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May 2014

Not Making it Look Easy

May 30, 2014 07:42

I had been meaning to write about a new violinist I discovered while I was on vacation for a while now, and had not gotten around to it. But I was inspired by last weekend's vote on Lindsey Stirling.

Like many readers, I didn't know anything about Stirling from my own research or listening. I learned about her from my 14-yo daughter, who, when asked by her school orchestra teacher to choose a violinist who inspired her, picked Stirling. I also read about Stirling in Strings magazine not long after. That article, which was otherwise featured and typically hyped in the April 2013 issue of the magazine, included this rather remarkable sentence:

"Stirling plays out of tune in high positions, struggles with technical passages, and only plays legato. She doesn’t use dynamics and her playing is musically flat."

I don't think I've ever read such a brutally honest passage in Strings magazine in the 5 or so years I've been subscribing. On one hand, it's kinda refreshing amid the endless airy superlatives that usually comprise the verbiage about classical music. But on the other hand. . . what?

But I digress. While I voted Fan--No Apologies in the poll, I didn't originally want to write about Stirling. I wanted to write about Gary Lovini.

I was on vacation last year, visiting family in Europe and taking a cruise afterwards. While I saved my annoyed comments about the music selection on the ship as a whole for the comment card, I had nothing but good things to say about Gary Lovini. He was the first major headliner, the first show the first night of the cruise, and no one knew what he did. There were pictures of his face in the cruise bulletin and blurbs saying what a great and amazing act he was. Probably a singer, we thought.

He came out on stage alone, in a sequined outfit, reinforcing those expectations, and then suddenly, produced a violin and started to play Hooked on Classics. The audience cheered. He played Scottish and Irish Fiddle tunes, he played Schindler's List, he played Unchained Melody. It's possible that he played out of tune in high positions or struggled with technical passages. I don't remember. What struck me more than anything was how physical his show was. He danced, he did acrobatics, he came out into the audience, so near that you could see beads of sweat rolling down the side of his face.

As I watched, and stood and clapped and moved and danced along--all of which I greatly enjoyed doing--the phrase occurred to the back of my mind: *he doesn't make this look easy*. But I didn't think that with condescension, I thought that with admiration. I knew it wasn't easy what he was doing, and I appreciated his honesty. He was working hard, playing the violin, and having fun doing it. There are certainly classical performers who look like they are having fun on stage--but many don't. (I know I don't. Especially not when I'm playing technically difficult passages in high positions.) And I have to admit that is something I have always found off-putting about watching videos of Heifetz: the haughty expression, the controlled body language. The way he makes it look so easy--easy for him, anyway.

After he was done playing his first set, Lovini took the microphone and admitted that he'd kept the violin off the publicity materials on purpose. He said that in his experience when people see a violin, they have certain expectations, and they don't come to his concerts.

After the concert, in the line to get CD's signed, I approached him, told him I played the violin also and was looking for music more like this to perform in public, like at the Farmers' Market. I told him that I would have been more likely, not less likely, to come to his concert if he'd mentioned the violin in the publicity. He smiled at that but said that he gets a larger audience when he doesn't market himself as a violinist.

It was almost a year ago that I went to Lovini's concert. And Lovini is British, so the market dynamics he's facing might be different than they are here in the U.S. But I wonder if the success of Lindsey Stirling indicates that times are changing. That maybe it's becoming more okay to be a violinist who doesn't make it look easy. I hope so.

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