The most imposing violinist

December 14, 2004 at 06:45 PM · Who in your opinion, had the most 'imposing' presence on stage when he/she performed?

I go for Heifetz!

Replies (73)

December 14, 2004 at 08:35 PM · oistrakh comes to mind.

December 14, 2004 at 09:05 PM · Yes, I would say David Oistrakh as well, and by "imposing" I mean that in a positive way.

December 14, 2004 at 11:45 PM · I second Heifetz.

December 15, 2004 at 07:42 AM · Out of curiousity, why Oistrakh?

I chose Heifetz because he had that look that said 'buzz off and let me do my thing' =)

December 15, 2004 at 08:25 AM · Oistrakh was such a towering figure musically. When he was playing, I would imagine the audience must've felt both assured and yet vulnerable at the same time. So assured and assuring technically... Heifetz was similar, of course, but he never had that natural shake of the head at important junctures in the score! =)

December 15, 2004 at 08:30 AM · Ginette Neveu was probably quite a presence, by all accounts.


December 15, 2004 at 09:11 AM · everything about oistarkh, the way he planted his feet when he played was truly awesome, and of course the freedom of the head was probably scary if you were playing with him, because he could shoot you glares without interrupting his playing. check out in the shostakovich cadenza on art of violin, somebody in the audience makes a noise and he shoots them a glare wtihout missing a beat.

December 15, 2004 at 09:19 AM · Especially for the conductor, I would imagine. The way she stared at them struck me as unnerving the first time I saw it.

EDIT: This post was in reference to Carl's post on Neveu. I didn't see the previous post when I replied!

December 15, 2004 at 09:26 AM · I think Oistrakh too. Stern definately had a "look" to him too that made him appear solid, but not as much as Oistrakh or Heifetz.

December 15, 2004 at 04:32 PM · Ginette Neveu

December 16, 2004 at 01:47 AM · I disagree... Ida Haendel gets my vote!

December 16, 2004 at 02:16 AM · Greetings,

surprised noone mentioend Szeryng. Ceck out his terrifying performance of the Brahms violin cocnerto now on DVD. Sue , I was thinking of Ida Haendel to. The truth is all the greats have some kind f presence. hetehr or not is imposing I think depends on how you interpet the word.

The most imposing I saw Mr Szerying was when he got really mad with aconducterint he Beethoven concerto. Come the last movement the conducter wavedhis wand and Szeryng put his violin down. So imposing was his will that the orchestra didn@t stat either. Szerying the put his violin back up and signalled for the orchstra to play the moveemnt with him, which they did to perfection.



December 16, 2004 at 03:03 AM · Szeryng!

I was wondering who I missed out.

I agree with Buri, he definitely has a strong presence physically while performing...

December 16, 2004 at 03:07 AM · Greetings,

no. I spoke to him afterwards. He was sober.

But either way, he gave unalloyed pleasure to millions. Not many of can claim that and soemtimes the personal price you pay is very high,



December 16, 2004 at 05:25 AM · Since this discussion encompasses violinists who are unfortunately deceased, add to that no one has come out yet, I will vouch for him.


My God, men, what are ye thinkin'?!

December 16, 2004 at 05:43 AM · Greetings,

men don`t think so much. We leave that to the fair sex because they find it easier.



December 16, 2004 at 06:37 AM · Oistrakh, by all means. I was lucky enough to be on the same stage with him the few times when he performed Brahms, Tchaikovski and Beethoven Violin Concerti. His stage presence was totally awesome, a giant of a violinist.

December 16, 2004 at 07:00 AM · Even just seeing a picture of Oistrakh getting his violin out of it's case is enough to get my adrenaline and musical imagination going...

As for Paganini. He doesn't get my vote because I'm not old enough to have seen the guy live ;) That said, I actually feel I would be quite disappointed were he to travel in time and get up on the stage now.

December 16, 2004 at 07:02 PM · heifetz - he played many works too fast (for my taste), must have been quite a burden to many accompanyists especially for the times

that being said i like heifetz alot more than i used to - not as much as oistrakh or szeryng but i still like him alot

i dont know how you can play violin and not like heifetz - even if he is imposing fast tempos his technique was phenominal let say for like wht 60 years?

December 18, 2004 at 01:46 PM · Jonathan,

Would your disappointment in seeing a Paganini concerts result from the assumption that somehow technique is held to a much higher standard today?

December 18, 2004 at 07:05 PM · Pretty much so, yes.

December 19, 2004 at 02:19 PM · Imposing violinists...

