Nauseating Movements

January 24, 2017 at 08:36 PM · I know this stuff is discussed often, but it seems like this generation of solo violinists are moving so much more than past generations.

For example, Joshua Bell. I really like him and I think his playing is fantastic, but I can't ever watch him play. I'm so completely turned off by the manner in which he jumps around stage and almost bends his knees so much he's sitting on the ground. (Not to mention the facial expressions)

Is there a teacher or something out there that all this movement can be pinned to? Does anyone else get nauseous when watching certain players? It's really unfortunate because Josh is off the list of people I watch play on Youtube. (which is my favourite past time)

Replies (36)

January 24, 2017 at 08:50 PM ·

January 24, 2017 at 09:01 PM · Care about the music, ignore the quirks. It's only a problem when it gets in the way of the music.

I would not recommend anyone to emulate Mr. Bell's live movements, however. It CAN be a problem when people cannot focus on the performed piece and focus too much in other distractions, like said movements. That said, you can argue that some people focus on whatever anyway (someone's dress, hairdo, violin he/she plays, etc.), distracting themselves out of the performance via their opinionated analysis. But sometimes too much movement is just too much.

There are other performers that move about but it seems a bit more natural. To each their own, however.

I most say, though, that I find the opposite-promoting a near motionless violi playing pose with religious zeal-a bit too much as well. A healthy balance should probably be attained.

January 24, 2017 at 10:36 PM · I think that moving too much shows that the performer is not completely involved with the music, although a small amount of swaying to aid certain passages (similar to Elman) I find helpful and acceptable (and I do it myself). :)

January 24, 2017 at 11:07 PM · I think movement is a really personal thing. Some players move a lot, and some move very little. Teachers can help to encourage this one way or another (especially in the technical sense of ensuring that movement is productive, or at least is not counter-productive), but only to a certain degree.

Joshua Bell's movement looks natural to me.

January 24, 2017 at 11:12 PM · It also makes it very difficult to really see what notes and how they're played, etc., when the violin is whipping around at 100kph. haha

Of course, everyone should move however is natural to them, it just limits if I'm going to watch them play or not.

January 24, 2017 at 11:21 PM · In a lesson with Ivan Galamian he encouraged me to move a quite a bit more. I tended not to. He said, "95% of the audience look. Only 5% listen."

January 24, 2017 at 11:57 PM · Maybe Galamian is where the encouragement came from, and Josh too it too much to heart. haha

January 24, 2017 at 11:57 PM · Maybe Galamian is where the encouragement came from, and Josh too it too much to heart. haha

January 25, 2017 at 12:22 AM · I agree with Lydia, it's a personal thing. Music-making is more than playing the instrument but it engages the entire person physically and emotionally, so for some violinists, they have to move. If I can't watch, I close my eyes. In some cases though, I find certain players' movement, such as Hilary Hahn and Janine Jansen, is a joy to watch.

January 25, 2017 at 01:15 AM · Only one Violinist I've seen live who was too much and that was Sarah Chang when she began reemergence back into the spotlight. Oh my was that and still is way too excessive to me. She's not exactly uh... flat chested so I kept worrying about the kids in the audience and what was surely going to happen one wrong turn.

Josh's movement have been fine as that's just how he plays and used to it after these many years, though there have been a couple of times it looked more painful than passionate... I'm just glad he has a better violin these days to really show his range.

January 25, 2017 at 01:29 PM · On one of Heifetz's televised master-classes (they're all on YouTube) he makes an acerbic comment to one of the students who was bobbing up and down bending his knees while playing.

January 25, 2017 at 01:44 PM · Don't get me wrong, I love movement. It's almost necessary, but it can get ridiculous very quickly. I absolutely love the way Hillary moves.

January 25, 2017 at 01:54 PM · Rather than what to avoid, think about what to emulate.

I would call it "stage presence." Take a look at Hillary Hahn's stage presence. And go to YouTube and watch (I mean WATCH) Francescatti, Menuhin, Grumiaux, Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, and all the other greats of the past (and present) for whom we have videos.

