Is there a line, and should we cross it?

February 19, 2008 at 06:27 AM · I was searching for the Mozart violin concerto on YouTube, and came across this video, which I don't know if many of you have seen:

Basically, the soloist, during the cadanza, combines bluegrass, classical, Indian, blues, Romanian folk style, and many other unorthodox playing styles. He even whistles, sings, and uses the instrument as a drum!

This raises the question: is this Mozart? Is it acceptable? If music is a form of entertainment, and it entertians us, is it not fulfilling its purpose? So many classical musicians seem outraged at the idea of crossing the genres like this!

Of course there isn't only entertainment in music; but inspiration, emotional evocation, etc. But if music that crosses genres like us, can temper our emotions and thoughts, is it not true music?

Is there a line? Should it be crossed?

Replies (64)

February 19, 2008 at 06:53 AM · It was entertaining to me yes. But I think it was disrespectful to mozart-personally.

February 19, 2008 at 08:00 AM · o no.......

February 19, 2008 at 08:11 AM · Hang on, we're going to separate the men from the boys again.

February 19, 2008 at 08:26 AM · Well...besides this being a highly philosophical and incendiary question...who are the performers in this video (meaning violinist and orchestra)?

February 19, 2008 at 08:29 AM · Jake, you really don't want to go down this road..

February 19, 2008 at 08:45 AM · Jake, it is obvious that those performers have committed sacrilege and should be teared and feathered and burnt at the stake for promoting what is clearly degenerate art. :P

see also

February 19, 2008 at 10:11 AM · Intergenre marriage! Unconstitutional! Abomination of all abominations!

He's going to hell for that one. Everyone can relax now.

February 19, 2008 at 11:04 AM · HA! Emily - such a harsh indictment!

A few weeks ago I heard Mark O'Connor play his "American Seasons" with the Baltimore Symphony. One of the highlights of that piece is a cadenza that save for a "bullet point" is different every time - truly improvised. On the night that I saw him, he actually "faked out" the orchestra, getting to that point but actually going somewhere else musically after reaching the "splice mark".

The audience, Marin, and the orchestra all laughed...and we all wanted to clap when he was done (before the end of the piece, a la being at a jazz concert).

Was THAT blasphemy?

February 19, 2008 at 01:47 PM · He is Gilles Apap. Check him out at He's unorthodox and some would say a bit looney compared to "regular" violinists. I think he's genius.

He's quite an amazing violinist if you can't already tell from the way he plays Mozart. My guess would be that he couldn't care less if you thought that this was appropriate or not. What's more important is that you are discussing it.

February 19, 2008 at 02:29 PM · Let's not start this again, shall we? There's a long and intense topic on this somewhere in the archives.

February 19, 2008 at 02:42 PM · Excuse me, but I wasn't part of those past discussions. Are there any more discussions that I am not allowed to participate in because they have been discussed before? Also, is going to eventually shut down because all topics have been discussed and therefore not allowed to be brought up again?

February 19, 2008 at 02:47 PM · hey, you are scaring away the real violinists from this website, you know, the serious ones, the ones who really know the difference between having taste and not having taste. [tongue in cheek]

February 19, 2008 at 03:55 PM · Did Mozart not do the same? And for that matter since he deviated from the "proper Musical Schools Methods" made his rent and grocery money giving lessons? Is not that how new eras begin? How dogmatic should we/should we not get?

February 19, 2008 at 04:14 PM · Dogmatic belief systems in classical music are very regrettable but also very understandable. Many of the top musicians spent a very significant part of their lives to learning and mastering an instrument, often making significant sacrifices. They get drilled learning the do's and dont's of the trade, some of them unwritten and presumptious, for example "you don't play Bach with a Brahms sound, that's bad taste".

But there will always be some of those guys who break out of that dogma and some of them may just be crazy enough to play Bach with a Brahms sound and it may actually be rather nice and liked by lesser mortals who haven't been spoon fed with those do's and dont's. Of course this will cause many of those more "serious" musicians to have an identity crisis. It's more convenient to keep the dogma going.

February 19, 2008 at 04:28 PM · Sorry Marina,

Its just that this has been hashed and rehashed about 4 times since I joined this website which was only about a year ago. It got realllllllly nasty every time. But, you're right, everyone should have their say. There's a lesson here Marina, and its that I'm an idiot :-).

