Opinions on Maxim Vengerov

August 2, 2004 at 04:30 AM · I am wondering what everyone thinks of this violinist both as a performer and as a person. I absolutely think he is one of the finest violinists alive today. I also want to know what he is like live in the concert hall, not on television, but actually sitting there and listening.

Replies (128)

August 2, 2004 at 12:18 PM · I agree with you that, from the younger generation of violinists, I think that he is on the level of Repin and Shaham.

August 2, 2004 at 01:03 PM · I have seen Vengerov live....its amazing, he holds the audience's attention like no-one else.

I agree with you in thinking that he is one of todays greatest,and he seems such a nice person too.

August 2, 2004 at 01:21 PM · hmm... for me it really depends on what he plays. for standard repetoire pieces (i saw him do the lalo), i prefer almost anyone else (shaham, mutter, hahn, etc) because i don't like the way he attempts these familiar pieces. he just came off as too flasy and melodramatic for the performance to seem genuine to me. but, a few years ago, i did see him play all of the ysaye solo sonatas (which obviously are technique oriented) and i was quite blown away his interpretations. just my 2c.

matthew feldman

August 2, 2004 at 03:14 PM · I saw him in a live concert. He played a Bach Sonata (Violin and Piano) Beethoven Kreutzer , Brahms 3rd and many encores.

In my oppinion it wasn't as good as I expected from hearing CDs. The sound didn't carry so well and it wasn't so amazing as on CDs (though I heard that on some concerts his sound is amazing). He played as if to please the common audience (moving a lot, face expressions...) and it worked but he didn't move me except for the Meditation by Thais which was very good.

I think that even the Bazzini he played in the end could have been a lot more interesting and beautiful.

I am really interested in hearing what others think about his live performances.

August 2, 2004 at 08:48 PM · I went to the recital where he played 4 Ysaye Sonatas, the "Echo" Sonata, and Bach's "Tocatta and Fugue." The same program he recorded on CD. It was really good.

August 2, 2004 at 09:17 PM · I'm going to see him tomorrow, so I'll let you know what I think.


August 3, 2004 at 06:15 PM · CARL, YOU'RE SEEING HIM TODAY!? Oh my goodness, you are such a lucky duck! Tell us about it!! =)

August 3, 2004 at 09:55 PM · Just came back from the concert.

He play Britten's Violin Concerto and Ravel's Tzigane. He sure can play notes, but I don't think he plays in the best of taste (the opposite in fact). In general there was far too much Vengerov and far too little Britten/Ravel (though admitedly I don't know the Britten very well).


August 4, 2004 at 02:16 AM · I feel likewise Carl, Vengerov is *wretch* great.

August 4, 2004 at 10:59 AM · So is Vengerov a democrat or a republican?

Sorry. Couldn't resist. :-)

August 4, 2004 at 05:36 PM · He's an artist.

Nuff said. :)

August 5, 2004 at 06:22 PM · one of the best points made. cheers andrew..

August 6, 2004 at 03:20 AM · Well, we're pissed out here in Singapore. He was supposed to play the Britten when he gets out here in Oct... and now he had it changed to the more unadventurous and safer Beethoven.

He just doesn't strike me as a lyrical violinist. Totally torn up the Prokofiev 1st in his CD. Yucks.

August 6, 2004 at 04:15 PM · I didn't see Vengerov at the Proms though I have in the past but I heard him (I prefer to listen to him rather than watch). I also know the Britten very well and I thought it was one of the best performances of it that I've heard - live anyway....... Tzigane isn't a tasteful piece and the Bazzini certainly isn't. His wit in the latter was conveyed over the radio however, without being able to see what was going on. I think that's no mean achievement..... The cheers he received reminded me of those that Perlman received at a similar age. In some ways their playing is not dissimilar. Basically, they can do anything they like and do. You either like it or you don't but you have to admire it.......it's not the playing of mere mortals.....

August 6, 2004 at 04:19 PM · Oh yeah and as a person, in interviews I've heard etc, Vengerov, like Perlman just comes across as a nice bloke who is not at all bigheaded about his talents.

August 6, 2004 at 07:22 PM · How in the world can you possibly say the Beethoven is safer and unadventurous? I'll quote Isaac Stern: "The opening is the most terrifying 60 seconds of your life."

August 7, 2004 at 04:33 PM · Maybe Colin means safer from the point of view of the audience rather than the fiddler. Britten is a bit "off the beaten track" compared to Beethoven. After all, pretty much EVERYONE knows the Beethoven. Not everyone knows the Britten....

August 8, 2004 at 11:02 PM · I really don't like Vengerov at all... he is one of those violinists that never scratches unintentionally. The only problem is, he does it on purpose all the time...

August 9, 2004 at 09:43 AM · I'm sure he'll be REEEEEEALLY upset to hear that!!!

August 9, 2004 at 02:04 PM · Carl, I went to the same concert as you. I thought the Britten was excellent, as was the Bazzini.

August 9, 2004 at 03:41 PM · I've only heard his records but I think they are brilliant. I think his technique sounds very neat but that is most likely due to editing. I would love to see him live-where do you find out where he's performing? On his website?


September 27, 2004 at 07:53 PM · i dont really like Vengerov...i mean his playing and i wouldnt say hes like shaham, or even reger

September 28, 2004 at 02:21 AM · I like Maxim very much. With the help of www.maximvengerov.org you can get to know Maxim. I

have never seen Maxim in person but based on what others say and by cd/video clips he is amazing more so in person.

I respect him very much.

September 28, 2004 at 04:29 AM · Well come to Singapore.. he's doing the terrifying Beethoven on 16 Oct.. I'm still going and hanging on for encores. I understand he plays encores all the time?

September 29, 2004 at 04:04 AM · I don't like him at all either. His faces and movements are so disturbing and distracting that if you're watching him it kind of diverts your attention from how the music actually sounds which is in my opinion kind of bland. To me they seem really fake and just a show. His playing, as well as his movements are really exaggerated. Even with the Ysaye which I must admit he does really well technically but interpretation wise is a bit too exaggerated - it seems like he's playing to deaf people. I've never seen him live but at www.maximvengerov.org I've seen alot of videos and some of them are full of errors and sloppiness. Of course, I'm just pointing out the bad things. His technique is pretty good but I think his intense movements make it look better than it is. I disagree that he's on the level of Shaham. Anywho... if anyone wants to see a really awesome bass player go on www.maximvengerov.org then click on Videos & DVDs and click on Monti: Czardas under TV Appearances. The bass player is cleaner than Vengerov! Back to the first subject, I think he has alot of potential and if he'd concentrate more on music than movements and facial expressions he would be better.

September 29, 2004 at 05:05 AM · Gosh Enosh, tosh! Cosh.

September 29, 2004 at 03:24 PM · haha, Vengerov. He makes the worst faces!!!! I was sitting on the highest balcony, and i could see his grotesque expressions clear as day. He's okay, but he does a lot of editing on his recordings, so the scratching comes as a bit of a shock. I feel like his sound doesn't project enough. And i wonder why he plays Lalo so often.....

September 29, 2004 at 03:57 PM · I'm usually a big fan of his. I'm not a fan of his sibelius DVD, but most often I really enjoy what he does with the music. I'm really sick of the "standard" sound of all violin concertos. They all sound the same, no individual character to them. Its nice to see a bit of originality to some performances (even if it is not always to my taste). As long as its in-tune!!

September 29, 2004 at 04:13 PM · I happen to turn on PBS to see the new york philharmonic begin the beethoven violin concerto with maxim vengerov as soloist. as of yet, I had only heard a few recordings which struck me as cartoonish due to his utter technical facility and flamboyant emotionality. but at the first entrance of the violin solo, I was struck by his absolute clarity and purity of sound. the performance is brilliant to say the least. the facial expressions though distracting at first, over time served to be more obvious indications of his often subtle yet complicated phrasings. I have become a devout fan since seeing the televised performance...

September 29, 2004 at 04:56 PM · I have to agree with Michele on this. I saw the performance on PBS as well, and I was struck mostly by the effortlessness of his changes in color and character. There was a particular moment in the first movement, at the beginning of the development, that stopped my breath. And several others after that, as well.

My only real criticism of the performance would be the cadenzas that he wrote. They were clever, but didn't move me all that much. I have to admit, though, that I'm tempted to write cadenzas for my own performance of it as well, if only because the Kreislers are so damn tricky. All those fifths in the 3rd mvt. Kreisler just drive me up a wall.

September 29, 2004 at 08:03 PM · Has anyone noticed this Right Pinky finger? Its almost like it becomes locked straight when he reaches the frog, then it suddenly pops loose as he changes to down bow. I've never seen this before (or maybe I just never noticed anyone do it before).

September 29, 2004 at 08:14 PM · I saw him perform with the NY Philharmonic also, on tv (at the gym while walking on the treadmill so I couldn't hear as well as I would have liked, but I stopped at several points just to listen. We don't have tv at home so this is the only way I could hear the program). I personally like him even better than Shaham. I didn't really notice any scractches just a couple of maybe two unintential missed notes, that is one was a bit screechy and out of tune and the other was not recognizable for what it was supposed to be. but otherwise I thought he played quite well.

I thought the fact that he composed his own cadenza showed what a real artist he is and I personally think that it's about time we went back to composing cadenzas where they are intended.

I thought the cadenza was the high point of the first movement. (I couldn't stay for the second and thirds movements, unfortunately).

