How old can you go?

March 12, 2016 at 02:53 PM · I've seen a bunch of very young violin players but, what about the old ones? Do violinists retire?

I'm curious to know if and when people's body force them to put down their instrument.

Replies (20)

March 12, 2016 at 03:33 PM · "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." That's the old (Civil War) quote General MacArthur used in his speech (to Congress, I think) after President Truman fired him.

Same is true for violinists. I play in a chamber orchestra that rehearses in the morning, so we have mostly retired people. At 81 I am not the oldest string player. We have one violinist who is 83, one 80, our principal cellist is 87.

Aaron Rosand was 87 when he played his final (professional) recital.

The ability to improve fades with age, but if you did not reach your natural peak at a younger age can continue, probably into the 60s for a violinist/violist and the 70s for a cellist.

Unfortunately we all become victims of the aging process but in different ways and at different ages, so it is actually a very individual thing. Personally, I had some physical problems that seriously affected my violin playing when I was 55 and I could not play for a year, and never was able to regain the same skill level. However, on the cello I actually continued to improve until I was 72. But I still play both instruments - and viola.


March 12, 2016 at 03:42 PM · Milstein played into his eighties; Heifetz stoppped at 72, claiming that he did not want to be heard in decline, but he also suffered from a right shoulder injury when attacked in Israel for playing the R. Srauss sonata. Menuhin made fabulous recordings of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas at 60.

I have friends who play in their eighties; if our ears and joints survive, we can benfit from all our maturity and wisdom..

March 12, 2016 at 09:13 PM · My violin teacher retired from the SF Symphony and then played in the Berkeley (California) Symphony until she was 90. She "retired" from the Berkeley Symphony not because her technique was no longer up to it, but because she didn't have the energy to attend the rehearsals followed by the performance on the same night. Her hearing was already going but she had her hearing aids optimized for the music. Her finger joints were also wearing out but with all her experience, she could work around that. She was nearly 92 when she died and I was her only "full time" student by then, but her teaching skills were still there.

March 12, 2016 at 09:31 PM · Tangential to your question:

list of oldest/longest-serving orchestral musicians

March 12, 2016 at 09:31 PM · This is a question I ask myself with some frequency as I am still learning to play at age 75. I certainly did not peak in my youth and do not think I have yet done so, but the bar on that one is not very high. I agree that it depends entirely on the individual, in music as in almost everything else, how long you can and/or want to do something. I am probably the oldest one in my orchestra and one of the few still taking lessons. A lot of my orchestra colleagues were playing major concertos in high school so it is great fun to compare notes as I struggle through some of the same repertoire.

March 12, 2016 at 09:43 PM · Totally depends on the individual. Arthritis, Alzheimer's, injuries...these can end a career sooner rather than later. Casals, on the other hand, was still playing cello beautifully into extreme old age.

March 12, 2016 at 11:52 PM · Alice, I was 69 when I started learning the violin, and had 7 years of fortnightly private lessons (like a 7-year apprenticeship, perhaps?). Two years after my last lesson I am still improving, and successfully exploring ideas like ditching the chin rest (I quit using a shoulder rest several years ago) which goes to show that my teacher has succeeded in what teachers aim for: teaching pupils to teach themselves. Currently, I am the oldest violinist in the three orchestras I play in, but there are a few cellists who are in my age group, one being in his mid-80s.

March 13, 2016 at 06:13 AM · Sorry to nitpick, but it was the Korean War, not the Civil War.

To the topic, I started playing at 61, am 66 now, and still improving (I think).

March 13, 2016 at 06:43 AM · Korean Civil war.

March 13, 2016 at 09:34 AM · Stated at age 45.

My current trajectory has me getting "pretty good" by the time I'm 106 years old.

March 13, 2016 at 05:15 PM · What is noticeable that quite a number of very good instrumentalists, including soloists, move over to conducting when they feel old enough, and many are equally eminent in their new field - this includes those from the past who are no longer with us. A good recent example is Nicholas Harnoncourt, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 86. He was a cellist with the Vienna Symphony for 17 years, and then left to become a conductor. He was one of those very instrumental in bringing the performance of Baroque music up to the high level it is today. He was working up to the end of last year, when he retired on health grounds.

March 13, 2016 at 06:36 PM · Here's Ivry Gitlis (born 1922) in concert last spring:

March 13, 2016 at 09:33 PM · At least I have something in common with a few virtuosos.

But I started playing for fun without guilt and never repented.

The violin owes me nothing.

The Doctor says I have arthritis behind my knee cap but that's the worse of it. No square dancing for me.

March 13, 2016 at 10:33 PM · Related to the subject (I'd think), it's important we take care of ourselves now, and both practice and play in a very relaxed manner. You don't even have to be of elderly age to fall prey to crippling muscular and/or nerve problems. Let’s us try to control at least what we can as we age.

March 15, 2016 at 08:59 PM · A violinist in our orchestra was playing from his wheelchair at age 92. He stopped for a couple of weeks and would probably have resumed if he hadn't died in the meantime.

I figure I have lots of time left.

March 15, 2016 at 10:20 PM · I've certainly seen players in community orchestras who are in their 80s. In general they were people who were very fine players in earlier years and remained relatively adept. Importantly, they generally had a relaxed physical approach to the instrument.

It's not unusual to see people with a tense approach start to have issues in their 40s, unfortunately.

March 16, 2016 at 12:09 AM · I play with a 92 yo violinist semi-regularly. He doesn't necessarily remember me, but he remembers his mozart and as long as I'm carrying an instrument, he lets me inside. :)

March 18, 2016 at 12:56 AM · In my former orchestra, I played with a woman who was in the orchestra from 1933 until 2012. She retired when she was 95 and passed away a couple of years later when she was 97. I used to say I wanted to be her when I grew up. She was in the orchestra for almost 80 years. When I knew her she had some issues with her eyes and being able to see the music. The next oldest person in that orchestra was in her late 80s and was almost completely deaf in her left ear, although her right ear was fine. So she could still play. After I met and talked to her about it, I started wearing an earplug in my left ear for a lot of my practice time. I want to be still playing when I'm her age, and being able to hear out of my left ear would be nice. Both of these ladies were/are still very sharp mentally.

March 18, 2016 at 05:36 PM ·

March 19, 2016 at 11:45 PM · Danish jazz violinst Svend Asmussen - who just turned 100 - was performing and recording until he had a stroke at 94!

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