For the record, I love Gilles and I think he's a genius. So there.

February 19, 2008 at 04:32 PM · This is probably one of the most AWESOME things I have ever seen.

The rarified atmosphere of classical music has nearly exhausted it's ability to sustain life(watch how far you stick your nose in the air,it might rain and you'll drown)-it's evident by the financial problems of many orchestras.

Is it Mozart?-absolutely.

Is it art?-DUH!

Would Perlman do this if he thought he could get away with it?-more than likely.

Would I start going to classical music concerts if I saw this?-absolutely.

Does this guy give a rat's posterior what "real violinists" think?-obviously not,and he has the chops to back it up.That makes him a true artist.


MY HERO!!!!!!!!!!!!

February 19, 2008 at 05:56 PM · "But, you're right, everyone should have their say."

It sounds nice in principle, but it really isn't true nor is it a good idea--at least with respect to, say, running an orchestra, etc.

What sets an orchestra apart is not merely the quality of the musicians, but also the vision and applied knowledge of the music director. With knowledge comes discrimination: some of this might be seen as erudite by the great unwashed, but if you let it all go the way of democracy, then what? All Bond, All the Time (except for when VM plays)? Or all Mozart however you like it?

I love new interpretations, but I also love beautifully played pieces, in what might be termed "conventional" interpretations. You really have to see that Gilles Apap piece of art as something new and beautiful but totally derivative, rather than something artful, sublime and beautiful on its own merits.

February 19, 2008 at 05:03 PM · nice!

I think that this may make classical music more approchable for the public in general.

Very interesting. I would go see a show like this.

I like classical music and sometimes, going to concert can make me sleepy. With an ''entertainer/musician'' like this I would.

February 19, 2008 at 06:03 PM · Josh, I don't think you're an idiot, and you made a valid point that this has been hashed and rehashed. I just want in on the fight!

Apap has a considerable amount of skill and mastery of technique as a violinist. I constantly strive to gain that much finesse! The real question is what should one do with that much technique as a violinist. Is it a waste that he can play so well and chooses to play "differently?" Golly he's so good he rivals Kavakos in technique!

Benjamin, what are you getting at with your "real musicians" jabs? What makes one musicians more real than the other? Do you have to be "serious" to be "real" and if so, why do these so called "real" violinists get scared off so easily?

February 19, 2008 at 06:15 PM · It's easy to sum up. If you like the status quo, and if you believe Apap threatens the status quo, then he's a bad thing. Otherwise, he's a good thing. Mozart himself, he doesn't care.

February 19, 2008 at 06:19 PM · Well he's dead so we don't know.

I remember when this first came out and while I don't think it fits the style or whatever or might not ever be part of a more serious performance, I don't think it's a big deal. At some point along the road as a musician you have to acknowledge the fact that a lot fo what you do is diversion or entertainment. It's not as if what he did wasn't skillfull or virtuosic. It was an impressive display and I'd pay to go see that. However I think it could start to descend into novelty, but it's not like he does that all the time.

February 19, 2008 at 10:50 PM · Greetings,

not many people know this, but Pere Mozart`s first treatize on the violin was called `The Idiot`s Guide to Viennese Bluegrass Jam sessions when you are pissed as a fart.` Unfortunately it has only been translated into Swahili and Peters is still waiting for Simon Fischer to sober up long enough to write a forward about sound points before publishing.



February 20, 2008 at 03:44 AM · The assembled crowd becomes silent. Eyes dart to and fro, searching the puzzled expressions of neighbors and companions.

Finally a lone voice speaks, a guy who looks like Jimmy Stewart. He says, "What's that mean, Buri? Are ya fer it, or are ya agin it?"

February 20, 2008 at 12:12 AM · I would not want to forget how to play any piece away from it's era. Each time I learn something new and I listen again to something that I've heard many times before, that same piece 'now' teaches me something new. However, I wouldn't want the works of past masters Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, DePrez, Schubert, etc., to wind up a "Bromide" either. Whether we love them or hate them the 'Advant Guarde' has a valid place in the sceme, and we wouldn't have the variety of music that contributes to the/our growth without them.