Admittedly, his outfit was slightly on the garish side? Black lace or something? I am a traditionalist and like the tuxedo or a black cape with red silk lining, usually reserved for playing Paganini.

His facial expressions weren't really that distracting and some of them had to do with the way the violin was pressing up against his face.

He had a similar left arm and shoulder stance to Menuhin, there was a lot of solidity but relaxation, like a magnetized pincer.

His sound I thought was very pure, nothing to offend, definitely in the new school but I thought with great beauty.

And I thought the whole interpretaton (which I dont' know if was Mazel's or Vengerov's) of the Beethoven was really interesting--they emphasized Beethoven as a classical composer, which he really was, and Vengerov's playing was stylistically perfection for that approach.

Hope I get to hear him in person some day.

September 29, 2004 at 09:04 PM · Actually, his outfit looked to me like a very fancy guayabera -- for us gringos, that's a Cuban shirt.

There were a few minor slips -- one of the turns in the first movement turned the wrong way, things like that. Nothing that would detract from the beauty of the performance itself.

I was saddened to hear that he's going to take a break from his schedule for the next year or two, but if I were in the position of playing 100 concerts a year, I'd want to take a break too.

September 29, 2004 at 10:36 PM · He's performing tomorrow night in the UK somewhere as I heard on the radio- i just hope he doesn't stop performing by the time I actually can go and see him-prob when I get a decent job-that is like 10 years away!

September 30, 2004 at 03:05 AM · Ha-ha. "Subtle." That's a good joke.

September 30, 2004 at 03:15 AM · Greetings,

subtle I have trouble with.

I was just worried, since Mr. Vengerov does actually read this list, that you might have hurt his feelings,



September 30, 2004 at 01:02 PM · Has anyone heard his first CD released by Peter Biddulph? He plays the Schubert Fantasy, Last Rose of Summer amongst others...he is only 16 and plays decades beyond his years. The Schubert may be one of the most difficullt pieces in the repertoire, but his finesse and elegance is quite astounding.

Many people are influenced by his unsightly facial grimaces which at first bothered me, then you just learn to ignore such "actions". Whether these actions are genuine or not, what comes out of his fiddle is quite amazing. He certainly does not have the individuality of Heifetz or Oistrakh, but one can easily see the wonderful talent he has. Just focus on the music...

September 30, 2004 at 01:35 PM · Regardless whether Maxim reads the posts about him here or not, I think that criticism in general should be constructive. Maxim's facial expressions are very similar to the ones he had as a kid. That is easy to see on the videos.

My misgivings re: Maxim's interpretations are that he seems to be always overdoing everything, as if aiming for overkill, so it becomes uncomfortable to listen.

September 30, 2004 at 06:39 PM · vengerov is so hit and miss for me, his ysaye is awesome i think, really gets teh virtuosic element. his tzigane, for instance, i hate.

September 30, 2004 at 08:37 PM · I have a couple of Vengerov's CDs, and I must say that they are of the highest quality. I recently bought his CD of the Tchaikovsky and Glazunov Violin Concertos, and I can hardly imagine more beautiful performances! Absolute cleanliness, a beautiful sound and phenomenal phrasing.

I recently had the honour of being able to watch Vengerov in rehearsal(He was playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto) and in concert, and I must say that while the rehearsal was a bit of a disaster, the concert was PERFECT! I also got to meet him, and he is a very nice man, signing the Tchaik/Glaz CD and having a photo taken with me.

I also have the great privilege that in November I am playing in an orchestra that is going on a tour of Spain with Vengerov, playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the Bach Double Violin Concerto (with a pupil of his).

I will be sure to post more about how that went when I am finished the tour.

September 30, 2004 at 10:36 PM · I'm going to dare anyone to say that Vengerov doesn't deserve the fame and recognition he's got. He is definitely an artist and serves the music.

That being said, I must say that I actually didn't like his Beethoven. Much too slow for my taste and much too one dimensional. I especially didn't like the bowings. It was too straightforward, which is something you can't do with Beethoven since it's very straightforward to begin with.

October 1, 2004 at 01:10 AM · agreed.

October 1, 2004 at 02:05 AM · I do focus on the music and in my opinion it's nothing special and really exaggerated. Like I said, he has potential to be much better and maybe by the time he's 40 he'll be really great. But to be honest his style of playing is not my cup of tea and I doubt that it'll really change much to fit in my cup.

October 1, 2004 at 06:17 AM · OK Brian, I think he's over rated. That he is so popular seems to be symptomatic of the times; drama, self-indulgence and shameless showyness sells. Vengerov is a violinist who really can play notes like no other violinist, but he uses them to showcase himself, not the music.


October 1, 2004 at 02:27 PM · Symptomatic of the times, indeed, Carl. It's the greatest talents that are most susceptible to losing themselves. After all, they can do so many things, and tend to be oversensitive to what is fashionable. I'm sure that psychological maturity is critical for an artist. Lara St. John is a case in point. When I hear Maxim, I don't get the feeling that he has found his voice yet, but he is searching, composing his cadenzas and studying improvisation.

October 1, 2004 at 03:28 PM · I have to say, that as far as technical ability, Mr. Vengerov is definitly one of the best of the best. He seems very free... no bowing pattern too akward... no fingering to spread out. However, his use of his technical mastery in pieces could be much better. For example in his CD titled 'Vengerov' he plays Ysaye's Ballad and it was pretty good until the dramatic ending staring with the repeating D's. Someone said he kind of "overkills", I think that's pretty close. I myself could not imagine every being able to master all the areas of violin technique like he has; but musically, he could use some enlightment; Milstein always enlightens me. :-)

October 2, 2004 at 11:39 PM · maxim vengerov is an entertainer. let's not confuse ourselves here. the press wants someone who can sell the music to nonclassical listeners and maxim has the charisma it takes to get this music to people who don't normally listen to it.

i'm not one to judge him. like any other soloist i think he excels at certain pieces and fails to convince me in others, but to me, every player is like that.

October 3, 2004 at 03:04 PM · I aggree with dw. Vengerov is definetely a crowd pleaser, but he does have a nice "classy" sound to my ears. They are some recordings of his that impress me, and some that are just blah. Personally, I would rather listen to him play just about anything, then the other mainstream, U.S. violinists, like Bell, Midori, Shaham, and Chang, who all sound tacky, and wishy-washy to my ears.(With the exception of Perlman, and Hahn).

October 3, 2004 at 06:22 PM · A lot of you guys think Vengerov is a crowd pleaser. But if you watch/listen to his interviews, he always talks about the deep feelings that music allows him to express. You can tell that he isn't just some scumbag--he actually loves music and he feels it while he performs. Just because his facial expressions are weird/distracting at times doesn't mean he does it to please the crowd.

October 3, 2004 at 06:59 PM · So overall, we "O loving hate" him!



October 3, 2004 at 06:57 PM · Of course, in interviews no one is going to claim to love performing because they're an egoist and love all the attention they get. And I'm sure he does love the music he plays - but I'm also sure he loves pleasing the crowd at least as much.

Personally, I think that a player like Midori is a far more subtle, restrained, refined musician than Vengerov. She goes through no crowd pleasing antics, and, unlike Vengerov, never tries to make the encores the centerpiece of the concert.

In fact, Midori has written a rather interesting essay on interpretation, in the 'Random Musings' section of her website: http://www.gotomidori.com/english/index.html

I suppose a thing like this is too much to do with taste - but most people would agree that Vengerov is no Oistrakh.


November 24, 2004 at 07:49 PM · Maxim Vengerov is one of the nicest people you could meet apart from being a gift from heaven. You must go and see him perform in the concert hall to understand what I mean.

November 25, 2004 at 03:44 AM · I have new respect for Mr. Vengerov after buying his cd of the Britten concerto. That recording really contains some beautiful playing. And its not an easy piece either!

January 3, 2005 at 09:35 PM · I had the opportunity to turn the pages of Vengerovs pianist few months ago. What irritated me the most was the fact that, after playing 1 brahms sonata, he only played encores: wieniawsky, paganini, schindler's list, meditation of thaïs, ... all very impressive, but it gave me the idea that he indeed is a bit of a public pleaser, searching for effect. Nevertheless, he is a very nice and gentle person, as I could conclude out of the little conversation I had with him after the concert. It left me with a double feeling ...

January 4, 2005 at 10:55 PM · Hi,

This may be personal, but I highly respect Maxim Vengerov. I have seen him once in a recital that was simply magical. He is a highly intense artist and musician, and I find that his many physical things are born out of him, and not artificial at all. A highly engaging personality.


February 19, 2005 at 01:27 AM · How interesting to hear all of your reactions to seeing and hearing Vengerov.

If I bought tickets to hear the great tenors I would probably not want to sit in the front row. A great deal of physicallity and extra noise goes into carrying their sound to the back of the hall. It is my same responce to Maxim. He feels an obligation to send his music to the fans at the back of the hall. After all they bought most of the tickets and the recordings.

IF you think that Vengerov is noisy up close you should look at some of the old recordings from the last Century. Some are filled with all kinds of perfomance noise. Sometimes even great sighing, growning and even singing by conductors and instrumental performers in the heat of a performance.

I hope that his publicist gets him to work on some new DVD releases while he is on break. I would love to have some samples of his work to show students.

