Anyone an Ivry Gitlis fan?

February 13, 2009 at 02:35 AM ·

I have always found this guy's playing to be very interesting...personally I don't care for his interpretations and he just seems to rush through stuff most of the time.  But I like listening to his playing to help me realize just how much more I like certain other violinists!!  Gitlis turns 90 this year I think...a few years ago he did a master class here in Northridge, CA.  I didn't find out about it until too late but I would really have liked to see how he teaches.

Replies (39)

February 13, 2009 at 04:13 AM ·

No, I don't think you would have wanted to see how he teaches. He came to do master classes and lessons a few years ago at my grad school, and his teaching was so beligerent, muddled, and generally off-putting that my teacher at the time apologized to everyone for the experience. The only worse experience I've had was Alexander Schneider.

February 13, 2009 at 04:19 AM ·


I guess Alexander technique doesn`t suit everyone...



February 13, 2009 at 03:10 PM ·

I have a couple of his CDs, which I like a great deal.  Can't comment on him as a teacher.

February 13, 2009 at 03:46 PM ·

I love his playing.

February 13, 2009 at 04:02 PM ·

he is amazing!  i love his fire and his individuality!  and it seems he has kept up his technique over the years!  search youtube videos of him...there are tons of performances of him in his eighties that will astonish you (like his bartok sonata!)

February 13, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

Some good responses!!  Thanks.  Truth be told, he is one of my least favorite.  His playing often sounds quite undisciplined.  I've heard many of his recordings that don't even sound like music sounds like he's trying to hurry up and get the piece played so he can move onto the next one (or maybe go catch a plane.)  Yes, his technique is quite stellar...but as a musician, he had a lot to be desired.

February 13, 2009 at 07:03 PM ·

Ivry Gitlis is in my view one of the "almost made it" legends who has a unique sound and approach that so richly extends the variation in styles so missing nowadays. There is a wonderful clip of him playing Paganini on "Art of Violin" DVD. Fantastic rhythm, very focussed and gorgeous sound. Some find his vibrato over quick and almost hysterical. And I can imagine that his masterclasses might have been a little chaotic and not always helpful.

But not only was he a great player, he is also a superb raconteur, humourist and possessed of an engaging character. He was a wonderful antidote to the current brigade of studiedly uneccentric, sometimes over-sensible, rather prosaic violin soloists emerging from Europe and the far East.

His insights on Art of Violin are probably the most stimulating part of that excellent DVD. While it is instructive and illuminating to watch and hear flawless violinists with predicable techniques and vanilla interpretations, that can become a little wearing after a while. Gitlis has fire in his belly. To my mind he is up there with the perceived "greats".


February 13, 2009 at 07:30 PM ·

Leonard has described him perfectly. I don't see him as unmusical at all. I think he is very personally musical--seems to me he is idiosyncratic because he lets his own heart into his music. Listen to his Ziggy and his Cantablie that were on mezzo...rather extraordinary how different they are from others--but I love it!

What makes vanilla chocolate strawberry ice cream so fun! The variety!

February 13, 2009 at 07:34 PM ·

It seems as though people either love or hate this guy's playing.  I guess I don't *hate* it but I definitely don't like it!!

February 13, 2009 at 09:11 PM ·

Sorry for my ignorance, was it in style in the old days to "rush" throught cadenzas and pieces. I often have this impression! I hate it! In my opinion, a good player must show off and perform (make his or her instrument sing when needed) Thus the choice of a good tempo is extremely important! The best ones were able to judge when it was the time do showoff and when it was the time to perform (special attention to the musicality, vibratos, etc). And some don't seem to know, when it is the time do each one.  Maybe they think that  rushing through the fastest possible is the only way to impress the audience... Those who go too fast all the time will only impress those who know the instrument but not the people with no knowledge in music.  Those who are able to do the two (well balanced between the two) will be able to "attract" conoisseurs and non-conoisseurs as well!  Non conoisseurs are mostly impressed be the music not by virtuosity from what I hear after the concerts... Only my two cents about something I noticed!

The other possibility to explain this: nervous performer tend to rush through to get finish the fastest possible. I have heard that many greats were really nervous people. Who wouldn't when playing and constantly beeing judge!

Sorry if it is a little off topic! My next posts will be short or I will start another discussion!


February 13, 2009 at 09:13 PM ·

Is he really a "mainstream" violinist or is he really a gypsy fiddler?  Many of the latter will play classical repertoire too but you wouldn't compare them on the basis of it.

