Young Classical Musicians Are 'Clone-Like'? I Disagree

August 14, 2023, 3:29 PM · "Classical musicians are ‘clone-like’ these days, says Nigel Kennedy" - reads the headline for an article over the weekend in The Guardian's magazine, The Observer. This certainly caught my attention.

Is that so?

According to the article, the violinist Kennedy, who is 66, "said that young classical musicians starting out in their careers are sacrificing creativity and individuality and becoming 'clone-like,' urged on by music schools teaching a formulaic syllabus."

Nigel Kennedy
Violinist Nigel Kennedy.

"It’s wonderful to hear near-to-perfect playing, but it’s at the expense of perfect communication," he said in the article. While he called today's classical musicians "technically phenomenal," he bemoaned the days of individuality, with legendary pianists like Arthur Rubinstein and Edwin Fischer.

Classically trained himself, Kennedy gained popularity back in 1986 by recording one of the most popular classical pieces of all-time, Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Over his long career he branched out into many genres and showed much creativity, re-imagining songs by Jimi Hendrix, and collaborating with some great rock stars like Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

With respect to Kennedy, I have been listening to quite a few of today's classically-trained young violinists, and I have to disagree on the "clone" count. I'm seeing creativity and originality all over the place. I also find evidence that classical institutions are embracing not only rigor, but also originality. So I will present a few examples from a rising generation of thoughtful, original, and creative musicians who were "classically trained" and who are now showing us exciting new directions for the future.

Let's start with Latvian violinist Roberts Balanas, who recently emerged from the Royal Academy of Music. It doesn't seem like a classical education suppressed his brilliance or creativity. In fact I believe I hear a little Bach in his version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." He also "scordifies" his fiddle right in the middle of the tune, it's really impressive.

This is just one of dozens of highly creative videos you can find on his Youtube channel. Elton John liked his playing too - he posted Roberts' version of 'I'm Still Standing' on his Facebook page.

And shiver me timbers, check out violinist Rachell Ellen Wong playing "Winter" from The Four Seasons.

It's been played so many times, you wouldn't think anyone could do anything new. But wow. She is technically brilliant, yes. Also, she has me jumping out of my chair and wondering what she will do next. "Clone"? No way! Her originality came through in the same way, when I saw her play live at last spring's Juilliard Symposium, which, by the way, was where she studied - she has a Masters in Music in Historical Performance from The Juilliard School. Here is another example of her playing - she makes something as familiar as Mozart Concerto No. 5 unfold like a new invention.

Here's another classically-trained violinist who is clearly not being a "Clone" - Curtis Stewart. Seems like he's using everything he ever learned - classical and otherwise - in his show-stopping arrangement of "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder, which he played live the Grammys in 2022.

He did have that classical training, then vigorously sought to find his own unique voice. He's also now among that generation of new educators - a faculty member at Juilliard who teaches at the Perlman Music Program and at the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts - who emphasize both good technical training and using music as an expressive means.

I'm sure my readers can help me come up with more "classically-trained musicians these days" who have either found their way to a variety of genres or who have stayed with classical music, who distinctly don't play like "clones."

Kennedy does have a point about education - that we don't want to get so strict and didactic that young musicians become locked into a single way of doing things. And yes, classical music education has been guilty of that.

But let's make a distinction between education and performance, the learning of technique and musicality, and the application of those things by an artist. I still had to learn my alphabet and phonics to learn to read. I had to learn spelling and basic grammar in order to write. I had to learn addition and multiplication before I could muddle through a calculus class.

Yes, violinists will ever have to learn scales, double-stops, keys, music reading, music theory. Even if you forego a "formal classical education" an artist will put in the time and sweat learning it all, by hook or by crook.

Nigel is right about this: a student's "love of music" should never be quashed, and a program or a teacher who systematically does that is bad news. But sheer "love of music" will only get most people so far, if the goal is to gain the freedom that comes with true fluency on an instrument such as the violin, viola, cello, piano, etc. If sheer "love of music" drives you to undertake the considerable work of mastering your instrument, then great. But if you need a teacher, a program, and a bit of grit to get there, then classical training is a pretty good bet, whatever direction you wish to go from there.