Every performer brings with them their own odd physical quircks. The things music teachers worry about seeing if their students become successful in some way. Thats why we try to get as much of those odd little habit out your way when you are still young so we don't have to see them and shake our heads one day.

Reguardless some people make quite a bit of music inspite of themselves.

February 19, 2005 at 02:26 AM · Vengerov is awesome. He's great. I don't think his choice of repertoire should make him labeled as a "showy" violinist, and I think it's foolish to say he doesn't care about the music. I've never heard him play unmusically. I know plenty of people who disagree with his sense of musicality, but I think it's ridiculous to deny that he has a sense of musicality.

In addition, I would hardly call an Ysaye Sonata a showpiece. They can be used as pretty deeply musical pieces. Just because he plays them wildly doesn't mean that he's not playing them musically. Maybe he thinks that Ysaye needs to be wild. I think he is a great artist, and he shouldn't be discounted as unmusical, and only a technician.

In addition, why do you think we have concerts? To please the performer, or to please the audience? I doubt there is any performer out there who only does it for their own satisfaction. If that was the case, I doubt they would bother doing concerts. I would not want to see a concert put on by somebody who only did it to please themselves.

February 19, 2005 at 02:45 AM · It's not the selection of his pieces that are showy, it's his playing itself.

February 19, 2005 at 03:08 AM · I highly doubt he is playing only to impress people with his technique. That is all I have to say on that. If he wasn't musical, he would not have gotten where he is.

February 19, 2005 at 03:25 AM · Probably over 50% of the couple of dozen violin pieces that get played get played because they're technical showpieces. 90% of the audience is watching a high wire act or stock car race. For my personal musical satisfaction I go somewhere that couldn't involve violin less. But there's no sound in the universe like the sound of some violins in some hands in some halls. That's what I love about violin personally.

February 19, 2005 at 08:16 AM · Amy,

I must respectfully diagree; I find it very possible that he could have gotten where he is without being particularly musical. What Vengerov has bags of is charisma/personality (whatever you want to call it). While personal image, charisma and force of personality are becoming more and more important, none of these have anything to do with music making. This doesn't necessarily mean that Vengerov is a bad musician. However, what strikes me particularly about Vengerov in virtually everything he plays is the gratuitous virtuosity. To let one's own personality and desire to show off (and I do know that he is quite an egoist) is not musical. There is a very fine line between intensity and bad taste, and it is my opinion that in some pieces Vengerov crosses that line.

You can tell a performer's approach and personal agenda to a certain degree from the repertoire they choose. I don't know how many 'encore' type CDs Vengerov has recorded, but I know it's a lot. To me, his playing of La Ronde des Lutins after virtually every concert (I once saw him do it at an orchestral concert, with the orchestra accompanying him!) shows his penchant for ostentatious showing off.


February 19, 2005 at 03:02 PM · Carl, I have to disagree emphatically with what you said. I believe Vengerov is more of a musicmaker then Hahn, Shaham, Chang, etc. combined. Of course, it is entirely subjective, but to call Vengerov nothing more then flash is ridiculous. If you listen to his Sibelius recording, he takes the tempo of the first movement very slowly and you barely notice the virtuosity as he follows Sibelius' path very movingly. His Shostakovich and Prokofiev concertos rival Oistrakh's interpretations and are played with possibly more fire. And about the encores, did you ever think that maybe he likes Le Ronde des Lutins and so does the audience? Who cares if its a virtuoso piece if he wants to play it? Again, it is subjective who you like and who you don't like, but Vengerov is an unbelievable musician in my opinion, and clearly the best of today's violinists.

February 19, 2005 at 03:44 PM · I really don't think Josh deserves a demerit.

February 19, 2005 at 03:45 PM · Jeez you might disagree with me but come on I didn't insult anyone.

February 19, 2005 at 04:17 PM · Carl:

I don't know Vengerev's playing at all, so this comment is a general one. Many musicians create careers from recordings which they can finance themselves. If you have enough money you can hire the London Symphony to play anything you want and record it (I just picked them because they price themselves right for projects like that.) There are plenty of smaller record companies that you can sell a project to if you are enterprising. If you put out a lot of recordings, you make yourself a career (sometimes). Also, if you have the right agent and, again, backers, you can also create a career. There is a lot more that goes into it than meets the eye.


February 19, 2005 at 05:46 PM ·

February 19, 2005 at 05:49 PM · Well, Amy, I took your x off and gave you the star and took Josh's x off, but then someone put it back on and I can't take it off again.

ARRGGGGHHHHH! I protest unmeekly.


February 19, 2005 at 06:04 PM · Josh,

Yes, it is subjective. And you have every right to think the way you do; don't imagine I'm telling you that you're wrong. I do however, have a couple of points:

It's no great problem if Vengerov likes Bazzini and if the audience like it (most of his audiences seem to). However, the same can be said about a Britney Spears concert, and I don't think anyone here claims her to be a fantastic musician, neither do they claim that her music is art. Why? Because it's not.

Vengerov's interpretation's rival Oistrakh's, but with more fire? What's fire got to do with music? What I find incredible about Vengerov (and certain others) is the arrogance he has to assume the music needs adding to. Vengerov's 'personal vision' of the music almost always obscures the actual music. The result, to my ears, is not 'fire' or 'musicality' but empty interpretations and indulgence.

I'm not denying that what Vengerov does isn't occasionally exciting, or even beautiful, but when it is, it is rarely on the composer's terms. Instead, it is 'interpretive'.

A big part of 'taste' is what you expect from an interpreter. Some look for the performer to place their 'stamp' on the piece, and mainly want to hear the vision of the interpreter. The more different, indulgent, exciting etc, the better. A player like Vengerov is perfect in the eyes of those who like such performers; he is charismatic, young, technically brilliant, energetic, exciting, and doesn't allow himself to be inhibited by good taste. I have a rather different view of what an interpreter should be. For me, an interpreter should hardly be noticeable - when I listen to the Beethoven violin concerto, I want to hear Beethoven, not Vengerov. When I listen to a Shostakovich violin concerto, I want to hear Shostakovich, not Vengerov. It's a matter of what you look for in a performer; that is what taste means.

So you see, for me, the ideal interpreter is the one who can bring to life a score without obscuring the composer's message. Sviatoslav Richter was an utter genius in this respect. My favourite violinist of the 'younger' generation is Frank Peter Zimmerman, because he also manages to do this.

I don't pass judgement on those who like hearing the performer 'over-interpret'; if that's what they enjoy, that's their business. But I do believe it is not transcendental art that they are listening to.


To answer an earlier point, when I said that Vengerov played to please the crowd, I didn't mean to imply that it is wrong for a performer to want the audience to enjoy the performance; I believe the opposite in fact. However, I don't think that art music is 'entertainment'. It is there to be contemplated and engaged with in an almost spiritual way. Some classical music can function as 'entertainment' (especially if you consider composers like Bazzini 'classical') but essentially, classical music is not 'entertaining'. It is enjoyable, but that is a different thing entirely. When I said Vengerov is a crowd pleaser, I mean he tries to make the music he plays 'entertaining'; in other words, he makes pop music out of art music. It's just my opinion, but I find that distasteful.


February 19, 2005 at 09:11 PM · Josh,

I just removed your demerit.


February 19, 2005 at 09:42 PM · So you're saying Vengerov plays Beethoven like Britney Spears would sing a soprano aria?

February 19, 2005 at 10:34 PM · Jim,

Not at all; superficially, their styles are completely unrelated. My analogy had nothing to do with style whatsoever.

What I think is analogous is the way in which Vengerov attempts to make some art music entertaining. As I made clear before, Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev etc. specifically wrote music that was not entertaining. It does not function as pop music (whose primary purpose is to entertain); it functions as art. I think Vengerov's performances miss this. His strongest repertoire is the encore repertoire, because it is entertaining and I think that's what he does best, and I don't deny that he does it very well indeed. But personally, that's not what I look for in an interpreter.


February 19, 2005 at 11:12 PM · I think basically any piece of music has to entertain, the same a Picasso has to look good hanging over a couch. If I'm not entertained I'm sure not going to buy his measly cd or see him again. If you were talking about styles then I could follow.

Pop music doesn't exist to entertain. It exists to make some money. I think you're trying really to say something about commercial vs. non-commercial.

February 19, 2005 at 11:14 PM · I think maybe one point Carl is trying to get across is that Vengerov's playing lacks integrity? That's how I feel sometimes. He's very indulgent and commercial.

February 19, 2005 at 11:16 PM · Carl, you must hate almost all violinists if you don't like fire. Fire is part of the music, it builds the excitement and depth of the piece. I doubt Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Shostakovich etc. wanted their pieces to be flat and without any interpretation(though I don't know what they wanted). The joy of listening to so many different violinists and recordings is their interpretations of the works they are playing. What would the fun be in going to see everybody play the same piece the same way. I'm sure you do your own thing when you play as well.

February 20, 2005 at 05:24 AM · Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but I felt a need to respond to the Bazzini flap.....here's a quotation from Vengerov's website:

"But sometimes I feel after a very quite long, difficult and demanding concert for listeners’ ears the programme needs a balance and balance is on the side of contrast. Sometimes humour at the end relaxes everyone and all the muscles that were contracted by the listening of the profound and breath-taking music of Brahms!"

February 20, 2005 at 05:58 AM · Carl:

Your posts belie your age. :0) It is nice to see a young man so erudite. Keep it up. All that knowledge you are acquiring will distill through your upcoming life experience, which is always waiting around the corner for each of us.