February 13, 2009 at 09:23 PM ·

I don't know if Gitlis is gypsy fiddler but he often seems like it in some ways.  Many years ago I heard his Bartok #2 and it was truly the sense that he nailed every single technical hurdle and took it at a super-fast tempo.  But by the time it was over, I felt as if I'd been watching a Roadrunner cartoon!!  Absolutely no musical substance at all.  Anyhow, Gitlis has his admirers and his non-admirers....he'll certainly go down in history as one of the more interesting violinists.    He certainly does not suffer for lack of competence but his interpretative choices are....well, let's just say highly unusual.

February 13, 2009 at 10:21 PM ·

Ah, perfection, where is thy sting?  I happen to like many of the Gitlis recorded performances, not so much some others.  I do think that his "hysterical" or "gypsy" or whatever-you-want-to-call-it style is perfect for the Bartok #2.  I think he brings out the almost primitive, animalistic, Transylvanian werewolf quality that is inherent in the piece.  And it fits like a glove (or should I say "paw"?)

February 13, 2009 at 10:30 PM ·

Perhaps, Sandy, but I can name five others who play the Bartok better.  Perhaps Gitlis's pyrophoric temperament works for some pieces, but hey, even Heifetz turned off the hysteria when need be. Except on very rare occasion, it's as if Gitlis is always on drugs when he plays.  SLOW DOWN!  Savor the moment! 

February 13, 2009 at 11:11 PM ·

Hi, Leon: Yes, in most pieces, maybe you're right - he doesn't seem to savor the moment. Maybe it's just a matter of a difference in preference, but I do not believe that the Bartok Concerto #2 is a "savor the moment" kind of piece. I happen to find that the other great violinists who play it more "beautifully" (and they do..) miss the essential sense of raw, Hungarian backwoods fury and haunting mystery of the piece. But I think that Gitlis hits it with just the right approach. I also happen to like the Menuhin approach just as much (although he's a very, very different kind of violinist). I heard Menuhin play it with the Chicago Symphony (under Reiner) in the late 1950's, and it was astonishing, although not as perfect or polished as the Gitlis. I think that there's something about this concerto that requires one to reach down inside and find one's primitive, impulsive, unsophisticated id (or, as Menuhin once put it, the demonic).
Ah, well.

February 13, 2009 at 11:14 PM ·

Oh lord, don't get me going on Menuhin and all his faults.  I think he recorded the Bartok #2 twice and they both sounded very, very technically labored and (perhaps because of that) lacking in musicality.  I've heard live performances by concertmasters of semi-major league orchestras who played it better.  I'm not disagreeing with the points you make - you make some valid points - but as far as Gitlis' playing overall, I am definitely not a fan.  Menuhin....well, he's another story, but he's far, far, far overrated. 

February 13, 2009 at 11:22 PM ·

Hi, Leon: Menuhin is perhaps the most famous less-than-perfect violinist. But there are times where his performance works. There's an old recording of the Paganini Concerto #2 (with Menuhin, Fistoulari, and the Philharmonia Orchestra) that is indeed labored. You sense that Menuhin is struggling all the way. And yet, the performance is theatrical and truly operatic; it almost speaks. The lack of absolution mastery combined with the sense of voice gives this performance a dazzlingly heroic and vocal quality of overcoming the odds. It's my favorite performance of the piece, even though there are so many others whose playing of it I truly love. Perfection and polish aren't everything. If you've never heard this one, give it a listen; it may convince you that there's a special niche for Yehudi Menuhin.

February 13, 2009 at 11:40 PM ·

To me Ivry Gitlis is one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century - no doubt. I wish there were more somehow rough-edged violinists of such radical and eccentric individuality - provoking a heartfelt reaction in his listeners, be it admiration or rejection. To me his charismatic recordings are very effective as an antidote against streamline beauty sickness. And Ivry Gitlis is a very warm, humorous and generous person with a very wide horizon. He helped a lot of violinists as a teacher and friend. He is simply wonderful. I am an Ivry Gitlis fan.

February 14, 2009 at 12:06 AM ·

Hi Anne-Marie,

I understand your point about "rushing", through cadenzas or the core music. But one thing you could never accuse Gitlis of is a lack of rhythm. He might have taken things fast, but they were nearly always possessed of a vibrant pulse. What I am trying to explain is the difference between a distinct lack of rhythm, which many even "great" violinists suffer from, as opposed to the choice of a fast tempo but never glossing over difficult passages and hoping no-one notices, which Gitlis rarely did. He took things fast, but they always had a good pulse.

In contrast, Menuhin, even at the height of his powers, took a lot of pieces miles too fast, but he never quite had a reliable pulse. It is PULSE that describes a sense of rhythm, not tempo.