"We don't need no education"? Actually, generally we do. We don't need abuse, though.

Fortunately, a lot of classical programs "these days" are aware of the crushing dogmas of the past, and they aim for something better: the rigor of a good education alongside that "love for music" and exploratory spirit that drives us in the first place. Let's celebrate the successes of our best artists - young, middle-aged and old - and be inspired by their artistry and their creativity. Kennedy is among them.

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August 14, 2023 at 11:42 PM · It seems like one of those things that emerges in retrospect. The more a name gets big and has many performances and develops a career, the more the performer can establish an individual style.

If we see a great variety in all the Galamian Students, is it because of Galamian, or because they played at a high enough level to be able to make big careers, and doing so, they then had the opportunity to develop very individual voices which retroactively made Galamian seem like someone who produced very individual voices? Maybe Galamian did, and his style was one of leaving few stylistic marks. Or maybe what we like is the product of a teacher who leaves stylistic marks.

Did Auer not have very strong opinions that he imprinted on his students, and did Auer students not seem ever so individuated? And did any of these teachers do much more than take incredibly talented students that already played at a world-class level and put a certain brand on them?

What does it mean to be a Bron student these days, and what do they have in common except maybe that they all got there because they play exceptionally and because it's hard to make a career without a marketing push.

My money is currently on the Koreans to produce the best musicians, but maybe Nigel should give the kids a chance and maybe send them some kilts as a peace offering. Sometimes one of the best ways to sound 'the same' is by consciously trying to sound 'different'.

August 15, 2023 at 01:35 AM · Greetings?

Agree completely with you Laurie. One of the problems with our Nige is that he has never got over his self-image as the ultimate entfant terrible which the media is quite happy to play up.



August 15, 2023 at 04:15 AM · I would like to see the question put onto the site as a poll.

August 15, 2023 at 07:19 AM · Our Nige has never done his best speaking through his mouth. The situation as I see it is that young players today divide into those who are happy to perform within the traditional limits of "classical" music and those that are doing their best to extend those limits. The former are indeed difficult to tell apart because there are only so many ways in which Bruch's G minor can be performed, only too easy to become acquainted with through the internet. The latter (of which Nige himself of course was a pioneer) are often stimulating to listen to but sometimes risk being accused of willful gimmickry.

August 16, 2023 at 04:51 PM · Re: British Violinist, having gone slightly 'rogue' in beginning of his Performing Career! {#5}

Knowing many younger violinists, some of whom have studied with me, I can say and unequivocally, I agree w/ then 'Nasty Nigel' and, I mean this as an affectionate term in nicknaming him which Brit, Stephen Brivati, has termed 'our Nige' and rightly so!!!

The immense pressure of several generations following The Icon's of Violin Playing Generation, aka, Heifetz, Milstein, David Oistrakh, Arthur Grumiaux, Henryk Szeryng, Isaac Stern, and Leonid Kogan, were and still remain exacting to every young violinist aspiring to enjoy a global Concert Performing/ Recording Career ... To try to address Ivan Galamian, The pedagogue at Juilliard, three of his pupils were in our Jascha Heifetz Violin Original Master Class, and it may shock some, but none could express any of the prime Bach Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas & Partitas with any semblance of smooth Chord Bowing whatsoever. This, in and of itself, explains Why Mr. Heifetz did not invite any of the Three Galamian trained pupils to play Unaccompanied Bach or 1 movement of a Bach Violin Concerto for our individual JH Violin Master Class films.

