V.com weekend vote: What is the most important element of a great violin performance?

April 1, 2023, 10:46 PM · When you see a great violin performance (or cello, viola, etc.) - what is the element that tends to impress you the most?

Think about the most recent performance that truly impressed you - if you were telling a friend about it, what would be the first thing you would say about it? Would you describe how technically virtuosic it was? Or would you talk about the depth of expression that the performer achieved? Or is it that the performer had that special star power that drew you into the performance? Or maybe something else?

I'll give one example of a performance that really impressed me, and the element that came to mind. I can remember seeing Joshua Bell perform a number of years ago with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl - a huge venue in which many people were eating dinner, drinking wine and generally being pretty chatty prior to the performance. The first piece on the program - a Berlioz March - had done little to focus anyone's attention.

Josh Bell
Violinist Joshua Bell.

Then Bell came out, and even when he walked on stage, there was still a low general chatter. But the minute he put bow to string to begin the Chausson "Poéme," all chatter stopped and a stunning quiet and stillness came over this enormous audience. Everybody had suddenly focused their rapt attention on the music that Bell was making. Whoah. I'll never forget that feeling, like Bell had his own force of gravity. The primary element at work there felt like "stage presence," though it certainly involved plenty of technique, expression, and other elements. But when I think of "presence," I think of that performance.

So I offer that example to help you come up with your own. For the sake of discussion, what element has recently impressed you in a performance, and why? Please participate in the vote and then feel free to talk in the comments about different performances, and what rose to the top, as far as the element that most impressed you.

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April 2, 2023 at 04:27 AM · I don’t know how one could separate technical accuracy and emotional expression in a great performance. The former without the latter is cold and sterile; the latter without the former can be hard to listen to.

April 2, 2023 at 06:02 AM · Hear hear to Mary Ellen. I guess some performers can't help having stage presence but for me showmanship is very much a negative factor

April 2, 2023 at 07:11 AM · I voted "emotional expression and interpretation". As much as those two things are inseparable and both are crucial, I did make my choice for a reason. For the longest time, my (possibly autistic) brain would obsess with trying to point out every tiny technical imperfection I could hear during a live performance (which led to me not fully understanding what progress really means etc), but over several years of self-reflection, something just changed in me and made me really grasp what musicality, passion, and emotional expression really mean, and that technical perfection isn't the be all end all. This wake-up moment occurred after I helped assess candidates for our community orchestra's young performers concerto competition, and it definitely made me realize how common it is for young performers to play technically cleanly but not have as much emotion or passion, and so I began to value emotion and passion much more. Of course technical cleanliness is important, but it's far more common to hear someone who is technically clean but not especially musical than it is to hear someone who is very musical but not so technically clean. When my violin teacher mentioned to me my brother is very musical but lags behind technically, I didn't fully grasp the true essence of this statement until recently. Now, it's very clear to me that he plays with a lot of emotion and passion, but is not the most technically clean (he's definitely a bit on the lazy side and works the hardest when there's a hard performance deadline).

April 2, 2023 at 04:51 PM · If I may add to Mary Ellen's judgement: There is a hierarchy here: A performance that is great on musical expression (meaning it does justice to the music) can tolerate some degree of technical imperfection without becoming worthless. A technically perfect execution can not be salvaged if it fails on expression. Obviously there is a degree of technical failure that spoils the most expressive attempt at performance. But minor flaws, occasional intonation weaknesses, a difficult passage derailing, etc. do not do permanent damage.

At least this is how I experience it as a listener. One should be careful not to make this into an excuse for one's own shortcomings as a player though.

April 2, 2023 at 05:59 PM · Technical accuracy can be measured, but what exactly is emotional expression and interpretation? Whose emotions? When does interpretation become simply waywardness?

April 2, 2023 at 06:38 PM · I agree with Albrecht. Perhaps it is because I am an amateur, however, and perhaps I am projecting -- that is, hoping that my performances will be forgiven a few technical flaws. (As if there were only a few.)

April 2, 2023 at 09:34 PM · Would it be fair to base a performance on how beautiful the sound is?

Some of that is the instrument itself, but it's also partly technical. I was using as my reference performance an orchestral performance with Rachel Barton Pine as soloist that I attended recently. If I don't like the instrument's sound, then the performance is ruined for me. (Of course, RBP's instrument had a beautiful sound.)

April 2, 2023 at 11:59 PM · This is a real Zen question that is impossible to answer. Sir Lawrence Olivier was playing King Lear. One night he gave a magical, focused, amazing performance. Once it was over, people heard him upset and angry in his dressing room. "What is he upset about?" " He knew it was amazing, but he has no idea how he did it." It's all about timing, the audience, the performer, and many other elements coming together at just the right moments. I think that's why we go to live performances, to have that singular experience. Most of the time it's fine, but every now and then, it's beyond magic.

April 3, 2023 at 02:13 PM · Michael has hit the nail on the head when he says “It's all about timing, the audience, the performer, and many other elements coming together at just the right moments. I think that's why we go to live performances... .” Interestingly, there are times when what seems to me to be a wonderful performance strikes other people in the audience as routine or nothing extraordinary, which comes back to the impossibility of capturing an artist’s emotional involvement or interpretation.