I really appreciate the seriousness you apply to music. Obviously you are deeply involved with some of the greatest of all western music and its performers. I think, despite the fact that Josh completely missed your point, you should consider Vengerov's words which he quoted. Just tuck them away and think about them for a few years.

One of the things I've noticed about myself is that my appreciation for "salon" style music for the violin has greatly increased as I've aged (and aged and aged and... well, you get the point). For me, now, it is a relaxation into the balmiest of moods. When you are young, you might not really appreciate how relaxing a breeze can be or the smells of aromatic plants making the cool air complex after a storm. But those little sensual moments can be translated into sound and often occur in that type of music as sensuality for its own sake. (That can have a lot of integrity, by the way, depending on the attitude of the person involved.)

I like listening to that music, especially played by the old generation of great artists, because they understood how to make a moment of sound into something great. So those pieces are showcases for that ability to slide the listener into a sensual time suspension. Of course, great music does that too, but in a different way. These little pieces are just a breeze, not the whole painting. When I listen to those great violinists create those moments, I learn how to use that to make my performance of the "real" music that you gravitate toward more effective.

For instance, what keeps coming to my mind as I write this is the Cleveland/Szell recording of La Mer (I'm pretty sure that is the one I'm thinking of... hope so!). There are many little sensual moments in there that contribute to the whole effect of the whole piece - like the brush of the cymbal for the spray from a wave. It is spectacular in that recording. If you just lifted that moment out of context, you'd have the seed for a salon piece.

We've discussed this before when I first came to the board, but I still think that you are not completely understanding how much a great artist contributes to you hearing what you think is the simplicity of the music without any disturbance from the performer. To create that illusion is the sign of the greatest of performers, but it is an illusion because no performer channels the composer and nothing else.

Anyway, I hope you will consider these words and mull them over. I know you will not be convinced now, but that's OK. Oliver Steiner gave this quote in the violin sound under the ear thread: "When Heifetz was asked what qualities go into making a great violinist, the first thing he said was: "Integrity"." You've got that in spades, so you are well on the way. It's a long road though, so don't lock yourself into any one opinion. Our tastes change as we increase our knowledge and EXPERIENCE. ;-)


February 20, 2005 at 10:36 AM · Lisa,

I didn't mean to imply that there is something wrong with 'salon' pieces, but I don't think they can be considered art on the same scale as late Beethoven, for example. They serve a different function. But I certainly see why 'serious' listeners enjoy them.


Do you sincerly believe that a performance of Beethoven's C sharp minor quartet is as entertaining (please note: entertaining and enjoyable are not synonymous) as Vengerov's performance's of La Ronde des Lutins? I certainly don't think so. Vengerov IS entertaining, much more so than most classical artists. But great art music was not written to entertain. It was not written purely to be aesthetically pleasing. To deny this is to say that a Bruckner symphony is as accessible as Beach Boys song. Do you find atonal music 'entertaining'?

Art music can function as entertainment, but to make it do so is to degrade its status as art. Sensuality is part of its construction as art, but by no means is that the whole story.

It is slightly non-sensical to claim that pop music only exists to make money, without seeking to entertain. Singing a pop song will not make $100,000 appear out of nowhere. It has to be sold first. And how is it sold? Because it has entertainment value. While the ends may be making people rich, the means are certainly by making the product entertaining. This is not how or why Brahms wrote music, and it consequently does not serve the same purpose. No one is going to waste 40 minutes listening to a Brahms symphony for entertainment when they can get it instantly from turning on the TV or listening to more 'accessible' music.


I'm really not sure what you mean by "fire". First, you tell me that Vengerov's interpretation's of Shostakovich and Prokofiev rival Oistrakhs, "but with more fire". In this context, I took "fire" to mean intensity and a certain approach to portamenti and vibrato. There's nothing wrong with "fire" in Sarasate; it's quite appropriate in that context. But for you now to say that all music needs fire makes me wonder whether you don't mean just bringing the music to life. If so, then yes, I agree. Music does need to be brought to life. But it needs to be honest to the score as well. Over-interpretation, whether it makes the music more entertaining/exciting or not, does not qualify for the music making to be described as better/more musical.

With regards to Vengerov's quote about Brahms and encores, it makes me think that Vengerov seeks to patronise his audience by assuming that after such difficult music as Brahms (I'd like to hear him play some Boulez) the audience will really greet the encores part of the concert with relief. Maybe a lot of them do... and if they find Bazzini more valuable than Brahms, well, maybe classical music isn't their thing.

A general point: interpreters have to use their imagination and make certain decisions about how to play certain passages. And there is definitely more than one 'correct' way to play a piece. If there was no 'interpretive' process involved, performing musicians would hardly be called 'interpreters'. However, there are those performers who bring life to the music and allow it to flow, while still remaining honest to the score. This is no means just a process of be rhythmically accurate and playing in tune the whole time. It is far more difficult to do than merely presenting your 'own vision' of the piece or indulging; it takes real subtlety and restraint. As I have said previously, this approach is exemplified by performers like Richter, Oistrakh and Zimmerman, and conducters such as Furtwängler. The most remarkable thing about such performers is you feel a direct link to the composer, without a sense of a 'middle-man' in terms of the 'interpreter'. Hilary Hahn is also well on her way to becoming a similarly great artist.

On the other side of the coin, there are performers who seek to make their relationship with the instrument the focus of attention, or at least, their own vision of the piece, irrespective of its accuracy to the score. Such performers' interpretations do not seek to serve the music. Rather, they either pander to the dishonourable desire on the part of the audience that art music should entertain, or they do it to be considered different and 'special' in comparison to other performers. Neither approach has anything to do with music, and I can't consider any such interpretation as very musical or in the interests of the music they are playing.


February 20, 2005 at 02:27 PM · Carl,

Awesome critique. I agree its easier to entertain with more assessible classical music, but so often that accessibility is in the mind of the beholder. But I'm extremely reticent to dismiss good modern music as being of less artistic value than the classics.

Beachboys and Beatles as examples. Compare Air on a G string to Good vibrations; there is a musical quality to Yesterday, Elenore Rigbie, and Strawberry Fields that goes beyond pop entertainment value and suggests these pieces will continue to be played long after I want to hold your hand is more than a historical oddity, and I think its more than just the presence of strings in their mix.

Isn't Rapp just a street version of Gregorian chants. Time for pop music to rediscover the Barok period.

February 20, 2005 at 03:47 PM · Carl,

Of course Le Ronde de Lutins or many of the other showpieces that anyone plays are not musically "on the level" of a Brahms Sonata, late beethoven etc, I wasn't implying that. But as Vengerov himself said(and I really don't think its patronizing) maybe its nice to have a relaxing end to a demanding program.

Vengerov is much more honest to the score then you say. He takes many liberties with pieces like the Ravel Tzigane and the Lalo but who DOESN'T do that? Heifetz rewrote entire passages of Tzigane to his liking and skipped passages he didn't like. He also tended to take tempos for any piece much much faster then were written, but then you quote him about his integrity. Don't get me wrong, I love what Heifetz does, it just often is not even close to what the composer wrote. Vengerov adheres to the score almost to perfection in his Sibelius recording. Many accuse that interpretation of being "backward" but if you watch the score it is almost EXACTLY what Sibelius wrote to do. Again, Heifetz changed many notes in the last movement of the Sibelius just because he thought they sounded better. Vengerov adheres to the score again almost to perfection in teh Shostakovich concerto. If you accuse him of overinterpreting showpieces then maybe you have a point, but I personally think new twists and funny timings are perfectly appropriate for Brahms Hungarian Dances and Sarasate, its just my own subjective opinion.

I'm also not saying that my opinion about Vengerov's interpretations of the Shostakovich(and anything for that matter) are the law. I could be a total idiot in your eyes for thinking what I think, its just subjective and its what and who I like to listen to play.

P.S. Lisa, how did I completely miss Carl's point?

February 20, 2005 at 04:08 PM · Carl, I can understand your point of view, but I cannot really agree with it. First of all, the function of all music is as much entertainment as anything else. We listen to music, play intruments, talk about it at such a length b/c it gives us pleasure. Otherwise, I would consider our activities a bit perverse.

Secondly, I do agree with the previous comment that Vengerov has a bigger temperment then Richter and Oistrakh. Was Oistrakh a great musician, yes, in fact in Oistrakh one finds one of the greatest musicans of all time, but I sincerely doubt that he could play hungarian dances of Brahms or certain show pieces on the level of Vengerov. In other words, there are things that Vengerov can do that other great musicians can't, and visa versa, and to me, such a quality in a musican is a sign of greatness.

Also, what does it mean to stay faithful to the score? If you mean to play only what is literally written, then I think that would make a very dull performance. It is an interpreter's job to interpret. A piece comes alive b/c of the composer's emotions as much as b/c of the interpreter's. When you site a musicans like Richter, you site an extreme example of a point a view of a musician. Playing only what is on the page was Richter's way, but what about musicans like Cortot, Gould, Horowitz, even Brendel? Oitrakh also did not always follow the score to the very miniscule detail. For example, there are no slides written in Mozart or Bach, and yet Oitrakh's interpretation is full of them. Is that tasteless? I doubt that anyaone can deny the fact that in interpretation of Oistrakh his playing called attention to itself. In fact, with any great musician that will be the case, b/c great personalities with their own vision of the music, will always attract attention to themselves (that is why they are great personalities).