The only pupil to play a Movement of the Bach Violin Concerto #1 in a minor, was a very rare gifted 14 yr old, Carol Sindell, long time pupil of Great Josef Gingold, former Concertmaster of George Szell's Cleveland Orchestra in its glory days, later on becoming the

Distinguished Professor of Violin at Indiana/Bloomington's Jacobs School of Music, and who knew bowing techniques plus musical artistry fused with spirituality well & imbued all of his pupil's with the same respect via Great Mentoring of bowing skills w/musical dignity ... I did not hear/see Josef Gingold mentioned and it is a huge oversight. Gingold, amongst finest String Mentors Globally, is thought of as the GOAT in America Violinist-Mentor of Artist Pupils, not withstanding some odd others from also superb early beginning violin mentors ...

The {for sake of argument} 'Second Generation of Great Violinists and Individual Style' not forced but natural identifying Sound was one I belong to and I can name many who tho' overwhelmed by the Magnificence of Heifetz and others mentioned above & I do offer apologies for not mentioning Menuhin, who had wonderful spiritual qualities in his playing, were Glenn Dicterow, former very longtime Concertmaster, Bernstein's NY Philharmonic; LA born Kathleen Lenski, a formidable powerhouse of technique & matured artistry who later won a Grammy for her Lenski String Quartet recordings of All Haydn SQ's and a child to grown woman pupil of the Great Joachim Chassman of Los Angeles, who sent me the David Oistrakh Cadenza to the Khachaturian Violin Concerto, hand signed, 'To Liz Matesky, Keep up your Fine Work! J. Chassman' *& On Cover 'Price 50c. {cents c with /in it!} Leeds Music Corporation ~

Another Great and individually identifiable Violinist, of a just prior 'Second Generation' of us, was and remains Prime US GOAT Ms Camilla Wicks, acclaimed by Jean Sibelius, for her conquering of his Violin Concerto hurdles technically and for her Artistry in her Recording with Great Swedish Conductor, Sixteen Erhling & his Stockholm Symphony, which when being heard a First Time by Sibelius, himself, penned a Note of Gratitude to Camilla Wicks, aged 24, inviting her to come to Helsinki, FI, to visit him personally to meet and offer her his grand compliments!!! This is No Small Matter!! Another 'in-between' The Greatest Generation of Iconic Violinists, was Oscar Shumsky of NYC, and perhaps David Nadian, former Concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic! One More: A mustn't forget Joseph Silverstein, both Soloist & Concertmaster of

the Boston Symphony & later turned Conductor, doing most well ~ So, we must take in all of those mentioned thus far knowing All did possess unique individuality of Sound/Personality- musicality plus.

It was the Trilogy of Violinists Greatest Generation, JH/NM/DO and Idol, Fritz Kreisler, a bit earlier, and for lack of better words, 'Front Runner' of All Icons of Twentieth Century GOAT Icon Violinists ...

Today, and Nigel Kennedy having obviously 'grown up' as a mature musician and person, IMO, Nails it with his in the Comments! No Doubt & a discerning Violinist/Concert Performing and Recording for both Radio & Television Artist myself, I notice 'Same Sounding' Very Fine Violinists, aka, Janine Janson, Terrific! Hilary Hahn, wonderful yet not individual enough as set against Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrkh, Kreisler, plus a wondrous violinist and also Unique sound, Elmar Oliveira, US, with whom no one seems to know the teacher, and taking a wild guess, I don't think my friend, Elmar O., needed a teacher in the traditional sense due to his unique personality fused with at birth technique and a marvellous musical soul which pours forth from a wondrous human soul of Elmar Oliveira ... I would 'place' Elmar Oliveira in the Greatest American Violinist of Twentieth/Twenty First Century, without Question!! I saw a Replier here ask for Laurie to put this Subject in the form of a Poll for many to Vote on & also write in their thoughts ... I Second the Suggestion of @Rich Maxham, who has a wonderfully and fair objective idea to continue this very important & Now, view or views of Nigel Kennedy and from 'Across the Pond' in America, many US Members!!!

