How do you compliment a violinist after you heard his/her beautiful performance?

July 20, 2013 at 01:56 PM · I attend concerts fairly often so naturally I get to meet some awesome violinists. I tend to get gushy and say a bunch of silly things to them after their performance, but one thing I don’t say is about their instrument because I don't want to risk insulting the performer, even though sometimes I think a great violin does contribute to the music a great deal. Discuss.

Replies (23)

July 20, 2013 at 03:40 PM · I heard someone saying after a Milstein performance to him, something like, "Your violin sounded really good, who bought it for you?" Let's put it this way, his reaction was not very favorable to say the least. He did point out that the violin was not given to him and that he paid his own hard-earned money for it.

July 20, 2013 at 05:28 PM · I think you'd likely get an even more positive and interested reaction from a soloist if you also asked him or her about the bow they were using. The bow - to the general public is only too often an invisible part of the performance.

July 20, 2013 at 06:08 PM · why would you want to praise the violin after a performance and not just the violinist?

not a violinist, but a musician nonetheless, celibidache mentioned in an interview that the best remark he ever got after a concert was "that's it!".

July 20, 2013 at 06:21 PM · After you have worked your tail off for weeks or months preparing a concert, and poured your heart and soul into it, what kind of comment would you like to receive? Personally, I don't want a comment about my instrument.

July 20, 2013 at 07:34 PM · I've often thought of informing the questioner that my violin is crap, but that I was playing like a god. On the other hand, I did just go through a period of looking at lots of instruments, so being told that I have decent judgment isn't a terrible outcome.

With respect to Celi's remark, it was Milton Babbitt (I think) who used to say to friends and colleagues after concerts "You did it again!" Which covered pretty much any sort of opinion that he might have had.

July 20, 2013 at 09:38 PM · You can say - after complimenting their playing, something like - "I'm very interested in instruments - may I ask what violin and bow you were using?" and then "Your violin sounded beautiful - in YOUR hands!"

Let me add, as an active performer who just completed a mini tour, playing solo and chamber music, that performers can recognize a sincerely meant compliment - even if it comes out a bit jumbled!

July 21, 2013 at 12:06 AM · at my next concert, please just give me money

July 21, 2013 at 12:45 AM · Interesting! I can understand that a professional might be bored that people think it's just the instrument... on the other hand, they should know that the general audiance do not know nothing about violin technique and how it can make a violin sound good. So when someone is telling you your violin is awsome, they are telling you that YOU are awsome. Not that bad!

Personally, as an amateur, if I get a comment on my violin or my sound I get all excited because I worked so hard to put the most "golden" setup I can and to find a mellow/sweet voiced instrument. I'm a sound maniac and can tell openly that I worked hard on this aspect because I'm not the most agile/virtuosic out there. But I have an ability to hear things that (I think)is beyond my level so if I get a comment on this, I tell myself that I've well done my job :)

I'll think about what's the best comment I did. Me too, I find myself always saying bravo, it's beautiful etc. I said to Perlman he was very courageous after telling his playing was wonderful. Probably millions of people told him this but it is so... true!

July 21, 2013 at 02:04 AM · I think its best to accept all compliments gracefully, even if they are off base - the person giving them had to make themselves vulnerable to do so and was obviously well meaning.

I know of an artist (oil painter) who would regularly attack anyone that complimented his work with lines like 'I guess you think it will go with your pink couch eh?'.

July 21, 2013 at 02:28 AM · It must get very boring to be complimented all the time especially if "ignorant", albeit well meaning. I wouldn't know myself, literally being sworn at, yes, compliments rarely.

All which reminds me of Ida Haendel. She was asked for a photo after a concert once and wanted to know if the person wanted it to hang in their toilet!

July 21, 2013 at 02:38 AM · I'm always happy to get any genuine interaction (as opposed to the other person trying to impress or "educate" me). I think that if you give a genuine compliment about someone's performance, a compliment about the instrument is fine too. After all, I'm happy when someone feels that my instrument has helped translate the piece effectively. It's only when someone comes up right after I'm done and immediately starts in on the violin that I want to roll my eyes!

