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Remembering David Nadien (1926-2014)

Laurie Niles

Written by
Published: June 3, 2014 at 10:19 PM [UTC]

Violinists are remembering David Nadien, who died last week at the age of 88. Nadien, who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, was also known as the violinist on the Suzuki recordings, teacher at Mannes College of Music, and New York studio musician with legendary sight-reading abilities.

David NadienA native New Yorker, Nadien studied with Adolfo Betti, Ivan Galamian, D.C. Dounis and Adolph Busch. When he was 14, he made his solo debut with the New York Philharmonic, where years later he was concertmaster, from 1966 to 1970. He left in 1970 for the more lucrative world of studio recording, where he found great success and worked with artists such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He taught for many years at Mannes, after which he continued to teach privately, reportedly up until just a few weeks before his death.

"You could say my musical relationship with him began when I was five," said former student Nate Robinson, reflecting the experience of many other violin students who grew up listening to Nadien's recordings of the Suzuki repertoire from the late 1970s. "I started with the Suzuki program and heard his playing on the tapes. He was probably one of the first violinists I listened to."

After college, Robinson rediscovered Nadien through recordings. Stunned by the beauty of his sound and vibrato especially, he called Nadien one summer afternoon and asked if he could play for him.

"He lived in a very beautiful apartment, overlooking Central Park, a stone’s throw away from Avery Fischer Hall," Nate said. "He told me he had lived there since the 1950’s. He was teaching still quite a bit right till the very end. One of my friends actually had a lesson with him a couple of weeks ago at his apartment."

Robinson said that Nadien had a special affinity for the music of Fritz Kreisler. "I don’t think there was a bigger admirer of Kreisler, than Nadien," Robinson said. "He told me he saw Kreisler play in performance many times, and would often give me bowings and fingerings in a Kreisler piece or transcription of his, that he saw Kreisler do in a performance. Many of these little nuances, I found out from Nadien, weren’t included in the published scores. So in addition to working on the standard literature of concerti and sonatas, I found it absolutely thrilling to also work on these Kreisler pieces with him."

David Nadien

"He told me, out of all of the teachers he worked with, he was probably most influenced by the violin pedagogue, D.C. Dounis, who he studied with during his teens," Robinson said. "I would characterize (Nadien's) teaching style as rather unorthodox. He didn’t really believe in working on scales or etudes too much, although he did have a great technical foundation and knowledge; which leads me to believe he did work on these things quite seriously when he was younger, during his formative years."

"His style of bowing was completely different from almost anyone I had worked with in the past," Robinson said. "In contrast to Erick Friedman or Jascha Heifetz, Nadien played more on the side of the hair, at an angle, especially when the bow was moving slowly, while keeping his right hand fingers close together."

Violinist Marina Fragoulis studied with Nadien during an earlier period. "David Nadien was my teacher while I was a student at Mannes. Never in my life did I ever or will I ever hear such a violinist again," said Fragoulis in this Violinist.com discussion thread. "I always came to my lessons a few minutes early and stood outside his door so I could hear him practicing…. I learned from him the art of choosing fingerings to suit the music and enable phrasing, and although I will never be as good a violinist as he hoped, I get the most compliments on the vibrato he taught me….I remember him always insisting that vibrato should be present even on fast runs…. We worked endlessly on finger vibrato. Funny story: I once turned pages for a chamber music concert in which Josef Silverstein played (he is one of my favorites). Someone introduced me to him as Nadien's student. Silverstein then said to me, 'Now I'm nervous... because you know what great violin playing sounds like. Your teacher is one of my heroes.'"

Robinson also noticed Nadien's vibrato: "His vibrato was much like Heifetz or Kreisler," Robinson said. "I think was quite beautiful because he always strived to maintain a center of pitch, when vibrating, but at the same time believed in using a continuous vibrato from note to note. He worked with me on economy of motion with the left hand. He believed too much motion and forearm exertion lead to poor intonation and a interrupted vibrato."

"I studied with David Nadien for about three years," said Charles Johnston in 2006. "Although he did study with Galamian, he is the quintessential Dounis product. He can explain anything about violin playing clearly, demonstrate it, and show you how to do it in very short order. In my first lesson, for example, he didn't try to impress by technical dazzle. Instead, he showed me how to play all four A's at the same time with no hint of strain, a feat I had thought impossible for anyone. If you come to him with a good sense of the basics like decent rhythm and knowledge of leading with the bow, he is beyond compare as a teacher of technique."

Many of Nadien's recordings -- of violin concertos by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi (Four Seasons) and more -- are available at AllMusic.com, on this page.

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Witness that beautiful old-world tone in this recording of David Nadien playing a live concertmaster solo from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic:

And here's some impeccable articulation, David Nadien playing Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella:

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From D Kurganov
Posted on June 4, 2014 at 7:34 AM
Thank you very much for your post, Laurie. I only recently met with Mr. Nadien for the 1st time and he was already a big hero of mine. A really warm hearted man, and from what I could tell, a certain simplicity in the way he approaches violin, life...
Here is a recording my dear friend remastered recently, which i think shows off Nadien's soul and virtually unmatched skill on the violin.


From Paul Deck
Posted on June 4, 2014 at 2:17 PM
Laurie, thank you for organizing your article around those warm and candid interviews with Nadien's former students. Everyone knows Nadien was concertmaster of the NY Phil, etc. But to someone like me who never met Nadien, the personal remembrances are the most enlightening and enriching.

I agree that his tone was special. When he plays you feel like the sound is vibrating your bones.

From 98.118.42.5
Posted on June 5, 2014 at 2:19 AM
When I first read of the loss, I immediately thought of Nate and how he was so positively influenced by Mr. Nadien as well as by Erick Friedman.

Laurie, thank you for your thoughtful retrospective.

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