A serious omission above on my part: **Anne-Sophie Mutter ~ A Glorious Violinist and Musician unto herself and deeply rooted in the Country of her Birth, German Romantic Music traditions of Johannes Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Mozart (ASM's 'Mozart Project'), intriguing commissioned Violin Concerti from an array of Twentieth & Twenty First Century Composers plus John Williams adapted for ASM 'Harry Potter' Violin Solos which have added to her lustre as a Great Concert Performing & Recording Artist for GOAT Recording Co. Deutsche Grammophon, with no less than her Mentor, Herbert von Karajan, who invited very young Anne-Sophie Mutter to record with himself and fabled Berlin Philharmonic, also on film for all to witness, in Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and a matured Beethoven for a very young still teenage young woman ... So, Anne-Sophie Mutter, & a bit later

following named 'Second Generation of Great Individual Violinists' falls thru 'the cracks', so to speak, rather like the Great Camilla Wicks in the 1950s, yet Anne-Sophie Mutter has been solo violin concert playing/recording for at least 4 approaching a Fifth Decade non stop and still at 'The Top', in every musical artistic and technical way possible with a unique Sound capturing the Ear on immediate acquaintance!!! Ms, Mutter is also honoured with a Hollywood 'Walk of Fame Star' and quite recently to my own knowledge, an Only Other w/Heifetz, to have been so honoured!! This in and of itself, elevates the Mutter 'Brand' to another Global League which may prove historically-violinistically appropriate from GOAT Violinist Music Historian's assessments Later on ...

Thanking Laurie Niles for sharing the Article by Nigel Kennedy in the Guardian published in London, and online, I wish him most well continuing to share his observations now aged 66 & Counting!

~ Respectfully Submitted from Chicago ~

......... Elisabeth Matesky .........

Fwd ~ dmg

August 16, 2023 at 05:19 PM · This remains me a post I wrote in this blog years ago about tvOS matter.

August 16, 2023 at 06:44 PM · Still great advice, Jesús!

August 16, 2023 at 07:34 PM · I once was chewed out in public by Isaac Stern over 20 years ago when I asked him why so many young top tier violinists were almost indistinguishable from each other. Yes, the level of violin playing today is astonishing. There are so many great players out there now! Nevertheless, there are indeed some artists today who are so unique, that I can instantly pick them out after two or three notes. Augustin Hadelich is one of them. Another one who I think is very unique and has (I hope) a big career ahead of her is Hana Chang. I'm glad she's been recently recognized by the Young Classical Artist Trust.

August 16, 2023 at 07:36 PM · P.S.! @Jesus Fernandez ~ now {#9} Elisabeth Matesky Reply!!!

Dear Mr. Fernandez ...

I truly enjoyed reading your prior Post of September 11th 2013, which is a painful time here in America every September 11, '01 since our Country endured horrid Terrorist Attacks on the Twin Towers in NYC, and trying to attack The White House same day with our US on-an-Airliner Jet Passengers taking over Extreme Terrorists and stopping their en route to D.C. to Bomb The White House, plus their Attack on our US Pentagon not far from The White House, and on September 11, 2013, I was mourning the

very poignant passing of my beloved Mother, former Alternate Pianist with Leonard Stein, of Arnold Schoenberg, her Professor Schoenberg at UCLA, and with my 'savant' gifted in Harmony & Transposition Mother, {circa '38-40}, playing & Impromptu, vast portions of Schoenberg's Orchestra & Chamber Symphony Orch Scores, {Opus 1, 9 B} at the Piano and some not having any Piano Reduction Parts reading at sight Schoenberg's original Manuscript handwritten musical Scores and near flawlessly!