July 21, 2013 at 03:19 AM · Maybe in some cases people just want to interact with a piece of the world they can't normally inhabit.

July 21, 2013 at 03:39 AM · "I think its best to accept all compliments gracefully, even if they are off base - the person giving them had to make themselves vulnerable to do so and was obviously well meaning." - Elise

Absolutely! As a kid I once heard Menhuin live and came backstage to get his autograph. To every compliment someone gave him, he responded with a simple and elegant "thank you". A good lesson!

Cut to my junior or senior year in high school, where I was concertmaster of our orchestra. A fellow student performed a piano concerto with us. Afterwards I complimented him. His response? "But what do you know about piano playing?" Nice? I recall having the presence of mind at 16 or 17 to tell him that while I didn't know about piano technique per se, I was enough of a musician to know if the notes were in place, and if the playing was musical. Years later he won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn competition and is somewhat well-known. I hope he's learned to accept a compliment better.

July 21, 2013 at 08:00 AM · Elise, interesting point on being vulnerable. I agree that the person gives compliment can in some way be vulnerable, especially in the English speaking world. Doing the right thing usually does put one in somewhat disadvantaged position. Fortunately the violinists I really like, including some big names, are all super humble and sweet. When I give them compliments, I feel like I will make them blush if I am not careful. There is a mixed sense of vulnerability on both sides, if you know what I mean.

July 21, 2013 at 08:40 AM · There is definitely a certain prestige associated with saying "Yes I play on a Stradivari". Even poor old Guarneri can't compete with that unfortunately. Superficial as it may be, just the fact that ones uses a Strad can even play a vital role of a violinist's career. For a long time I thought it would be a fun side effect of having a Strad.

However, I was lucky enough to use a fine old italian instrument for about a year and what it made me realize was that what I actually want is to have a great Strad and when asked what I play on, say it's something very average, nothing special. Then I feel like I have done my part to direct audiences to the music itself and not distractions of prestige or other superficial and pop culture themes.

July 21, 2013 at 09:45 AM · Just bring them a cheque for 5000USD.

It's amazing how much artists appreciate money.

Years ago gypsies would play for hrs in Budapest for a few forints.

July 21, 2013 at 05:51 PM · Yixi that's right! People think artists will be these super social beasts used to public attention and compliments but in fact, in order to get there, some really were locked up many hours per day with their violin and protected from the world's crazy fans and craziness (in a way) :) Well, that is my impression (I may be wrong)

Some might have been raised in countries where people automatically go to them to congratulate them, others maybe come from countries where people are less outgoing and the pride comes from inside.

Sometimes, engligh is not the mother's tongue of both, the artist and the fan. Of course, both feel a little stupid/awkward in these moments! But sincere people will understand the good will of the person saying the compliment I'm sure...

July 21, 2013 at 05:58 PM · Just "your performance was wonderful." No one goes to a basketball play and goes "oh, your shoes made you really shoot and defend well." Great game... great performance.

July 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM · "I know of an artist (oil painter) who would regularly attack anyone that complimented his work with lines like 'I guess you think it will go with your pink couch eh?'."

Elise, the sad truth is that every painter has been told, way too often, "I'd love to buy that painting, but it just doesn't go with my couch." One well-known painter here was rumoured to keep a stash of throw pillows in a back room. If someone trotted out the "doesn't match the couch" line he would go in back, grab a pillow in a color similar to the painting, and ask if they would buy the painting if he threw the pillow in on the deal!

August 11, 2013 at 01:11 AM · Of course if you are not famous or don't think of yourself as in an upper echelon of violin playing but are fortunate to have a good instrument, if, at the end of a performance, someone asks what your instrument is, it could be taken as a compliment in that your playing perhaps was worthy of or rose to the level of the instrument you are playing on. By the same token, if you have a known reputation and you are well regarded by your colleagues an inquiry at the end of a performance about the instrument and or bow on which you are playing can definitely be seen as a compliment also. At the very least, even if you didn't feel you played well and someone still makes a positive remark about your instrument, you can at least feel you had good taste in choosing to buy it.