Finally, the statement that Josh quoted from the Vengerov website does not seem patronizing at all. Would you consider Kreisler patronizing for playing his charming pieces after say, a Beethoven sonata? Of course not, it is part of music, and a trully intelligent program combines all facets of music--intellectual, psychological, emotinal, and entertainment. I personally sincerelly doubt, that after a program of Brahms sonatas, Beethoven, or solo Bach, an exhausted audience member, will be crazy about listening to Boulez (though I in no way doubt the greatness of his music). In my opinion, we play for common poeple, as much as we do for musicans. Great composers such as Brahms, Bach, etc understood this. Would you consider it degrading to listen to the Hungarian music-based last movement of Brahms Violin concerto, just b/c the preceding movements are some of most phylosophical and emotianlly complex of music that has been written for the violin?

February 20, 2005 at 05:08 PM · I think I've said all that I wanted to say, but there are a few things I need to clear up:

1) There is a difference between enjoying art music and being entertained by it. The word "entertaining" is defined as 'agreeably diverting or amusing'. That is how I would describe a performance of La Ronde de Lutins by Vengerov to most people's ears. Art music is not a diversion. It is not amusing (unless you think Mozart's "A musical joke" is funny). Art music resists being treated as entertainment, because it is not designed to be so. As a test, play an uninitiated listener La Ronde de Lutins and Schubert's G major Sonata (D894) and ask them which is more entertaining. Art music like Beethoven, Schubert or Brahms requires such concentration, 'spiritual' involvement and sophistication of listening that while the results are pleasurable if the music is engaged with properly, the act would hardly be considered entertaining. I hope I've made this clear.

2) I don't criticise program variation. Program as many showpieces as you need to. Creating a balanced and tasteful programme is absolutely fine. However, wishing to relax and relieve your audience betrays a focus of attention on the act of performing and a desire to pander to audience requirements. Better for box offices, but not respectful to great music and great composers. Beethoven is not just the steak that precedes the Bazzini dessert; they're a different kettle of fish altogether. To treat them as just different composers of an essentially similar purpose is to misunderstand their function. The focus of music making should always be on the music itself, and not on audience's desires. Music is not there to be manipulated for the whims of the listener. If the listener doesn't like it in its essential form, it is no-one's job to make it easier for that listener. In other words, I don't believe Vengerov should play ostentatiously or 'with fire' simply because it makes it easier for the listener to engage with it. That does not make him musical. It makes him an entertainer. All fair enough, but it's not art.

3) Being accurate to the score doesn't mean not changing notes or not making cuts. It means being accurate to the essential message of the composer (not the performer). It means making musical 'sense' from phrase to phrase. It means playing expressively and bringing the score to life without losing sight of the overall structure. It means focusing on the music itself, rather than on your personal agenda and the tastes of the audience. I don't approve of Heifetz' 'improving' the score, and I don't know what you mean you say I quote Heifetz and his integrity. I don't believe I did.

4) When Gould plays Bach on the piano, I don't disapprove just because 'the score doesn't say play on the piano'. Gould understood Bach very well, and knew how important counterpoint was in his music. The way he played the piano helped him achieve a clarity of counterpoint virtually unequaled by any other keyboard player. That is what being true to the score really means. There are things Oistrakh did very well, and things he did not do quite as well. He did not play Bach authentically, but his performances were always absolutely honest and never indulgent.

5) Vengerov's indulgence in showpieces are entirely appropriate. He obviously enjoys himself while doing so, and the audience usually does as well. However, he uses a fairly similar approach in Beethoven and Brahms, and it is out of place and does a great disservice to the music. To say that Vengerov and Richter are equally great musicians, but from different schools of approach has hardly anything to do with taste. It is virtually an insult to a man like Richter who always put music above himself and the audience.


February 20, 2005 at 06:30 PM · Carl,

I think the problem I have with what you are saying is that you assume that Vengerov plays Beethoven and Brahms for the "entertainment," and "indulgently." How do you know this? Have you ever talked to him about it? I highly doubt you know exactly what is going through his mind, and I think you should think twice before assuming you do. I've given up on this argument, but I still think Vengerov is an artist, and not simply an entertainer.

February 20, 2005 at 06:36 PM · Amy,

I don't need to hear what an artist thinks about what their approach is or know what's going on in their mind because their playing invariably betrays it; you need only listen to a performance to understand a player's approach. To me, that's as clear as crystal. Why have you given up on this 'argument'?


February 20, 2005 at 06:42 PM · Darn, I've tried to post this over and over. Maybe it is too long. I'll divide it up...


I don't disagree with some of your points, but my comment was about your post that began, "Carl, you must hate almost all violinists if you don't like fire..."

Carl didn't say he hated almost all violinists, or that he didn't like fire, or that he wanted pieces to be played "flat," etc. So in that sense, you completely missed his point. I enjoy discussions like this so much, but when comments like that generalize and get personal, they usually miss the point.


February 20, 2005 at 06:46 PM · Oh darn... Carl, I just lost half my response to you. Later, alligator.


February 20, 2005 at 07:07 PM · I give up on this argument because I don't feel like trying to change your mind. I doubt I would be able to, and I've already said what I thought needed to be said on this subject. Therefore I'm done.

February 20, 2005 at 07:21 PM · If I pay 20 or 50 bucks to hear somebody, I'd better be entertained. I think you're mainly "indulging" yourself at this point.

February 20, 2005 at 07:29 PM · Jim,

I think not. You are willfully misunderstanding my point. If you can't make the distinction between enjoyment and entertainment, that's not my fault; I think I made the distinction perfectly clear.


February 20, 2005 at 07:33 PM · Amy,

Fair enough.


February 20, 2005 at 07:36 PM · No, I'm not wilfully misunderstanding your point. I've discovered the point you're trying to make isn't fully formulated and I'm toying with you.

February 20, 2005 at 07:48 PM · Jim,

What is unclear about the distinction between entertainment and enjoyment? If you want to be entertained, surely a ticket to the circus will be money better spent than a ticket to the symphony orchestra?


February 20, 2005 at 08:06 PM · This argument is hopeless. I think every person has artist that he/she likes and dislikes. At this point, all of what we are saying is based on our own opinion. Carl, I do respect your opinion, but still, I strongly disagree with it.

February 20, 2005 at 08:12 PM · So the circus entertains, while the symphony causes enjoyment. I see now.

February 20, 2005 at 09:12 PM · Shakspere was circus in his day, Mozart wrote The Magic Flute to entertain a different strata than he wrote Don Govanni, but he intended both to entertain. You may choose to perform to an elite or the masses, but unless you entertain your audience you won't last long.

Art isn't absolute. Some are more perceptive in their appreiation, but that doesn't denegrate the appreciation of the more casual observer. Carl don't confuse the ability to voice fine distinctions of attributes to be the ability to define art for those who overlook the distinctions. That is when intellect becomes effete.

February 20, 2005 at 09:23 PM · I love how people on this board are so hell-bent on trying to change someone else's opinion on something. For some reason people think their opinion is the right one. I always figured that trying to understand someone else's is a nice thing to do. Trying to change someone's opinion is like trying to change lead into gold....just my opinion.

February 20, 2005 at 09:34 PM · Carl, to me it seems like you're making entertainment sound like a bad thing and although I agree with most of your points, I do agree with Vengerov that a fun piece like that, which isn't meant to be a deep piece of art and no one is making it to be that, can be good after an intense and involving piece. Even Perlman plays that piece very often.

February 20, 2005 at 09:56 PM · Carl:

I also don't think you've clearly made the distinction between entertainment and enjoyment. I'll try to post what is left of my post before, but I'm having trouble. I don't know why it won't post! :((


February 20, 2005 at 09:58 PM · In essence, what I spent an hour writing comes down to this: your use of language indicates a huge dichotomous split generally referred to as the madonna/wh*re complex (I think the security controls are blocking that word!). If you look through your posts you will see this dichotomy all over (more about that below).

Lisa (just trying this...)

February 20, 2005 at 09:59 PM · Geez! That's what it was. Well, I lost half a dissertation over that!

Here's the rest of what is left:

I also think you have made an exclusive judgment (as Amy pointed out) about motive, something you are not qualified to judge no matter how much you think you know it (and you just did the same thing to Jim).

Additionally, you tend to adhere to only one aspect of the issue of entertainment vs. enjoyment. You cite a definition for entertaining (but fail to do so for enjoyment), which is only ONE definition of entertaining. Another would be, "hospitable," or "occupy agreeably." Enjoyment is also about giving and receiving pleasure. So I can enjoy something and as a result of that enjoyment, it entertains me. For instance, I enjoy what I know of you from your posts - you are very entertaining for me. I fail to see this cavernous distinction you are making (and so does the dictionary).

You say that "art music" is not a diversion. (First of all, what is "art music?" I wasn't aware of that term, other than your usage of it.) How is it not a diversion? Art is the production of something beautiful, or the skill that goes into it. An artist is (according to my dictionary) a "person who produces a work of art, does something with exceptional skill, or a professional entertainer." I think great art has the ability to capture the essence of life, but it is a diversion from the mundane drudgery that is just a realistic part of life (which most 18 year olds have not yet experienced!). So, just as in the moments we enjoy and are entertained by a great meal, so is it the same in a great concert, listening to great music. Again, I fail to see the distinction you are making here.