One thing some rock music, but especially modern jazz, can teach classical players, is a real sense of pulse. Many classical vioinists are not so good at pulse, and get by with a vague sense of it. I am not suggesting the pulse should be always rigid, but sometimes, especially in allegros and faster movements, an intrinsic strong pulse drives the music along, whether it is fast or somewhat slower.


February 14, 2009 at 01:10 AM ·

He was legendary at an old school of mine for scaring a beautiful young piano instructor half crazy by calling her long distance from overseas at all hours.  Apparently he could place calls from anywhere to anywhere without paying by whistling certain pitches into a phone.  Could this be true?  The guy who told me this story also believed in alien landings.

February 27, 2009 at 02:57 PM ·

For me his version of  Paganini- I Palpiti is very interesting and original. It is one of the top examples together with versions of Vasco Abadjiev and Zino Franceskati.

He is a great master!!

March 1, 2009 at 09:10 AM ·

Oh come on....Menuhin was in his prime an amazing violinist technically and musically had more to say than perhaps any other violinist - he was as Gitlis rightly stated an 'angel from heaven' - rhythmically unstable? i can't agree with that having listened to his prime recordings - the man was just such a God that he himself later couldn't believe how he played when he was in his 20s and 30s - some things are just too good for us mortals

March 1, 2009 at 02:57 PM ·

I second Adam's comment. While there seems to have been some degree of technical deterioration later in Menuhin's life, some of the performances I have seen are stunning.

For instance:

March 2, 2009 at 07:39 AM ·

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March 2, 2009 at 10:58 PM ·


>Menuhin....well, he's another story, but he's far, far, far overrated. 

I don`t think it`s that simple.  Who is doing this rating?   When I was a kid Iheard Menuhin many times live and on TV when he was in his failing years.   Aside from the embarrasing roughness and blooper sI wa sso completley under the thrall of Heifetz at the time I copuldn`t identify with that kind of sound at all.    As for appreciating the musicvianship, that wa scompletley outside my capabilities.  So I rated him as a complete washout and never hesiatted to state my opinion on the subject;)   So thats one rater.  

Then here is one of the most gifted and knowledgeable violnists of all time (Perlman) stating that when he wa son form there was `no one better than him.` That is a matter of public record and a soemwhat differnet rating.

I never really got into Menuhins sound and art until my mid thrities when I bought a CD of his young recoridngs of Sarasate and other show pieces.  Perlman wa sright.  There aren`t any better versions of thsoe pieces using objective (technicla criteria) and subjectively they are in my opinion juts sublime.

For many people,  his recording of the Beethoven with Furtwangler is defintive.  That wuld be an example of rating someone as the greatest in a major are aof the repertoire. No mean achievement.  Actually,  I am slighly more deeply toucvhed by his verison on DVD.  On the same DVD his version of the slow movement of the Bruch is , for me, at times even painful to lsiten to .

So ,  all in all,  I think the initial premise of over ratedness is simplistic and not well thought out.  People who are genuinly intereted in exploring why he became and remains for many a household word in violin playing  are usually quite honest in acknowledging all the problems and failures and equally capapble of pointing out a very substantila number of recordings and performances that have,  as Perlam so rightly noted ,  never been bettered by anyone.   This merits the charge f inconsistancy but its not the same thing and its also pu in perspective by remembering that even from ones favoruite violnist there are recordings that one jsut doesn@t get on with.  No violnist has even been all things to all men.



March 4, 2009 at 04:05 PM ·

Have you watched Ivry Gitlis playing Saint-Saens'  Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 ?

He is just terrific in all respects ... musicality, virtusosity, style, inspiration and an extraordinary technique ... everything !  He is great !!!

Here is the DVD ... It comes as the "Bonus" section of Arthur Grumiaux's Classic Archive DVD :

EMI Classics (DVB 4904469).

May 10, 2009 at 10:14 PM · I've recorded Gitlis and been to many of his master classes. All about music, forget the debate,there just aren't many people doing it any more. When you've seen him teach, then you've already learnt something...that's absent from most of the overrated "maestros" today!

April 7, 2012 at 06:36 AM · I would certainly rate Menuhin as one of the greats, even when there are obvious problems with his playing technically.

His sound, like Kriesler and Heifetz, was totally unique.

Musically the best of his recordings (like the Beethoven VC with Furtwangler) place him alongside the greatest half dozen fiddlers in the last 100 years.

But that is just my humble opinion.

April 15, 2012 at 07:58 PM · OK, I'm going to dare...

I admire his technique and his engaging personality, but I like a little less his quirky gypsifying, as if he were covering up technical deficiencies - which is certainly not the case! I feel he is more of a conjurer than a magician, and a teeny bit vulgar.

