genuine to say in their own way, but that still needs to be done to show how much she dares to go into left field, and to what an EXTREME extent that’s missing presently in the classical music field (and in the pop field, and in entertainment in general, children books even) then maybe people will listen to her; otherwise they won’t, just think that’s she bizarre or who knows what they’d say. I hope that anyone that hears her dares to give themselves just a little bit more freedom, and maybe the music will have something to say beyond the limitations they thought were there.

  • Nijinsky says:

    Incredible! Listening to her play Beethoven’s violin concerto, and the cadenza is the most eye opening thing I’ve heard in years. And I really think it fits better with the concerto than any I’ve heard so far, all I can find about it is that it’s based somehow on the piano version of the violin concerto, which then is “unusual” as a source, making we wonder: WHY? What that does to the piece is amazing.
    It’s really like she just picks up the most overlooked something everyone else just passes by (could be a pebble on the side of a path) and she points out how its makeup, the kind of stone it is, has qualities no one saw in it. And makes having passed by there in essence magical, from something no one else cared to notice.


  • christopher storey says:

    I am surprised that the wonderfully sensitive playing of Tasmin Little does not earn a mention

  • David Eastwood says:

    I defy anyone not to recognise Carmignola as utterly distinct. Suddenly we see afresh the virtuosity of the eighteenth century. There may be antecedents, but they are probably Vivaldi and Tartini. One of the most important violinists of our time.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I’m listening to Pat play Ravel, for the second time, and AGAIN, it’s like I’ve never heard the first part other than some high stress situation, where the performer articulates all of the difficult acrobatics of it as if would they not get it right they’d get some critical remark from their teacher. READ SET: GO! “no, that’s not right, it should be blah blah blah,” until the student is so uptight that the teacher is happy they seem to be intimidated and ready whipped to do anything the teacher says and impressionable. And we get the whole accomplishment as if the stress of having all those notes there speaks for itself. Which makes me wonder, is that Ravel’s joke about the whole piece to begin with. It’s weird, the other performances I’ve heard all have something of some high strung perfection to, as if how high strung the acrobatics sound adds up to high quality great art and supreme refinement. Strike up your head, and sniff kind of effect.

    This actually sounds fun, instead.


    Again, I hear things I never heard before, and the piece gels beyond having been all lined up like a test, like an initiation where one has to perform set rituals, or like one old cellist said: “they play as if they are being damned.”

    She goes way beyond what other people get criticized for, in taking liberties, and allows the music to come together with a freedom to speak that’s let out of inhibiting constraints.

    “You guys are a bunch of aces,” as Holden Caulfield said at school.

    And now I go myself comparing her to everyone else, but….

    I just love it!

    (by the way, if you listen to it once, with ads interrupting, if you slide it back to the beginning without restarting it, you can listen without the ads)

  • Edgar Self says:

    Dddavid Nelson, many thanks for reconstructing your lost post, a teeth-grinding task. I looked forward to your comments as a violinist yourself, and yoou’ve gien me something to think about. Perseverence always pays! Onward and upward. Excalibur!

  • M2N2K says:

    Why such preoccupation and obsession with “recognizability” of violinists as if this is the most important measure of quality? If a performer is easily recognizable, it means that he/she plays all kinds of music the same way to a certain extent, which is not necessarily so good. For me, to be surprising and unrecognizable – interpreting different pieces differently according to their musical styles – is a much more interesting and exciting skill worthy of praise and admiration.

  • Nathan Milstein, with whom I had the great privilege of working from 1979 until his death in 1992, said of competitions that he refused to participate as a jury member because he believed that no one could know who was “the best”. “What do I know if you do this ‘better than …’ or this ‘better than …’ when so much can be so different and at the same time equally worthy .” – Who is he to decide what should be “above” and “below” something else, he maintained. That kind of humility for art and artists alone is worth striving for. He never had a very singular opinion on how something should be done or should sound, as long as you had good reasons for why you did things a certain way. He was terribly strict in his characteristic Russian way. Many did not tolerate it very well. You always had to use your head yourself, and if what you did worked, he would fetch his wife (in his music room in London) and they would sit down and just listened and enjoyed. (There were never any ready chewed morsels, fed in with teaspoons as the method was for eg Zakhar Bron.)

    With Mr Milstein, the architecture of the music was always clear with long lines and the bassline and the harmonic development very conscious. (In Bach’s solo sonatas, for example.) Then, he would float on top of this, each time different, including new fingerings on the spur of the moment, always spontaneous, even on the podium at the concert. His mantra was: “Don’t just do it like everyone else! Think for yourself! ”