February 20, 2008 at 12:16 AM · If Mozart's music has made it here 250 years later, I think the cadenzas in his works should nonetheless retain their natural improvisatory style. The notes on the page are still the same which he penned, but I think it should be very acceptable if the performer incorporates his own Zeitgeist. This performance was slightly eccentric but clever and enthusiastic nonetheless

February 20, 2008 at 12:26 AM · One thing is very clear from Gilles' performance: he knows the Mozart and he knows the established interpretations.

This example isn't revolutionary or anything: it is the sort of thing that happens in summer pops concerts, when you "let your hair down" and have some lighthearted fun. He's very good at it and he's very aware and able to groove in other styles--and that is fun!

But the whole performance would be meaningless and trite had he been incapable of playing that Mozart "from the page" and "inside and out" and with a depth of understanding and experience.

February 20, 2008 at 12:49 AM · A joyful and ingenious variation of Mozart's work. The composer is still safe in his grave, spinning or not. One can always play the piece as written, given time and determination, but how wonderful to be able to rise up off the page, and what a delight to see and hear. Pure genious!

February 20, 2008 at 01:06 AM · there is a simple question here: Is the player drawing attention to the music or to himself?

If to the music then what he does is justified.

If to himself, then he is just a self-agrandiser,and worthy of little more attention.

Catch-22 innit?

I can't abide it, myself.


February 20, 2008 at 01:26 AM · Graham. What would be wrong with a player drawing attention to himself? It's been done before...

February 20, 2008 at 01:18 AM · I never understood the point of cadenzas anyway, when everything in the piece that needed said has been said, and all that's left is a little kicking up of the heels and an extra stunt at the end so that people can say, My aren't you something; I could do without it at all, personally. Maybe I just haven't found a cadenza I like, but then again, some people just prefer frosting on their cake while others like it plain.

I file this thought, titled "Cadenzas are Unnecessary" in the "Opinions of Emily" folder, right after "Cable Knitting is Fun" and before "Canned Beans are Better than Dried".

February 20, 2008 at 02:37 AM · Cadenzas in the classical and early romantic period, specifically as used by Mozart, Beethoven and their contemporaries, were frankly and unabashedly the time for the soloist to show off, both in terms of instrumental virtuosity and with compositional prowess, or else improvisational prowess. I think it is significant that both Mozart and Beethoven were in agreement with this concept. Of course, later composers, starting with Mendelssohn wrote out their cadenzas, evidently viewing the cadenza as an integral part of the composition. And also interesting is that in his violin concerto, Brahms reverted to the earlier model, but not in his piano concerti or the double concerto.

There is an interesting cadenza, that Beethoven wrote, late in his life for the second piano concerto. It is played quite frequently today. The cadenza is in Beethoven's late style, and sounds completely out of place within the very classical sounding second piano concerto. So much for stylistic consistency.

February 20, 2008 at 04:06 AM · There seems to be this phenomenon where people are attracted to music because of particular things it means or symbolizes to them, and those things may be things that are made up in the person's head, with no basis in reality, historical reality, for example. Then something comes along and challenges that meaning, threatens to remove the attraction maybe, and it has to be dealt with.

February 20, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Emily, I generally don't like cadenzas/medleys/potpourris myself, but that's not really the point. The question was whether or not this sort of arrangement is crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed. I can see no reason why a certain style should be taboo. The important thing is to have variety, the more variety the better. You don't have to like it, you still benefit from an environment in which variety florishes.

I think it was Kant who is credited with saying "Your opinion is the exact opposite of mine and I will defend your right to express it". I think most of us today subscribe to this view. So, why can't we adopt such ethics to music as well? Nobody should want to draw a line that shouldn't be crossed. Who's going to decide where that line is anyway? It's been tried before with disastrous consequences, let's not even remotely head anywhere near that direction again.

February 20, 2008 at 04:06 AM · I want to scream every time I see this video. Not because I'm horrified by its contents (I think it's in poor taste, but not the end of the world), but because of all the merde it's kicked up around here. YES, I'm still bitter at what certain v.commers said to certain former v.commers....

February 20, 2008 at 04:26 AM · I can't believe you said merde...

February 20, 2008 at 04:15 AM · There is no objective measurement of musical taste, it is by its very nature subjective. Sometimes there is consensus on what constitutes good or bad taste, but such consensus is always based on personal preference, convention and opinion.

So, better get used to the idea that there is no such thing as absolute good/bad taste and consequently there is no line to draw and no line to cross. Entirely arbitrary.