I tell you this so you know I was nowhere near a Computer in 2013 and did not become a Member of, until quite a while after losing my Mother ... I think it worthy mentioning I do know 'How' to play Flamenco on my Violin & doing so, Impromptu, one evening in an adored Garden Flat for my Fiancee, due to a joyful time having heard Great Manitas de Platas in the RFH, aka, Royal Festival Hall, in London, & greatly influenced by his remarkable flamenco techniques and artistry in conveying all in the Music of Spanish folklore and Dancing of Flamenco!!! Agreeing most heartily with your Advice re only steeped in traditions of 'normal' Violin/Violin Playing if not prior exposed to other Cultures, I did perform in Spain loving it & received 'Over the Top' Reviews whilst re-invited to play there again!! Rodrigo became a lovely corresponding Friend, via his wife, due his blindness yet sending me his Sonate Pimponte for Violin & Piano, requesting I perform it here in the United States! It was a wondrous honour to be invited by The Composer, himself, to perform his Violin & Piano Sonata which I treasure & Keep in my EM Music Library!

Thank You for that revealing and helpful Article for all Violinists and certainly relevant to Today in now Internationally fused with Culture's both foreign and US Grown but some of it is Not Good for children here with very questionable being Music channeled

in to other harmful as of late, Agenda's ... I'm positive when you wrote your Article no such ideas existed in Music. Now in 2023, these harmful attitudes are making their way even into the Music and Teaching it Profession which I find sickening. I'm speaking of a divisiveness of children from each other & being 'taught' same way in environments in my Country, which many professional violinist musicians are against. Flamenco Is Grand & Wonderful so it's form of Music delights All Peoples of the World!! My Congrats on your very fine & helpful to All Violinists Article!!! I must add P.S. I once played my little Flamenco piece for solo violin for my private Iconic Violin Mentor, Nathan Milstein, in his Chester Square in London home, after our much Solo Bach and Prokofiev 1st Violin Concerto in D, a 'Milstein Special' Lesson!!! Mr. Milstein was quite intrigued by what I was doing with my hands!! He loved my little Flamenco piece which I did US premier but only once and bound up in International Copyrights plus US & also due it winning a 'Rock Music in Composition First Prize', and when invited to Live perform it on a well known National TV network, I thanked them yet said, "No Thank You" for if I'd done so, The Competition would've owned my own composed in adored Garden Flat little piece! Maybe I'll put it out online, recorded/filmed here in the US!?

~ ~ Sincerely, Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~

Fwd ~ dmg {#9}

August 16, 2023 at 09:20 PM · Great article, Jesús: thanks for posting the link. Elisabeth, a link to your flamenco piece would be most welcome!

August 16, 2023 at 10:51 PM · You are so right, Laurie. Anyone who has listened to Christian Li's performance of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with orchestra recorded when he was 11 years old ( will recognize that artistry and creativity are alive and well amongst today's young players.

August 17, 2023 at 12:12 AM · Jesús, I have never come across the Reinhardt/Grappelli clip. Absolutely wonderful! Thank you for sharing the link to your blog!

August 17, 2023 at 05:38 PM · I think improvisation and added ornamentation to "the classics" are great for learning as experimentation in the living room or "studio" but when it gets to the concert stage or recorded performance I quote "Sir John Falstaff, "The better part of valor is discretion."

Like all other experiments, only some are successful.

It's always good to hear from Elisabeth Matesky.

August 19, 2023 at 10:54 PM · Maybe Kennedy hasn't been out enough, but I agree with the thrust of hwat he's saying, that we should all appreciate originality and risk-taking even if it sometimes comes at the expense of technical perfection.

Miles Davis kind of revolutionized Jazz in the late 50s with a consciously anti-virtuosic style of play (even though he was a virtuoso). He played roughly, even sometimes out of tune trying to bring a roughness and an emotional edge.

It seems wrong to bring intentional roughness to, say, Mendelssohn especially when we're all still trying to figure out what mid-19th century playing sounded like.

But maybe (and who knows if Kennedy would endorse this) people should break some crystal and play Mendelssohn in a wholly inauthentic non-Mendelssohn way and see if audiences like it. Heifetz and Milstein certainly put their early-20th-century Russian spin on all the great concertos and they sold a LOT of tickets.

Another problem is, you'll never win awards playing Mendelssohn in a quirky way, there's no prestige in it and it's a prestige-driven business.

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