August 11, 2013 at 06:58 PM · This discussion reminded me of a famous story about Brahms. He was in the audience for a performance of one of his string quartets. After the performance, the violist tried asking Brahms whether he liked this about the performance, and that about the performance, and so forth. Finally, when he asked, "Tell me, did you like the tempo?" Brahms responded, "Yes, especially yours."

In this era of constant, undiplomatic, and overdone positive and negative feedback from anyone to anyone and about anything, the "compliment" I am most proud of was years ago, when I was privileged to be in a small, private audience of a very famous string quartet.

They played, among other things, the Bartok 4th Quartet, one of my favorites. After the concert, I got a chance to have a few words with the cellist. I said, "That Bartok has to be one of the most beautiful things ever written." The cellist beamed from ear to ear, and started talking to me.

So, compliment something you like about the piece of music. The kudos for the performance are indirectly and diplomatically assumed. This, for most of us I think, is the best way to be complimented. It's not about "me": it's about the music. A good performer knows he or she is good; they don't need you to tell them.

OK, now the violin. Why compliment the violin at all? For what purpose? I'm not sure I see a way to compliment the fiddle without the fiddler, no? Now, if you don't care so much about offending the violinist, it's a little easier:

"That's a heck of a violin. It actually made you sound good."

"That violin might sound more full if it was in better hands."

"What a violin!! What a violin!! Thank you for playing it."

"Where did you get that violin. It is MARVELOUS."

"How did someone like you ever get your hands on a fine violin like that one?"

"Loved the violin. I'll send you an email about your performance."

Which reminds me of another story. Right after WWI (in which Fritz Kreisler was a medic for the Austrian army), Kreisler made his return to Carnegie Hall. Reviews were good, except for one critic who said that the only reason Kreisler sounded good was because he plays a Stradivarius. The next night, after Kreisler's first piece and the audience's generous applause, Kreisler ceremoniously smashed his violin on the stage, and announced to a stunned audience, "I shall now play my Stradivarius."



August 12, 2013 at 04:57 PM · Sandy, that was one of the most insightful, tasteful and fun posts I’ve read for a long time, and I didn’t even bother to think what kid of fancy keyboard you used! Thank you!

Indirect complement makes so much sense! Come to think of it, each time when I finished my performance, I’d rather hear people telling me how much they love the pieces than comments about my playing, as I tend to be self-critical like most violinists so I don’t believe all the great words people say to me, but if people like the music, that’s all good. I also like to hear how it sounded in distance, as this is something I couldn’t judge myself.

Ronal, I agree it’s a tricky business to ask about the instrument since there’s no way we can get into the performer’s mind. Last week I went one of the concerts that provide preconcert talk, during which a member of the audience did ask about the cellist’s instrument. I thought that was a safe time to do that.

Eric, I’m still pondering over your comment on interacting with a piece of the world they can't normally inhabit. Hmmm, as deep into the music as they play, I believe performers all want to communicate with the audience during and after a performance. But some violin players, such as myself, prefer to play or practice just for one's own soul, may just prefer what you suggested. What do you think?

August 13, 2013 at 01:04 AM · Sorry, in my attempts to be brief I guess sometimes I can be inscrutable too.

My comment was really expressing the hope that compliments be taken graciously, as the exchange is as much about the person complimenting as the one receiving said compliment and the former, however silly their comments may seem, may just be wanting to connect in some brief and temporary way.

This is from the perspective of someone who, while loving music, has, for assorted reasons, only been to 3 concerts in the last 14 years.

I have only ever spoken to one performer after a piano recital (about the music) and his face lit up and he was very forthcoming, so I agree with Sandy.

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