Besides, can you imagine how incredibly boring a world would be where all artists do exactly the very same thing to precisely hit that one and only universal taste?

February 20, 2008 at 04:21 AM · Do you really mean that an tiff over performance variations (I still think he's a genius and loved the clip) resulted in such hurt feelings/high dudgeon prople walked off into the sunset??? That's a bit much.

If ya like it, listen/do it, if ya don't, don't!

I'm interested to know why people feel as they do about his performance, but personal stakes should be ZERO. Unless you're his Mom.

February 20, 2008 at 04:41 AM · Carol, you didn't see the last "discussion," did you?

Pieter, I had to translate it or otherwise disguise it, else the word filter would have caught it.

February 20, 2008 at 04:44 AM · Indeed. If the last discussion was correct an awful lot of violnists don`t seem to have Moms.



February 20, 2008 at 09:14 AM · "Emily, I generally don't like cadenzas/medleys/potpourris myself, but that's not really the point. The question was whether or not this sort of arrangement is crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed. I can see no reason why a certain style should be taboo. The important thing is to have variety, the more variety the better. You don't have to like it, you still benefit from an environment in which variety florishes."

To clarify, Benjamin, I knew that. I apologize for the inappropriate tangent.

February 20, 2008 at 11:04 AM · One thing gets severely overlooked when we have this discussion. The thing that gets overlooked is Mozart was a real person - a genuine flesh and blood human.

I know exactly how he would react to this. He would react like any living composer who's not a halfwit. He'd be fine with it. I know that without a doubt. And he would throw in a few fart jokes. If you don't believe that last thing, read his letters. If you told him he was "sacred" he would have to restrain himself from laughing his ass off at you and then improvising something crazier than this.

Another thing that gets overlooked is that there is much that is more challenging or "worse" than this, that incorporates Mozart, some of it "legitimate." There are performances that include unusual performance art, and the like. So all I can say is get smart about it, really.

That's the truth.

February 20, 2008 at 10:43 AM · "I never understood the point of cadenzas anyway, when everything in the piece that needed said has been said, and all that's left is a little kicking up of the heels and an extra stunt at the end so that people can say, My aren't you something;"

This is projection - it's why you yourself would do it, at this point in time. Someone else's reason for it might be to ride free on the beach for a minute, instead of riding in the ring, as one possibility, among an infinte number of them....

February 20, 2008 at 11:18 AM · Thanks for the great video! I really like what he is playing. I just don't get why he is playing it in the middle of a Mozart concerto.

I think it's ok to use modern and non-classical influences for the cadenza or the interpretation of a classical work. But he's not playing a cadenza, he's stopping the concert for a show of violin tricks and a medley of popular tunes.

It's great when it fits in (e.g. Kennedy's summer adagio in the 4 Seasons), but this doesn't.

February 20, 2008 at 11:55 AM · You like what he's playing but don't think it's a cadenza and don't think it fits, so consider it performance art and you'll be fine with it. It bores me, really. The only interest for me is wondering what he'll do next. That's its downfall as far as I'm concerned.

February 20, 2008 at 02:52 PM · Jim, well said in the last three posts. I truly like Apap if only for the reason that he can get most musicians to react this way. By golly it is time someone throws dirt in our face and gets us talking about music. Coule Gilles be a prophet in the disguise of a goofy violinist?

I think Mozart is laughing at US.

February 20, 2008 at 03:41 PM · I can only stand classical music during Warner Brothers cartoons ("I killed the Wabbit"),so if this kind of thing makes me more curious about it and willing to listen to it,then maybe it has some validity to it.....

February 20, 2008 at 04:05 PM · The subject of this discussion and the oposing viewpoints makes me think of "The Fountain Head".

"Merde".. Been a while since I've heard Bovine produced soil admendment in French.

February 20, 2008 at 05:18 PM · "This is projection - it's why you yourself would do it, at this point in time. Someone else's reason for it might be to ride free on the beach for a minute, instead of riding in the ring, as one possibility, among an infinte number of them...."

You don't know why I play my cadenzas. I myself play them at this point in time to support a cure for cancer. And the common cold.

February 20, 2008 at 05:22 PM · In the end,it's all just a big ego-stroke anyway...

February 20, 2008 at 05:25 PM · "I killed the Wabbit!"

