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Tyrone Wilkins

True Virtuosity

August 19, 2012 at 2:23 PM

*sigh* I dislike how quickly the violin community labels someone as a virtuoso. I just listened to a performance of a young 'virtuoso' and honestly...I was disappointed. Yes,you may say I'm just being picky but here me out. We overlook mistakes that virtuosi make because we know that can play without any,but that same respect shouldn't be given to someone who makes sloppy shifts,uses frightened vibrato,and has to chase harmonics Have our expectations lowered that much to where anyone who can play a few showpieces gets called a virtuoso? I'm sorry but a certain level of playing much be reached before someone receives that status. Virtuosi are master musicians,not someone with good talent that's still developing. No one would call a chef a virtuoso in the kitchen if his food was too spicy,or if the food was cold. Why should we do the same for violinists? It bothers me to see people cheat there way to what they think is the top. Maybe they don't get it...being called a virtuoso doesn't make my heart drop during the performance. It doesn't make me remember your name,or look up more of your work or concerts. That word...that for true masters ONLY. No amateurs allowed.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 6:05 PM
I agree. "Virtuoso" should be used as an absolute term only for that elite who are right at the top of the global tree. Unfortunately, the word in common usage is a relative term - anyone who gets a little recognizable something out of an instrument is seen as a "virtuoso" by someone who has no idea how to play but is easily impressed.

It is a bit like the misuse of "expert" which was once defined for me by a colleague at a technical meeting in work when he turned to me and said, "Trevor, you know more about this topic than anyone else here. Let's have your expert opinion." So I woke up from my stupor ...

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 9:27 PM
I don't think you're being picky, and I share your distaste at the overuse of that word. On the other hand, after reading your blog I was wondering, who was actually calling this player a "virtuoso"? Was it the player him/herself? A marketer or publicist? Indeed, hyperbole in marketing has gotten pretty out of hand, but the violin world is hardly the only place that happens. And if it was the player him/herself, perhaps it's just the result of naivete or insecurity, not really worth getting so worked up over one way or another (or attending such a performance again).

Honestly I was rather put off by your derogatory use of the word "amateur" at the end of this otherwise thoughtful blog. "Amateur" is not synonymous with "poseur" or "poor player." A true amateur, meaning one who plays for the love of the instrument and the music it makes, would be just as embarrassed as you are by the misuse of the word "virtuoso." It's not a title to be applied for, it's a description earned over years of hard work, dedication, and true mastery.

From marjory lange
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 10:45 PM
"Virtuoso," "prodigy," and "star" all are over-used hype these days (as is 'maestro,' but that's a different discussion). At best cliches, at worst meaningless.

Hasn't anything to do (I agree with Karen) about amateur standing. It's the VIRTUE of the performance, the mastery of it--and that has nothing to do with whether or not one receives $$.

From steven su
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I had the same experience too. I attended concerts where the violinist was said to be the best prodigy in US...but it was very disappointing as it was just a kid who could play difficult pieces. Same goes for many soloists I've heard live. True virtuoso should be people like Pinchas Zukerman or Itzhak Perlman who can bring you to tears from the start
From Tyrone Wilkins
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 1:38 AM
@Karen: I apologize for my derogatory use of the word ''amateur''. I did not intend for that statement to be taken as an insult,but rather a reality check for those who label players as virtuosi prematurely and the underdeveloped players who refuse to deny it. If you want to know who was calling this player a virtuoso message me and I'll send you the link.

@Trevor:Sadly,it is becoming a relative term. As a violinist myself I hope we raise the standard of a virtuoso. Not only would this weed out the lesser players but it would give the select few that earn the title a greater feeling of accomplishment and self satisfaction. Thanks for your comments! :)

From elise stanley
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 7:59 AM
I'm afraid its a general malaise of English. When I lived in England there was a strong force of purists who would decend on the misuse of the language. However, there is no such interest in the US (and maybe not in England any more either, I don't know) driven mostly I believe by the advertising and publicity sectors. Examples are everywhere. I remember when if you said something was 'good' that meant beyond 'superlative' now - which meant of course that once in a blue moon something could actually be 'superlative'.

But you may as well tilt at windmills as to try to stop the evolution of the language - eventually virtuoso will probably mean someone who became a performer as (and hinted above) maestro means you can stand in front of an orchestra with a baton.

what has happened as part of the decay of the language is that as words erode in meaning we are forced to use more of them. Thus, 'this virtuoso is in the elite pantheon of violinists' sounds odd now perhaps - but give it a few years when there are so many virtuosos that we have to grade them!

how long before you can be 'quite pregnant'? I could go on....

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 3:31 PM
Elise, I think there is still a US/English cultural divide on the use of superlatives. With recommendation letters, even in science, people have to calibrate European letters relative to US letters. The European letters are more honest and less given to meaningless superlatives. Whereas in the US, if you don't say the scientific equivalent of the recommend-ee walks on water and is the second coming of (insert Nobel laureate here), then you run the risk of "damning with faint praise" and putting your candidate at a disadvantage relative to all the others who have these glowing hyperbolic letters. I don't think anything can really be done about it either--it's almost like an arms race. Except to see/hear the person or player for yourself and form your own opinion.

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