In other words, I think you are making TOO MUCH distinction. You are creating a divide that doesn't actually exist and by doing so you are cutting off a part of yourself (and others). Honestly, I think it goes back to the dichotomy I mentioned above: the huge value judgment you are placing on the "pure" vs. the "impure," "proper" vs. "entertaining, "uneducated" vs. "educated/knowledgable," music making as essence and purity vs. pandering and desire, etc. Of course, I am not saying that you should embrace everything non-judgmentally. I am just saying that within that dichotomy in yourself lies an unexplored territory that comes with age and experience - and a lot of thoughtful consideration. Once again, I hope you mull these things over instead of dismissing them quite so quickly. ;-) (I hope I get to talk to you again in 10 years and see where you are then.)

Take some time and do some research into language. Your language is very revealing (and I don't think you realize it).


February 20, 2005 at 10:01 PM · Jim,

Entertainment/enjoyment is not a dichotomy, so you don't need to treat it as such. You can enjoy being entertained, but by no means is that the only source of enjoyment. Classical music can be entertaining, but I really don't believe it was written to entertain.

A question to anyone who cares to answer: Do you find Britten's War Requiem (for example) entertaining? I really don't see how anyone can claim to be 'entertained' by such a piece. You can nevertheless appreciate the experience of engaging with it as a piece of art music. That is all I mean by saying that 'classical'/art music often resists functioning as entertainment.

I don't think there is anything wrong with entertainment. It is a part of everyone's life in one form or another. But the point that I originally tried to make was that classical music which is not written to entertain should not be 'forced' to do so to make it more accessible or to make the performer more popular. Whether you think Vengerov does this or not is probably subjective. I think he does, some think he doesn't. That's fine, it's your time, and your money, and I don't necessarily have to listen to Vengerov. But that wasn't the point. What the point was whether it is acceptable to make art music 'entertaining'.


Of course, there is no comparing the quality of different person's experiences in listening, and I certainly wouldn't place such experiences in a hierarchy. And I agree with you, some art does entertain. But you must concede that we do not value Shakespeare, Beethoven, Goethe etc. because it is entertaining, but because of the unique experience of engaging with such great works of art. The experience you have while listening to a Beethoven quartet is difficult to describe, but to me it is something to do with appreciating the work as a whole as something greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps I'm using the term 'entertainment' too strictly, but I think the point sticks. Listening to art music and pop music are essentially different experiences. In interpretation, the two can be confused; I think this serves the music poorly.

It's just what I believe. I don't expect anyone to adopt my beliefs; that's not why I expressed my thoughts. But really, what is the point of a discussion board if we are rebuked for discussion?


February 20, 2005 at 10:20 PM · It's funny. A long time before coming on board here I was musing about things I've been exposed to, artists I know and "artists" I see via the media as well as artists I see via the media. And I coined the terms "entertainment" and "performance" as distinguishing features. I began with an experience, concept and premise and used the phonemes "entertain" and "perform" as a means to express this, for myself, on a personal basis. I will not bother expounding here but I think I have an inkling of what Carl is trying to say ... IF he is trying to say the same thing which he may not be, because perception can be personal thing. Humpty Dumpty said it best, something like "Words mean what I want them to mean." And we often argue about imputed meaning. This thread is getting a bit hairy for me, which is why I won't write more. Besides, I know little about Vengerov except for the little sound clips a friend who is a fan keeps sending me.

February 20, 2005 at 10:34 PM · Carl:

You said:

"Classical music can be entertaining, but I really don't believe it was written to entertain."

What was it written for?

I played Britten's "Peter Grimes" with a fabulous conductor and cast and was hugely entertained. It is a gut wrenching piece in many instances but I can experience a stomach clenching sorrow and still be entertained by the sublime way the composer/artist chose to express that. One is not exclusive of the other - which was my point about the language you are using.


PS. This is a great discussion with a terrific concept at the core and it is well worth having, in my opinion!

February 20, 2005 at 11:34 PM · Lisa,

I enjoy your posts too!

The problem here is definitely one of language. I find language inadequate for expression in discussions like this, especially when the words are only read and not heard. The problem is that I'm using 'entertaining' in a different way from the way other people might use it. Unfortunately, there is no other word that lends itself to usuage I require of it, so I'm having to make do. In this instance, I used the word 'entertainment' in a crude way; I meant only shallow aspects of entertainment. The implication of the term 'entertainment' music when I use it (this is by no means how someone else might use it) is that there is a focus on the aesthetic and surface 'sheen' of things. Still hard to explain, but I hope I've done a good enough job of it. I've probably used 'enjoyment' in a context where most people would say 'entertainment', which is what probably caused the perception of a false dichotomy.

By the way, 'art music' (also referred to as 'Western art music') is term used by musicologists in Britain (I don't know if it is used anywhere else) which means 'classical' music to most people, but attempts to bypass the difficulties that arise from the term 'classical'. It encompasses all music that was written to function as art, rather than for another purpose. In this way it manages to include some music which might not be considered classical (perhaps 20th century music which is a difficult area for many) and excludes what many might consider 'classical' (I doubt that musicologists would use the term 'art music' to refer to Kroll's 'Banjo and Fiddle', for example).


February 20, 2005 at 10:57 PM · Keeps the vital juices flowing. Hopefully with mutual respect.

My respect level for all on this thread is elevated, and no need to prescribe more prunes at this time.

So listen, play, enjoy, write and be entertained.

February 20, 2005 at 11:43 PM · Greetings,

prune consumption tends to be voluntary among intellectuals,



February 20, 2005 at 11:48 PM · OK, Carl...

You didn't answer what you think "classical" (I prefer that term - the other sounds so.... er... arty hehe) music is written for.

Now, try to follow me here, sonny! (LOL, I can't help poking at you because of your age, which I was really surprised to discover in the Lunar thread. I thought from your posts that I was communicating with someone far older than you, so now I am entertaining myself with that dichotomy! ROFL It is meant with all respect in my heart; I hope you realize that.)

So, back to following me: this is more than simply a language issue (you managed to skirt my point). We are not just using slightly different words to describe things (and I do understand how you are using the words, which is what got me noticing this in your posts). With your words, you have revealed this real dichotomy in your thinking (and I am sure it extends into your life as well). This contrast (not just intellectual, but with real repugnance) between purity and impurity seems to be huge for you. (Also, so you don't think I am criticizing you, I had that for a long, long time and still struggle with it - although my MDiv helped with that.)

Really look into the theology/philosophy/linguistics of the madonna/wh*re complex. And I'm not talking sexual, although there are those ramifications, but I'm talking that whole idea of some people/things/moments/actions being above reproach (and never really approached) and others being worthy of being shunned (but used on a regular basis). Plus, there is a real inherent value judgment of superiority or "otherness" in this dichotomy (I highly recommend Martin Buber's "I and Thou" to thoroughly understand this). In a way, it is a phobia of the "masses" or the ordinary, or "real life." Do you understand what I am getting to?

I've found that when I most lived with that dichotomy governing me, I've alienated the most people, which, ultimately I haven't wanted to do. In addition, thinking that way caused me to never be able to achieve that which I thought was great (the very thing you are expounding on) because it was so lofty as to not be real.

That is why I said that you are not realizing how much individuality is involved in a great artist making something seem like they are just playing what is there and nothing else. You cited Richter. I totally disagree with you that he just played what was on the page. My favorite recording of his is a live 1950's performance of Pictures at an Exhibition. It is hair raising. He captures the essence of that piece BECAUSE of all the expressive gestures he is capable of getting out of that lumbering instrument. ;-) I've never heard anyone else do that in that piece. You think it is because he is a servant of the music. I think it is because he is an expressive genius who knew how to use the very same things he would in a "Banjo and Fiddle" style work to make the music sound in Pictures (is that music you consider Art?).

Anyway, this is a huge area of philosophy which is well worth exploring. (By the way, I thought Nietchse was hugely entertaining - didn't read that much Goethe though. And Shakespeare is downright bawdy at the same time he is putting heaven into words.) The greatest of artists live in both extremes, Carl. You can't have one without the other, and when you accept that, you move your position.


PS. I think musicologists just classify art music according to historical period, making Kroll an art music composer. If every musicologist had to classify every work as art or no based on its musical "merits", can you imagine the cacophony?... Besides, I like Banjo and Fiddle! ;-)

February 20, 2005 at 11:53 PM · I find this dicussion most enterjoyabling!

February 21, 2005 at 05:22 AM · Mr Fulbrook:

You say that some artists create a direct link to the composer and understand the music fully. I am curious to know exactly why you exclude Mr.Vengerov as one of those type of artists. I can see your point in "enjoyment" and "entertainment", but can you tell me what type of "entertainment" is present in Vengerov's recording of the Brahms? Mozart sonatas?

Also, how can you justify that classical music was not written to entertain? What comes in mind are all the music written for royal parties in the baroque era. What about the Strauss waltzes?

I am also curious to hear your opinion on performers of classical music who "entertain". What category would you put performers such as Paganini or Liszt in?

February 21, 2005 at 05:46 AM · Greetings,

I couldn`t find the exact reference of Carl`s that `the violin` is mentioning. But, I would also like to raise the ratehr interesting conundrum within which this discussion exists. That is, we neither listen in the same way nor hear the same thing. So how can anyone ever say this person undertsands @such and such fully ` and someone with more experienced understanding of what they hear may disagree.