All of these (and more) are a model of stage presence. Do they make body movements and an occasional slight facial expression? Of course they do (even Heifetz does - once in a while). But it isn't an exaggerated theatrical affectation. It is a genuine and unobtrusive physical expression of what they are focusing on, feeling, and communicating through the music itself. They don't let it get in the way of the music.

You want exaggerated body movements and facial grimaces? Just watch rock and pop stars and bands. If classical music is headed in that direction, we're in trouble. That ain't music, folks; that's show business.

So, learn from the greats, not from the ones who may be great violinists but who overdo facial grimaces and exaggerated body movements. It's a distraction. It's the music that should be the focus of our attention.

Who's my favorite when it comes to stage presence? Zino Francescatti. As time goes by, I appreciate his playing more and more and more. And just watching his stage manner as he plays almost anything is not only an added treat, but a model for how to behave in front of an audience, even if you're not playing a violin but giving a speech.

So, watch and learn.

January 25, 2017 at 04:29 PM · I disagree all non-classical performances are "show business"-it's just how some music is. I do agree that nothing should ideally obstruct the music-making and receiving process.

Funny, I find Mr. Bell "moves more" (for what it's worth) than Ms. Chang, though she does have a few theatrical elements to her performance. That said, and ince more, "it's the music, stupid."

Vengerov used to move more before his injury, and now plays more "normally", but is still great.

To be fair, there are very few performers whose "movements" bother/distract me nowadays, though I would be wary of over exaggerating bodily motion, erring on the side of caution, and noting they should be inextricable from the music-making process (be "natural".)

January 25, 2017 at 06:22 PM · Joshua Bell is hard to watch, but as he moves a lot I bet he is in good physical condition lol Meaning that his body is way more active than many others. But I prefer watching Ms Mutter with the German modest precision, which does not include her clothes, I mean the modesty part ;)

January 25, 2017 at 07:18 PM · My wild guess would be that someone (or many people) once told Bell that he looked very stiff. So maybe he tried to compensate for the rigidity above the shoulders (which is still there), by getting swoopier which the knees?

The motions don't really cut it for me either.

January 25, 2017 at 09:44 PM · "Adalberto Valle-Rivera, I find Mr. Bell "moves more" (for what it's worth) than Ms. Chang, though she does have a few theatrical elements to her performance. That said, and ince more, "it's the music, stupid.""

Maybe find a new phrase as directing this at myself or anybody doesn't belong anywhere.

January 26, 2017 at 02:50 AM · John A,

This wasn't directed at anyone-was playing a joke on the political slogan from the nineties "it's the economy, stupid". All was meant is that music is all that matters-far be it from me to insult anyone in here. I don't mind whether you love/hate any performer, nor call people names as a rule.'s_the_economy,_stupid#Legacy

That said, I am very sorry I made you feel horrible with the statement.

January 26, 2017 at 04:26 AM · This guy tops them all

My wild guess would be that Josh Bell's movements have evolved organically over time and he does not think about it that much.

January 26, 2017 at 06:55 AM · Thank you, Mr. Deck, for bringing that sublime video to our attention. Truly impressive, so to say.

January 26, 2017 at 10:04 AM · A little bit off topic.

Mr. Chuanyun Li is well known for his "crazy" style. Even if I'm not always quite sure about the "musicality" in his interpretations (and also about his mental status while performing from time to time...), I really do apreciate his habit of jazzing up well-known pieces and remembering us that classical music can also be fun, especially in his encores. And this doesn't feel just like sacrilegious show to me. I'm sure many people don't like this attitude (even for me it's often just too much), and sure enough it may not be for everybodys taste, but I have to admit that somehow I do like what he did to Paganini No.24 on this video (start at 3:35, or even better at 4:03):

January 26, 2017 at 10:08 AM · And of course, there is Lindsey Stirling :)

January 26, 2017 at 03:53 PM · I thought we all agreed to never mention Lindsey Stirling on It is a violin site after all, not a ballet site.... hehe.

