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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Which way would you rather listen to your favorite violin piece?

February 6, 2010 at 7:27 AM

I actually don't agree with the idea that we should worship the dead masters of the past, not to the point where we turn away from the present, refuse to support to the live artists of today and give up on having living, changing music. Certainly the great masters from the past can inspire us, but they can't....stand there, living and breathing, and play for us! So for me, I think there's nothing more thrilling than a live performance by a great artist.

Still, sometimes we draw inspiration from the masters of the past, or from the original recording of a piece. Youtube has opened up entirely new possiblities, and one can spend entire days going through the golden oldies. It's pretty thrilling to see Oistrakh, playing that cadenza from the Shostakovich, for example.

And then there is the matter of new recordings. My heart fell when a reader once wrote something along the lines of, "Why is XXX artist doing another recording of XXX, when Heifetz recorded it perfectly?" Well, why should your kindergartener sing "Silent Night" this year, when my kindergartener sang the same thing perfectly five years ago?

But I want your opinion and your thoughts on the matter, and please be honest. What do you actually prefer?



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 7:49 AM

I vote for live performance because nothing beats live concerts, but I find the choice was very difficult because in most cases, there is no great live performance of my favourite pieces available when I want to listen to them. And listening to recordings of past and living artists plays a bit role in my everyday life so I can’t be without this either.  In this sense, none of the three choices is real choice for me in general terms.

Posted on February 6, 2010 at 11:21 AM

The entire logistics issue of live peformances has lessened my interest as well as the new "in vogue" relaxed audience atmosphere. Where once going to a performance was something anticipated and special in terms of dress, demeanor, and even the study of the pieces being performed (miniature scores); today it is often less than a casual interaction between performer and audience.

As for recordings, I am a true devotee of vinyl. I find absolutely NO merits in the digitized CD recordings. Not trying to be cynical, just set in my ways possibly, but to hear a recording on a fine turntable with a moving coil cartridge.....AHHHH; BLISSFUL EXCELLENCE

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

From Royce Faina
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 1:02 PM

I enjoy listening to pieces by current performers and the diferent perspectives they can bring.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 1:07 PM

 I don't feel like I can choose any of these over the others.  I choose live performance mostly when it is small and local, or a special occasion, modern recording when it's something new and I know that the circumstances of my listening are likely to involve the T and an iPod, and favorite recording from the past when that's what I need for psychological/personal reasons.  

From David Rose
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 1:28 PM

Interesting topic, although I don't think I could choose either.

In the spirit of Laurie's discussion, I would like to pay tribute to 3 living (and sometimes ridiculed) violinists.

Even though the young Menuhin I think may always represent my favorite violin playing...

I'm continually amazed by Maxim Vengerov.  This video of him doing Tzigane is simply jaw-dropping.  I think Buri once said it best that he is such a genius ' the violin can't take it' (or something like that!).  His masterclass videos on YouTube are inspired, and I hope the rumors that he is moving to conducting are true.  He'll be brilliant.

Joshua Bell gets slagged a lot for his movement and his facial ticks (I'm not totally a fan of those things either), but he really is unique and a poet on the violin.

Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg perhaps gets the worst treatment of all.  I remember going to a recital of hers, and quite enjoying it, except for the old gent next to me who, after every thing she played, would harumph and say, "That's not Beethoven...That's not Grieg...etc, etc."

She came and played Shostakovich concerto when I played in Vancouver, and a few of us had to totally confess that we were totally swept up into her commitment and the 'world might end tomorrow' approach to the passacaglia movement/cadenza.  A few of us went even so far as to admit we preferred her rendition to the Oistrakh.

Anyhow, there really is an embarrassment of riches out there in the violin world.  And I can't be too thankful for the records of the past greats.  It inspires almost daily,



From Anne Horvath
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 1:41 PM

Live performance is best.

But we're all so lucky to have recordings of the past giants playing the repertoire. 

From Corwin Slack
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 2:24 PM

 I admit that live performance is best if Fritz Kreisler or one of his contemporaries is the performer. Since that is no longer possible I will take their recordings any day over the dry, squeezing, grunting. moaning and heaving of most modern performances. In my opinion modern violin playing is about as similar to the old greats as this:

Virtuosic, yes

Amusing , yes

Violin playing No


From Corwin Slack
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 2:32 PM

 I blogged on this recently

From Kevin Robinson
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 2:36 PM

I like all the choices: recordings on LP, CD, but live performance may be the ultimate best:. Especially, if you are listening in a hall designed for live music, that has excellent acoustics. Its an awesome experience to hear a lone violin or an entire orchestra fill a hall, and using the dynamics of music to project artistry all over the place.