February 21, 2005 at 05:55 AM · I just wanted to comment on Lisa's point saying that it takes a certain kind of genius to bring out the true essence of a piece. To me, that seems to be what was so great about Heifetz. His playing seems to exemplify the exact mood of every piece. For example, his entrance in the Brahms, moreso than any other violinist (I think) conveys pure excitement and drama, which is exactly what is called for. This kind of clarity of emotional expression is not achieved by playing exactly what is on the page, and if Heifetz is sometimes criticized for being too individualistic, I think it is because he is trying to get to the core of what the music expresses.

February 21, 2005 at 08:36 AM · Lisa,

I understand what you're saying. (Don't worry about poking fun of me because I'm young; I'm rather flattered actually). Although I can see exactly you're getting at, you should understand that I find it slightly unnerving to read a description of my attitude to life that sums it up so concisely. I hope I'm not quite that simple; but if I am, I blame it on not knowing anyone my age who listens to 'classical' (or 'art', or 'serious' ;) ) music. I'm still at (a quite rough) school, where music teaching is so appallingly bad that kids learn about the structure of pop songs ('Steps' is part of the classroom curriculum) and the idea that classical music is boring and irrelavant is encouraged by teachers. My current mindset is in extreme reaction to this, and spread to a lot of popular culture in general. So yes, your observations are probably more or less accurate. Enough about me.

Concerning the definitions of 'classical' and 'art' music, I think 'classical' music is used in a similar way to 'art' music to many musicologists, but to some it just indicates the period the music was written. 'Art' music has the implication of purpose; in that way it doesn't include 'salon' music but does include more 'serious' music from the same period. Maybe 'art' music and 'serious' music are closer in meaning than either are to 'classical'. The trouble is, there is no universally agreed usage for any of the terms, so you have to bear with their usage.

Richter was an expressive genius; he didn't merely 'play the notes' on the page. However, this genius is what allowed the perception of a link with the composer. Allow me to quote Heinrich Neuhaus:

"Whether he is playing Bach or Shostakovich, Beethoven or Scriabin, Schubert or Debussy, the listener seems to hear the living, resurrected composer, and becomes completely immersed in his unique, enormous world. And all of it breathes the "Richter spirit", all of it is infused with his inimitable genius for penetrating the innermost secrets of the music.

Only a pianist whose genius is a match for the composer's, a pianist who is the composer's brother, comrade and friend, can play like that."

That sums up how I feel about Richter much more eloquently than I could.

'The Violin',

I think Vengerov essentially interferes with the music too much. He allows his personality to dominate whatever is being played. In some repertoire that is fine; it works very well. I wouldn't like to hear Sarasate played with no charisma, and Vengerov certainly has charisma. What he lacks is subtlety, in my opinion. Brahms and Mozart require subtety, reflection, and the ability to step back and see the 'big picture'. To my ears, Vengerov doesn't quite pull this off. I say he is an 'entertainer' for the following reason. When he plays, he oversweetens lyrical passages to the point of indulgence, and in intense passages, he almost destroys his violin. In short, he overdoes everything. His playing is full of extremes; he never shys away from gratuitous virtuosity either. To me, his personality in one way or another obscures the spirit of the composer. As Shostakovich once said to Oistrakh after hearing Oistrakh's performance of Shostakovich's 2nd Violin Concerto: "I'm going to pay you a silly compliment: it was as if I was playing it myself." That absolutely encapsulates the feeling you have when you listen to music played by a truly sensitive interpreter. It's very personal, but I really feel I'm only listening to Vengerov playing someone else's music in his own way when listening to Vengerov. In that way, I don't think he 'serves the music' so much as himself.

I don't justify 'classical' music that was written to entertain. This is why I prefer the term 'art' music in such a case. It avoids the stylistic associations, but excludes music that was written to entertain, rather than as art.

Yes, Paganini and Liszt were 'entertainers', in my view. But at least they did not obscure the message of other composers, because they mainly played their own music. In this context, entertainment is a good thing. But had Paganini given concerts of the Beethoven concerto, 'adapting' it and playing it in the manner of his own compositions, I think his 'entertaining' would have been out of place.


Yes, but mood isn't everything. Also, many would disagree that Heifetz captured the mood perfectly in everything he played. In the Tchaikovsky concerto yes, in Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, yes, in Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, no. There are more contentious examples in between, but I hope you get my point.


February 21, 2005 at 09:43 AM · Good morning, Carl! I'm about to go to bed now, but I can't help but comment on a couple of things...

You said, "you should understand that I find it slightly unnerving to read a description of my attitude to life that sums it up so concisely."

Well, then, you should listen to me - at least ponder (thinking longer and over more time than you'd like) what I said.

You said, "I think Vengerov essentially interferes with the music too much. He allows his personality to dominate whatever is being played."

Ah, I just had a moment of clarity. So you and I are not so far apart, but you haven't made the connection yet (if I could be so bold). YES, the performer's personality dominates what they play. BUT you are missing depth in Vengerov's personality. Richter has the depth, so when his personality dominates what he plays you experience it as if the composer himself were playing the music. But his personality is still dominating, you just resonate with that personality more.

You have that depth (of course in the germ stage!), and what you have is the integrity I said in the other quote. Putting that into artistic expression is a lifetime of work (hard work) and it begins with the kind of scholarship and struggle you are doing right now. Keep studying.

When I met Milstein, I realized he was unbelievably brilliant (not just on the violin). People think that great violinists just play well, but I think the real greats were incredibly well rounded people in terms of education, culture, etc. We have become more and more specialized in this world and it doesn't lend itself to what you are wanting to hear in a performer.

Study what makes you want to bounce away (like you keep doing from my words - hehe!). That is where you need to be squeezed (don't worry, life will do it to you if you don't volunteer). So start practicing those salon pieces and make them come to life the way you want to hear Beethoven.


Read the "I and Thou" book I recommended, then email me.

Send me a tape or something. I'd love to hear you play sometime. And don't think I didn't notice that you still didn't answer my question!



February 21, 2005 at 04:24 PM · Carl,

I accidentally lost my moderater points by clicking on something else, so I will just say it in English:

Though I happen to agree with many of Lisa's points about music and entertainment, don't let anyone talk down to you as if you were ignorant. Condescension makes for poor teaching.

February 21, 2005 at 04:40 PM · Ah! The current age of subjective objectivity... viva the 21st century! Funny how in the 19th, Lizst was one quoted as saying in French: "Une fausse note jouée avec timidité est une fausse note. Mais, une fausse note jouée avec assurance est une interprétation." (A false note played with shyness is a false note. But a false note played with assurance is an interpretation.)

I think that we have come to expect too much from artists. And no, I don't think one can extrapolate the depth of an artist's well-roundness from his manner of playing. For example, Vengerov studied baroque violin, did studies at Oxford, and craves knowledge of everything like you wouldn't believe. His playing only betrays the highly energetic extrovert personality that he is. That is a different matter.

Amazing how sujective our attempts at objectivity can be. We end up in the end more biased than when we started as instead of observing, we draw conclusions on the little that we discover...


February 21, 2005 at 05:17 PM · Lisa,

I don't have time to write a long reply (I have a history essay to write this evening) but I need to ask you: what question did I not answer?

By the way, I bought "I and thou" on my way home today. I intend to read it this week, but I warn you now, I'm an atheist. I will try and read it with an open mind (and I assume the message transcends barriers of faith?).


I don't doubt Vengerov is a rounded individual. I didn't question that. What I did state was that, to me, his playing indicates an approach guided by a desire to 'over-interpret' everything. The way he plays some things make no sense to my mind; it just seems contrived for the sake of effect. His playing is indeed energetic and extroverted. I would say these particular characteristics allow him greater success in some parts of the repertoire and less in others. A sense of introversion is certainly an important quality to possess in certain repertoire, and I don't think Vengerov has it.


February 21, 2005 at 05:42 PM · Christian,

Yes, I agree. But telling someone that over and over when they don't see it won't make a difference. That is why I tried to analyze the root of what was going on.


I was too for most of my life and now I don't have a classification (learned too much in my degree). But yes, that book applies across the board and is cited from theologians to philosophers, etc. (Use it as a reference in your papers in college and you'll get a nod from your professors.)

And the question was: What is classical music written for? ;-)

Just for clarification again for the readers who cannot read lol:

Carl, I experience you as one of the brightest and most articulate young persons I have ever read and I have the utmost of respect for you and the greatest of wishes for success in your life. That is why I've spent all this time at this thread. Even for an old 46 year old - you have stimulating and challenging thoughts and conversations. :0) I was just saying to a friend last night that I haven't had the opportunity to use my brain this much in years. Thanks!!


February 21, 2005 at 06:00 PM · >And the question was: What is classical music written for? ;-)<

I would argue that, in its own time, classical music *was* written for its intrinsic entertainment value, among other reasons. (It was likely also written for art's sake, in some cases, religious transcendendance, and, don't forget, for money.) What is considered "entertainment" is in constant flux as tastes, experience, and the education of the populace changes. If Mozart's court audience were to be treated to, say, James Brown, there's no doubt in my mind that it would be called by them, "NOT entertainment! >G<

I think Carl should be let off the hook in regard to this question, because he did allow that his definition of entertainment might have been a bit too narrow. There's little doubt that classical music in its day had entertainment value for those who listened to it, in the classic sense of entertainment being something that "entertains the attention of the mind."