January 26, 2017 at 05:30 PM · I don't mind moving in general...for instance Jacqueline de Pre, I can't get enough of how she expressed herself. I love Hillary Hahn and Julia Fischer's playing, they are masters...but they both have a tendency to sway their bodies on the beat, around phrases, in a kind of metronomic way...once I started noticing that, it became hard not to be annoyed by it. I'm probably insane and alone in this, but I'd much rather see some shake rattle and roll a la Josh Bell then that predictable swaying. Anybody else notice that?

January 26, 2017 at 05:34 PM · Nuuska: OMG!! I loved it. I thought something was wrong with my computer screen until I realized, no, his suit is studded with sparkly things.

January 26, 2017 at 06:21 PM · Sometimes I wonder if some of the rhythmic swaying has to do with the fact that performers knees are tethered together by very narrow gowns or skirts. Maybe having fewer degrees of freedom in the legs causes them to make up for it elsewhere?

January 26, 2017 at 06:28 PM · Here you go:

January 26, 2017 at 06:47 PM · Erin, I would have walked out...

January 26, 2017 at 08:22 PM · This whole discussion gives me a great idea of how we can all make a million dollars. Let's create a hit television show called "Dancing With The Star Violinists."

Wadday think???




January 26, 2017 at 08:33 PM · Great idea Sander. Lifetime achievement award for Máiréad Nesbitt.

January 27, 2017 at 11:10 PM · The very concept of a professional musicians actually enjoying themselves while playing "Classical Music." What are they thinking while playing to those packed to the rafters concert halls where not a single grey hair can be seen?

January 28, 2017 at 12:23 AM · I started watching those videos that Paul and Nuuska shared, just to take a quick peek, and ended up watching both videos all the way through. That guy clearly has the chops, and he just doesn't give a sh*t. It's funny, entertaining and awesome!

January 28, 2017 at 03:10 AM · Mr Li was the winner of a major competition at 11 and studied with Delay at Juilliard. He has emotional issues which manifests in self destructive behaviors.

January 28, 2017 at 09:03 AM · It's sad, because it should be treatable-but I don't know the whole story. Must be a way nowadays to help him without having to lose his true self to overly strong medications.

January 28, 2017 at 04:47 PM · When he's fit, he is really awesome. Technically brilliant, and completely throwing bis whole soul into the music. Nothing at all to laugh about.

Unfortunately, despite his perfection in violin playing, he suffers from a severe lack of self-confidence and depression. In an interview he once said something like he was good in absolutely nothing except violin playing, that he neither was handsome nor sportful, before performances he might spend hours locking himself away because of stage anxiety etc. He's also rumored having problems with alcohol, sometimes even on stage. (There is a very sad video on YouTube that shows him collapsing on stage during a concert.) In China he is quite a star in classical music and very well known, is invited to talkshows on major TV channels and so on. Maybe for TV and yellow press his being an enfant terrible is even more attractive than the fact how a stellar musician he is, but his personal problems are holding him back from a real international career - for the reputable stages in America and Europe he just seems too unreliable.

I really do hope that he can fix that. And I really believe that if we had more artists with his approach to classical music, it would not seem so elitist and bourgeois anymore and would be attractive to a larger audience, without "lowering the bar". Certain pieces do not necessarily have to be played the same interpretation over and over again - even if you listen to old recordings, it seems that there was more freedom of interpretation some eighty years ago - and there IS place left for humour and even a little it of crossover. Mr. Chuanyun Li might be capable of anything. And he's still young...

January 29, 2017 at 05:54 AM · Aldaberto, it's all good. I read it since it was direct response to my opinion and was dumbfounded and a bit shocked to see that towards me. Glad you cleared it up.

Mr Li is brilliant when he is mentally fit and quite possibly one the most sound left hand technique in the world. It's quite a sad story with him.

Erin Sabrini, that was hard to watch more than a minute of. Really needed a NSFW tag on it;)

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