From Bethany Morris
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Maybe this makes me classless and unsophisticated, but I have trouble sitting through a live performance.  It's not that I don't think that live performance is important (I have performed in many a concert, and enjoy it immensely), but at the end of the day I'd rather sit on my armchair with a cup of tea and my newest knitting project to enjoy my favorite piece.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 7:07 PM

Oistrakh recordings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! for me a category of it's own lol.    I have idols as well in the moderns as in the oldies.   But I have to say I enjoy very very much (as in usually... much better) the players of the golden era with gut strings (not all of them though)...  So I guess I should put myself in the second category. Recordings of the masters of the past. (especially Oistrakh).  But I attend live concerts too and respect all artists who do their best (Really love to see and listen to Repin, Chang and I hope Gluzman and Haendel)!   So I'm not closed to "modernity" even if my heart loves golden period and is crazy with Oistrakh's sound.  Though I'm quite close to modern compositions. I can't get used and it's painful to listen to this for me ; )


From Rosalind Porter
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Of course it is great to have recordings (and nowadays DVDs etc) to go to when you want a "fix" of something special -whether it be Oistrakh, Menuhin, Kogan etc etc etc, but for me there's nothing to beat the atmosphere of a live concert!  It might not even necessarily be a "famous" violinist, or even an especially good one, there's still always something to learn from being in close proximity to live music-making.   I guess it is the element of the unpredictable and the feeling of actually being involved (as an audience member) in the performance of a work of art.

Which is one reason why I do like to be within reasonable distance of the stage as in large halls it can be easy to lose a sense of contact with the musicians if you are watching them from a distance. 

Perhaps that's the reason that some of my very favourite and most frequently played DVDs and CDs are those taken from live concerts...?

From Michael Divino
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 10:32 PM

I picked the last choice because (besides Youtube) it's the easiest way to become familiar with new pieces.  I do appreciate listetning to the old masters, but I somtimes don't feel connected to them, as in the time they come from is not my time.  It's kind of weird too, because you know that they have passed on, so you know there is no way to see them or meet them, etc.  Modern players, to me, are more interesting to follow because you're never quite sure what they're going to do next, they're developing and you as an audience member gets to see that evolution.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 12:36 AM

I would prefer to hear my favorite piece being played by one of my students. 

But since this is not an option, I would also prefer to hear my favorite violin piece as a recording by whoever plays it the best, while sipping wine in a bubble bath.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 5:07 AM

Nice option Emily ; )


From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 4:12 PM

This is a very interesting topic. We are all products of our environment and it's hard to look at this objectively. The great performers of the past from the early days of recording performed with little or no editing so what you got, in effect, was a live performance and the spontaneity of the moment. However, with the advances in recording technology and the realization that note-perfect recordings could become the norm, it became an expectation, unconscious or otherwise, to have to measure up to this standard of perfection. Nonetheless, the best performers of today still value inspiration and honesty in making music and interpret music with conviction and sincerity. There are those whose style is more flamboyant and overtly emotive and I can understand that, even if their original intent is to project the qualities they believe are inherent in the music, it may seem extravagant and overblown. Then there are others who let the music unfold in more modest, less showy ways but still project original thinking and an interpretation worthy of serious consideration. Perhaps the thought has been placed in many performers minds that they must "sell" classical music to an audience that is not readily predisposed to listening to it- that it must be marketed like a product to appeal to as many people as possible in order to garner enough interest and curiosity in it, so we see these days more overt displays of emotion and body movements and image-making in an attempt to communicate what one is feeling in the music.

Having listened to a lot of recorded music and attended concerts, I feel we have the best of both worlds by being able to hear all that is great from the past and appreciate the tradition that continues to keep the music alive in the present as well. It may be that the global sharing of information on violin technique has lead to greater uniformity in approach, so that nationalistic styles and individuality are blurred and less distinct than in the past  and that performers, in order to distinguish themselves in their interpretation of  the standard repertoire, have to "search" for this or that little idea that they think no one else has  considered or thought to do or in some cases, dared to do. Perhaps this is the downside of today's performance scene, but, I still am optimistic that true artists understand and palpably feel the immense  spiritual, emotional, and intellectual power  and integrity of the music they play and, deep down, despite other influences and/or pressures, never forget the true and sincere nature of their art.  Thankfully, between recorded and live performances, there is still plenty to choose from to enjoy and take to heart.