February 21, 2005 at 06:06 PM · Hi,

Carl and Lisa, you have both interesting points. Yes, Carl, I agree that there are works that require introspection. However, on what basis do you say that Vengerov lacks this particular quality? Is it his sound, musical approach, his physical manner on stage?

Lisa, on the purpose of classical music. It's true that we often forget that music was essentially a form of entertainment (The french word "divertissement" seems more to the point...), or for public service. However, Carl's point with Beethoven is good as well, for it indeed did change with him. Also to be kept in mind that the printed works were a source of revenue for artists (no CD's in those days...), but are not only written with satifsfying the public. Perhaps more to the point IMO is the sophistication of the humour or entertainment. Some is more simple, and in some the jest far more clever (Haydn comes to mind - especially the ending of the quartets in some opus numbers like opus 33). To be kept in mind I think, that published works were presented in concert, but that wasn't all of it. Most artists, including Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were often required to improvise in public concerts (a common feature in those days) and there displayed their virtuosity. I have often wondered how these moments contrasted with their printed works...

I have not read I and thou, but Lisa you have peaked my curiosity. Could you give me the title and author again? Sounds like something that would interest me...


February 21, 2005 at 06:39 PM · Christian:

I wasn't suggesting that classical music was written solely for entertainment. It was just a question to get Carl to specifically formulate his thoughts, relating to our whole discussion (and mostly I agree with Carl, I am just challenging him in one area of his thinking, which you brought up in your above post).

The book is Martin Buber's (a very famous Jewish theologian) "I and Thou." His writing it was one of those moments in time that changed everything after - a very pivotal book in theological/philosophical (and I suspect, even linguistic) thought.

It was the book that first made me "get" the concept of the "other" which I believe is the root of all violence against other beings (something we are seeing demonstrated in the moderation system right now on this board).

Lisa :0)

PS. Good question to Carl about Vengerov!! I anxiously await the answer - after the history paper, of course! ;-)

February 21, 2005 at 11:32 PM · Greetings,

and if you are a history buff want a superlative illustration of the I/thou dichotomy in action then Edward Said`s `Orientalism` is a classic. Also illuminates the world as we know it rather eerily,



February 22, 2005 at 04:24 AM · While Carl's off writing his history paper, I thought I'd bring back something that was mentioned awhile ago.

If the purpose of a performer is to play a piece exactly as the composer meant for it to be played, then that implies that there is only one correct way to play it. If this is true, then why would artists like Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, and basically every other modern violinist bother to perform at all? They can't really think they have a better grasp of a piece than Heifetz or Oistrakh or Milstein, can they?

Having said that (and, like a good lawyer, knowing exactly how to argue against it) (meaning I have an open mind), my opinion is that people listen to a performer to hear how HE (or she) thinks it should sound. I won't disagree with people who think that Vengerov might play with a bit too much passion, but even those people must agree that he has found his niche. By that I mean that there are people who DO like how he plays, and its not the job of the rest of us to convince everybody of his unmusicality.

February 22, 2005 at 04:31 AM · Greetings,

Alex, those are good points. But there is nothign wrong with people trying politely to convince you that Mr Vengerov is not musical. If you know the opposite then your opinion is not going to change and the would be changer might be forced to rethink they way they listen . There is no reason why interesitgn and friendly exchanges cannot occur around the question of Mr Vengerovs musicianship, as long as everyone remembers that at the end of the day he is an absolute genius;)



February 22, 2005 at 04:19 PM · Lisa,

If you mean 'classical' music as the general area of music employing a certain range of styles/instruments (what the layman would refer to as 'classical') then my answer is this: different parts of it were written for different purposes. I have no doubt that Beethoven's motives for writing a late piano sonata or string quartet were different from his motives for writing the 'Wellington symphony'. Similarly, we don't know of a specific reason why Bach wrote 'The Art of the Fugue', (probably just for the sake of artistic expression) but we do know that he was required to write Cantatas every week while in Leipzig. On the whole, we don't use them in a religious context anymore, so I guess you could say that their function has changed. Classical Music which was written for and functions as 'Art Music' does have a specific purpose: to be appreciated and contemplated as a construction of Art. But, as I said before, 'Art' music and 'Classical' music are not synonymous. Is that an adequate answer?

Concerning the point you made about every great performer's personality dominating, that's quite an insight. However, I don't think the difference is depth. Richter's personality is chameleon-like in some respects; whatever music he plays, it seems so natural. He moulds his approach appropriately to whatever he plays, but knows not to go too far; he has restraint. I have the recording of the Mussorgsky Pictures you referred to (I take it you mean the live 1958 Sofia Recital recording?) and what strikes me about many passages he plays is the simplicity with which he plays them. You realise that conspicuous phrasing is sometimes unnecessary. Richter judged things like that miraculously (as did Milstein; I listened to his 1970s recording of the D minor partita last night - I'd forgotten how good it was).


I would say Vengerov lacks a certain introspection in his musical approach, but it does manifest itself in his physical manner, and to a certain degree in his sound. Oddly enough, I don't think this was so bad when he was younger. Some of his earlier records (recorded in his late teens and early twenties) do have much more of an introspective approach, so I wonder what changed for him.


The purpose of the performer is to stay true to the music. That doesn't mean that there is only one way to play (how could every subtle articulation and nuance of phrasing be completely accurate to what the composer wanted anyway?) but it does mean that the music should always be the top prority of the performer. Richter took this to an extreme and performed in the dark in later years - he claimed it was better for the concentration of himself and the audience. Many great artists have rerecorded works that they played and recorded in their earlier years, just to leave a further statement on that work. A performer's understanding of a work may change, and thus some very different rerecordings can happen (listen to Glenn Gould's two Goldberg recordings!). But there is certainly more than one valid way to play a piece.


February 22, 2005 at 09:09 AM · Ah Carl...

I bow to a greater mind! :0) (either that, or I'm tired!)

Buber says this:

"This is the eternal source of art: a man is faced by a form which desires to be made through him into a work. This form is no offspring of his soul, but is an appearance which steps up to it and demands of it the effective power. The man is concerned with an act of his being. If he carries it through, if he speaks the primary word out of his being to the form which appears, then the effective power streams out, and the work arises.

The act includes a sacrifice and a risk. This is the sacrifice: the endless possibility that is offered up on the altar of the form. For everything which just this moment in play ran through the perspectve must be obliterated; nothing of that may penetrate the work. The exclusiveness of what is facing it demands that it be so. This is the risk: the primary word can only be spoken with the whole being. He who gives himself to it may withhold nothing of himself. The work does not suffer me, as do the tree and the man, to turn aside and relax in the world of "It"; but it commands. If I do not serve it aright it is broken, or it breaks me."

I believe that is what you mean by art music. Buber's reference to the primary word is this: The first primary word is I-Thou and the second is I-It. The simplified explanation of this is that "I-Thou establishes the world of relation" and "every It is bounded by others."

This quote is near the beginning - page nine in my translation. You can read up to it and see what I mean.

The question becomes more complicated when you think of the ramifications of the I-Thou relationship in the creation of a work by say, Beethoven or Kroll and by the performance of that work as well....

As for the more mundane... YOU HAVE THAT RECORDING??? There were two live recordings made in the late 50's. One was on a tape and the flip side was an orchestral rendition of it - Ormandy? Szell? I can't remember. I bought it in an airport a million years ago and could never find it again. But that live recording was never reissued (the other was in several of his boxed sets). Is the one you have that one? (I'd tell you but my tape is in a box - have to dig it out.) I wore mine out! Will you copy yours for me? I never have been able to find another copy. Don't you think it is the most exciting playing? I just love that recording. :0)


PS: Here's my edit: Motive is a separate issue from the I-Thou relationship in the creation of a work. ;-)

February 22, 2005 at 02:29 PM · I have his DVD- Ysaye # 3 solo encore w/ the Chicago Sym / Barenboim-- incredible, both technically, soundwise and interpretation.

February 22, 2005 at 03:13 PM · Hi,

Lisa: I have seen both recordings (and heard them). There were out on CD a few years ago, but I don't know if they are still in print... Perhaps a search at Amazon.com or TowerRecords may give up something...


February 22, 2005 at 09:17 PM · Lisa,

I will reply properly when I have read some Buber, but I am just beginning to comprehend the difference between 'motive' and what you (and Buber) call 'I-Thou' in the creation of a work. I will need a while to dwell on this.

I have two recordings of the Pictures played by Richter. One of them is often considered the best recording of the work, and that is the Live 1958 Sofia recital recording, which can be found on Amazon here:


The other is another live recording, made in the 60s. It can be found here:


Did your recording feature a fairly conspicuous wrong note in the first Promenade? If so, it's probably the Sofia Recital recording.


February 23, 2005 at 07:48 PM · I thought this might be relevant. It is quoted from Nicholas Cook's book 'Music: A Very Short Introduction':

"Schenker's belief that music represents an incursion into the human world of some higher form of reality was quite literal. 'Music', he says (and this is Music with a capital 'M'), uses the genius composer 'as a medium, so to speak, and quite spontaneously'. For Schenker, this is the definition of a genius composer; ordinary composers simply write what they want, but in the case of the genius 'The superior force of truth - of Nature, as it were - is at work mysteriously behind his conciousness, guiding his pen, without caring in the least whether the happy artist himself wanted to do the right thing or not.'"

This, to me, seems similar to some of Buber's ideas.


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