February 20, 2008 at 06:14 PM · Better to support cures than habits :) I guess...

February 20, 2008 at 08:18 PM · Of course we should cross it.

All of the arts are an ongoing dialog about the human condition. If we stop challenging things by bringing elements from our personal lives into this dialog, the entire art form will die and it will become nothing but a ritual.

Objecting that a production of music is ugly, silly, anachronistic, etc., is part of the dialog too

February 20, 2008 at 07:19 PM · Kris, well said, 'nuff said.

Jay - I wouldn't ever have picked up the violin if it wasn't for those cartoons. Imagine that... watch cartoons... get inspired... pick up the violin... I guess then we all crossed the line by merely picking up the instrument.

February 20, 2008 at 08:24 PM · Yeah...if it weren't for those cartoons...

February 20, 2008 at 09:44 PM · So, sometimes we should applaud a player just because they do something that illustrates why it shouldn't be done.

Ok. Now we know what it sounds like, we won't do it again.

I hope M. Apap doesn't either.

I ought to say that I am not a reactionary classical player. I am an improvising violinist working on all kinds of areas. My problem with the above video is not that it crossed lines. Indeed crossing lines is exactly what I am interested in.

No, it's just that it was done with such poor taste, and with no real relevance to the context in which it was done. I am not one who holds Mozart in great reverence, but I like things to hold together, and for the parts to relate to one another. I like players to give the audience coherence and integrity., not just a bunch of style samples.


February 21, 2008 at 01:31 AM · @Graham

> No, it's just that it was done with such poor taste

Taste is in the eye of the beholder. I didn't like it myself, but who are we to tell others they have poor taste?

> and with no real relevance to the context in which it was done.

When the sonata form was (gradually) abandoned, many folks in the establishment also felt that this resulted in abandonment of context.

> I like things to hold together, and for the parts to relate to

> one another. I like players to give the audience coherence

> and integrity., not just a bunch of style samples.

Parts relating to one another, coherence and integrity, those are all man made conventions. Every period has had its strict conventions/rules how themes, movements, variations were to relate to each other, what made them coherent, what constituted integrity. Every new period broke some if not most of those rules and established its own convention.

I am not saying Apap is another Beethoven who is bringing about a new style/era, as I said I personally don't like what he's doing in that video myself, but I have to reject the notion that you and me know what's good taste, we simply have a different taste.

I'd like to say that not every piece of music, not every performance has to break new ground and aim to become the next big thing. Why should it not be good enough to set more modest goals for a composition, arrangement, performance. Goals such as "just having fun" or "getting ordinary folks interested in classical music", shouldn't that be sufficient to welcome it?

February 21, 2008 at 02:30 PM · Hi Benjamin,

>>I have to reject the notion that you and me know what's good taste, we simply have a different taste.<<

I know - nowadays, it just isn't done to make value judgements.

Well, I don't agree with that. You and I certainly can discuss what we think is in good or bad taste: that is one of the bases of criticism and appreciation. That is how we determine what we feel and think about the art we experience, and how we evaluate it.

We all have a right to think about and comment on the taste of performers who deliver their work for our appreciation. I think to deny that discourages proper discrimination, leading to an inability to tell what is good from what is bad.

Taste is about deciding how things go together, what works with what and what doesn't. We both have as much right to say why M. Apap's cadenza didn't work as he does to play it.


February 21, 2008 at 04:03 PM · I am certainly tasteless,and proud of it....

Beer and Cornflakes......

Milkbones and peanut butter......

Opera in German.........

"I Killed the Wabbit!!!"

February 21, 2008 at 04:31 PM · hee hee ;)


February 21, 2008 at 05:52 PM · "Taste is about deciding how things go together,"

May all your novelists and airplane mechanics have good taste.

February 21, 2008 at 06:23 PM · Well, of course I expect it in my novelists...

...I would hope for it in my mechanics, as well as expecting precision. I certainly expect it in my chefs and musicians, not to mention interior designers, and tailors.

But, context is all: we have been discussing music, not engineering.


February 21, 2008 at 07:07 PM · "I certainly expect it in my chefs ... interior designers, and tailors."


February 21, 2008 at 09:01 PM · ha ha ha :) !

February 21, 2008 at 09:10 PM · I'm so old I have grey poupon my butler.

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