From Kim Vawter
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 10:08 PM

I have only one thing to say: Omaha.  This town supports the arts and everyone lives about 25 minutes (or less) away from a great place to hear live performances. 

From William Gibson III
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 10:32 PM

 Most of my time I have to be able to listen to music is when I am in the truck / car driving ...never was able to just seat and enjoy music very much I guess to antsy or have to much to do or should be doing ...LOL , personally I think just being able for me to play and play well is my dream ...

From Kylie Svenson
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 10:36 PM

I heartily agree with Mr. Mutchnik. Style and language change. The stuff and substance of the human heart and psyche do not. In every age and in every language of musical expression and technique there will always be great artists; it is up to us to learn to speak their languages.

Each option has its merits.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 8, 2010 at 1:14 AM

Like many other respondents, I can't choose.  Nothing can beat the thrill of a live performance, but I need music at other times and other places.  I'm glad we have recordings of some of the old masters.  They are so beautiful that I wouldn't want to miss them.

Anne-Marie, I feel the same way you do about Oistrakh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on February 8, 2010 at 1:04 AM

This was a REALLY difficult choice!  It's been a very, very long time since I've been able to enjoy a live violin performance.  I'm a beginning violin student (without a teacher), and it seems that being able to watch skilled violinists perform would be excellent supplemental training.  I've seen a couple of Joshua Bell performances on PBS, but there are so many others I'd like to study!  My computer has refused to cooperate with YouTube, so that's not an option.  If a performance of the local Symphony Orchestra with a guest violin soloist happens to coincide with my having a financial surplus for a ticket, I'll sure try to be there!

I do enjoy hearing new recordings of familiar pieces.  There are a few works (by Bach and Vivaldi) that I enjoy so much that I'm trying to collect (gradually) every recording of them that I can find, just to be able to compare various artists' interpretations.

If I'm in need of musical "comfort food", however, nothing can beat a favorite, much-listened-to recording -- no matter how many dozens of times I've heard it!

From James Mothersbaugh
Posted on February 8, 2010 at 7:34 AM

I am truly amazed that after having read all the opinions expressed I find only one (Gibson, was it?) that says anything about PLAYING THE PIECE OURSELVES! Why isn't "playing the piece yourself" one of the options in the original poll? Why turn one of your favorite pieces over to someone else? Why live vicariously, recorded or live concert, when you can experience life firsthand?

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on February 8, 2010 at 12:31 PM

I don't think that I can - or need to - choose. All the options have merits, and are not mutually exclusive. It depends on circumstances and on my listening mood. Even in listening to recordings, there are options. For example, sometimes I want a more intimate experience, and prefer to listen to a CD through headphones. (I still have a lot of vinyl too.)

I also agree with the option of playing it ourselves, if we can. I've sometimes been asked whose interpretation I like best in piece X. I often answer "my own" ! (Interpretation, not necessarily execution.) After all, if I didn't want it to go that way I'd change my interpretation - something which I certainly allow to evolve.

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on February 9, 2010 at 3:04 AM

Though it was not one of the choices and it makes sense that if one has worked on an interpretation that one truly believes in it would stand to reason that is the way one prefers to hear it, but one cannot completely separate the technique from the interpretation because it could be that in terms of an artist getting a sound that you strive for but cannot get in a certain passage or part of a passage you may feel your interpretation cannot measure up to what you perceive as your ideal. In other words, you may concede I'd like to be able to play that way or at that tempo or with that kind of vibrato, and because you cannot yet do so your interpretation suffers in that place and you assess it as not ideal. Perhaps it is in that kind of situation that, all other things being equal, you prefer to hear it some other way than the way you are currently able to do it.

    There is of course the possibility that though you may interpret something differently you like someone else's interpretation just as much and find it equally valid. And there is also the possibility that you can imagine how you'd like a piece to sound but do not have the technique to do so and have not heard any performance that achieves what you imagine  the given piece could or should sound like so it remains only in your imagination for the time being, an unrealized potential but still valid for you.

     I think people can be swayed by a performance played with sufficient conviction and sincerity that they, for that moment in time, feel they've heard it as it should be. Whether it would stand the test of time with repeated hearings is another matter.

  It would also be very interesting to compare performances of a given work  that a given artist has recorded several times and notice what things did change and why.



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