April 4, 2023 at 03:25 PM · Via Instagram, Nathan Cole recommended his followers watch "High Fidelity", a documentary about the Guarneri Quartet. One scene in the film shows the quartet making a recording. One member (I think it was Arnold Steinhardt, the first violin, but not 100% certain) describes the difference between playing a performance and playing for a recording. He says that you can't take any risks for a recording lest you make an error that will be listened to over-and-over. In contrast, in a performance, you will take interpretive risks that heighten the emotional expression. In a live performance, I want those moments of heightened experience...

April 4, 2023 at 07:44 PM · I read others' responses to get a feel for the topic, then selected "Emotional expression and interpretation". Back in the '70s I was into rock & pop music, especially progressive rock bands like Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Yes. A friend and I went to a live concert and were shocked at the difference between live and recorded music by the same band. We concluded that we were dealing with two different animals: a production and a performance. A production is a studio venture where every effort is made to make each note and effect perfect, and when you listen to the recording you can lose yourself in it. A performance is a live rendition of the same music - minus the studio effects - and often we found that showmanship got in the way, bending the music out of shape.

On the other hand, some music is better live, usually by loud, hard-driving rock bands.

I suppose the equivalent in terms of music I play nowadays is classical vs. bluegrass. Classical music is very meticulous and multi-layered, while bluegrass is simpler and more spontaneous. When playing classical music I might play furiously if the situation demands, or put in just the right amount of schmaltz and watch others react. When playing bluegrass fiddle I get downright gonzo, and usually play my breaks right on the edge of my ability (and sometimes fall off).

The common factor seems to be emotional expression. A piece of classical music can leave me in tears - or maybe we'll just look at each other and say, "Wow." After an up-tempo bluegrass tune we might let out a rebel yell - or maybe we'll just look at each other and say, "Wow."

Passion comes in many forms - and if music doesn't have passion, why bother?

April 8, 2023 at 06:12 PM · Re: Must's for Epic Performance {#12}

As a veteran concert artist, I do have many ideas on What Makes a Great Performance and in reading many Replies here, I was deeply attracted to Mary Ellen Goree's comments and know they come from a highly serious and experienced musician not fodder for 'showmanship' antics! It is very difficult to describe in only a word or more words, but one does truly know when one has given All in a public performance with an overjoyed feeling of all aspects of 'violin playing' having gone remarkably right & in so doing, gifted the performer, in this case, myself, the freedom or 'liberation' from concerns of intonation; bowing; left hand dexterity not a worry; all timing of certain notes to lean on an emotion thought most musically important; sound for a given composer's unique 'Poeme', aka, Ernst Chausson; musical style in sync with the compositional nature of the Masterwork one is offering, i.e., the Beethoven Violin Concerto; Brahms; Sibelius, with all of its 'landmines' overcome!; the Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto with all its rare intonation demands in the Scherzo; Stravinsky's 'Duo Concertante' with a superb Piano partner knowing Stravinsky 'Red' intonation on the violin at the piano re pedaling and one's inner feelings for a rare specific work deeply expressed yet with an inner focus fused collaboration with orchestra & Conductor, which I must mention, is concert touring rare ...

I voted 'Other' for I could not limit all elements known to myself, in voting only for one specific and important element to any never to be forgotten Live public performance becoming an Epic Memory.

I can attest to my mentor, Nathan Milstein's Epic reading, Live, in London's Royal Festival Hall, of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto w/Giulini Conducting the LPO remarkably; & Herbert von Karajan w/his Berliner Philharmoniker Live performance of the Prokofiev Fifth Symphony which was such that the restrained usually Sold Out Thrice London Audience surged 'en masse' following the Performance of a Lifetime for All in the RFH, that night, grabbing on to Karajan's coat tails and not allowing the Great Maestro to leave the stage doing likewise when BP Concertmaster/Leader attempted to depart the RFH stage, which I witnessed being so blown away 'meself' one was not surprised but beyond elated to have been an 'active' part of this Grand Tsunami of a London Concert Going Audience so enthralled by the Power; Mastery and Musical 'Rightness' of Prokofiev's Score; Blending of Full BP with all eyes on Dirigent, Herbert von Karajan, no one needed to refer to their individual orchestral parts, {and all here will appreciate this is saying a Big Something!} which is still reverberating in one's inner spirit and mind some 4 Decades later ... This, V.com Friends, was a Grand Performance reaching far beyond any expectations of known to be GOAT Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan in Grand Composer, Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony #V!!

Trying to describe All Elements which need to be present or DNA natural conveyed is very difficult to find words, but the memory of the Karajan/Berliner Philharmoniker Epic Prokofiev V Performance has helped this Replier to describe much of What Makes a public Performance Great and Why!! I found this subject intriguing and coming back on V.com after some time, feel heartened by the Subject here set down by Editor, Laurie Niles and on this Easter Weekend ...

Kudos to Mary Ellen Goree, and to Michael Kennedy for their very comprehensive understanding and abilities to put into print much known to both with common sense added to artistic discernment!

Btw, I've no doubt, the Joshua Bell performance in the Hollywood Bowl, years prior, was the cathartic 'Gem' of a Rare Concert Performance inspiring Laurie Niles' Subject which is again, most challenging for all to offer a Reason or many Reason's which make up an Epic Performance remembered for a Lifetime!!!!

~ Joyfully Submitted on Easter Saturday ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fwd: dmg {#12}

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