There, now I shall wait for the men in the white coats to put me in a padded cell to prtect me from the rest of you worthy folk..

April 16, 2012 at 01:23 PM · Say what you will about Mr. Gitlis in terms of his "gypsyfying" - the idiosyncratic and unique phrasing, the on-and-off-again vibrato - but his violin voice is still genuine and enables us to hear all of the great violin literature with yet another way to experience all of it.

Remember, again, what Brahms said to Ysaye when he heard the violinist perform the Violin Concerto: "So, it can be played that way, too."

And, if I may be so bold as to add, in spite of numerous criticisms I read of the Gitlis performance of the Bartok Concerto #2, his performance of this piece is incredible. It isn't just the technical command, intense vibrato, and the overall musicianship. This piece demands, I believe, the kind of "gypsyfing," the kind of on-and-off vibrato, the incredible intensity, and the almost barbarically primitive rhythmic pulse that Gitlis brings to this music. It may not be a traditional performance, but even after all these years, this performance still sends chills up and down my spine. It gets straight to the heart of that dark, 20th Century world in turmoil that was the world in which Bartok lived when he wrote this concerto.



April 16, 2012 at 04:07 PM · Sorry Sandy!

The men in the white coats haven't come yet, but I still that feel Mr. Gitlis overlays the music rather than revealing it. To my ears, the power, the tension, and the moments of hard-won serenity of the Bartok are light-years away from applied gypsy-like glitter. Fascinating rarher than moving.

Ah, I think they're on their way..

April 16, 2012 at 04:31 PM · Hi, Adrian:

Well, I'm not sure if they're coming for you or for me.

But at any rate, it is fascinating how one can find such different reactions to all of these great violinists. For me, the problem with Gitlis isn't so much the way he plays Bartok (which I still prefer, personally), but that he plays everything else like that.

Anyway, I see by the clock that no one has come for either one of us. (Whew!)

I think there's plenty of room in this world for differences of opinion, especially in the rarified atmosphere of the world's great violinists and classical music. Wouldn't it be a better world if politics and social issues were dealt with in as civilized and respectful a manner as our differences of opinion over Ivry Gitlis?



April 16, 2012 at 04:35 PM · i'm with sander in that gitlis has an idiosynchratic musicality and it is an addition to the world.

but actually i liked him a lot in tchaikovsky and paganini but not so in bartok and definitely did not enjoy his playing of mozart sonatas. it is a paradox that i didnt like the way he played bartok pieces...he's famous for that and his gritty fictional dynamism should be congruous with bartok's music...but no, after listening to other good performers playing bartok, i could see that the snippets of melodies should be connected in a smoother manner to afford a nice contrast to the violence of the ret of the music. the music is already somewhat intractable and frictional...does it really need to be further steel grinded? and the mozart...its like cutting a canary with an big cleaver. there might be an element of selfishness and egotism in overlooking the delicacy and grace in that music

on the other hand, loved his tchaikovsky and paganini. they are robust enough to handle his playing and they afford a lot of substance for his nuanced mind. but this is all my opinion and i'm not sophisticated musically...

April 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM · Tammuz, on the contrary ,your comments show great discernment! But has the shift key jammed on your computer?!

April 16, 2012 at 05:42 PM · thank you adrian - or Adrian if you like :o) ; you're too kind. no, my shift key is alright. just that i'm shift-lazy that way :o)

April 18, 2012 at 10:46 AM · As a non violinist but serius and veteran listener, can't opine about his technic, but I simply can't stand him. Yes, he's an original and extremely personal player, but he plays everything as he feel at the moment. He cares a damn thing for the sheet and composer indications of time and rythm, and play what he want and as he want it. So he accelerate or go slow, and in the end he played HIS sheet, not the composer's. Is fine to be original and personal, but he is just arbitrary IMHO.

April 18, 2012 at 03:27 PM · I still remember my first hearing of his early recording of the Alban Berg concerto after 50 years. Suddenly it all made sense to me; hair stood up on the back of my neck and shivers went up my spine. However much we quibble about his style he is and always will be one of the greats.

April 19, 2012 at 02:28 PM · Amen.

April 21, 2012 at 02:46 AM · was as "one-of-a-kind" as any of the great violinists. he is from another planet. to talk about his level of 'technique' or 'musicianship' is like talking about the frame of the Mona Lisa. his playing is simply from another planet and it makes me feel there is very little to no criteria to judge it on. people that don't like him should open their minds, and forget everything they think they know about the violin. his playing comes from a lesser used part of the heart...

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