By all accounts Ysaÿe was an imposing personality and violinists, and if nothing else he was physically imposing (he was like 6 foot 5). Like Milstein said, with him King of Violinits wasn't enough. The called Ysaÿe Czar!

An interesting story from a former member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Apparently, when Heifetz used to come there to play, at the first rehearsal with the him the orchestra was so silent when he walked on stage that, as the person told me "you could have heard a needle drop on the carpet in the balcony."

And yes, I have heard from many that Szeryng had an amazing stage presence, and that Oistrakh had a very commanding stage personality as well.

Just to take this thread to a different turn... we have a lot of stuff about people past, what about today? Anyone finds anyone out there today to be an imposing personality of the violin?


December 19, 2004 at 08:52 PM · The older you get, the more imposing you seem to I'd go with Pearlman. He is imposing with his virtuosity alone.

Although not old, you can't beat Vengerov for imposing.

December 19, 2004 at 09:45 PM · Actually, I find Vengerov's presence rather weak. It's grounded in artifice and gimmick.


December 19, 2004 at 10:59 PM · With all these artists listed as "imposing", how does one define it?

We can all begin with the fact those listed are all male.

December 19, 2004 at 11:15 PM · Actually my definition of imposing is quite quaint. Firstly, I define it as a performer who has a lot of charisma, in precisely the same way particular actors have it and thus command multi-million dollar fees for their acting performances. Yes, it is certainly something to do with physical appearance, but it also has something to do with their mere presence making an unsaid statement. And that (importantly unsaid) statement is something along the lines "...that no one else in this concert hall can pull the wool over my eyes when it comes to making beautiful music. I know precisely how to make music the way I want it, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop me from doing this". In terms of physical appearance, studies have already shown, for example, that tall people tend to get ahead better in the business world all other things being equal. Whether we acknowledge it or not, being of substantial stature physically has a lot to do with being imposing. And subconsiously or not, we tend to favour people who have better looks (rightly or wrongly, depending on the profession of course).

My second part of the definition is quite simple. Which violinists would I be the most nervous to play in front of?

So by those two definitions, of the current performers, my votes go to Pinchas Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz. And yes, both have a "huge" stage presence in terms of charisma that draws the audience well and truly in. I still have not forgotten Shlomo Mintz's stage presence from a performance I went to 20 years ago. It remains etched in my mind as if it happened yesterday. This tall figure, fiery red hair, totally in command, the audience completely in his hands, absolute technical and musical command. The wonderful way in which both these people play is simply the icing on the cake. And both also share a common characteristic in being able to draw immense sound resources from their instruments. Just as you think every other violinist is about to run out of puff, these two just pull more and more and more out of their instruments. It's almost scary, and again fits my definition of imposing.

Am I afraid of these two guys? You bet!

December 20, 2004 at 12:03 AM · i'd say vengerov has a good deal of precense, no matter what it's grounded in.

December 20, 2004 at 01:38 AM · Oh, come on, that was uncalled for. My teacher once played in an orchestra with Szerying playing the Brahms Concerto. He saw in his greenroom an empty bottle of wine and an empty bottle of wisky. After the concert, he asked him "how do you do it?" and Szeryng's response was "You have to practice drunk".

I agree with Carl about Vengerov.

December 20, 2004 at 03:05 AM · Greetings,

Enosh, I don@t think it was uncalled for at all. In fact I was quite moderate in my commenting.

Yes, it is true Szeryng was an alcoholic etc etc. Not suggestinfg you have distorted the facts.

However, I don`t think you realize that there are peopel on this list who studied with Szeryng and have very deep feeling about the man, not just for his playing but for his humanity and warmth. A very great human being. Just maybe they get a litlte sic\k of someoen who cannot as yet aspire to the greatness of this person making rather juvenile remarks.



December 20, 2004 at 03:37 AM · What I was talking about being uncalled for were the two downmarks I received. I wasn't trying to offend anyone and I have nothing against him. I really love his playing and if you say he was a great person I believe it. I was just making a stupid joke in light of the well known fact that he would play while under the influence.

December 20, 2004 at 03:40 AM · Oh yeah, Christian seems absolutely right. In the Art of Violin, when Ysaye got off that carriage I was already afraid. His face and posture just screamed "Don't mess with me"

December 20, 2004 at 03:40 AM · Greetings,

I don`t agree with the down marking system. If I disagree with you about something I prefer to say why then we can get things straightened out between us easily enough. On the other hand, I guess the marks tend to suggest some other people would rather let that particular topic rest and not everyone has time to sit down and write in.

I do know more than one Szeryng student who would have been upset to read that crack on this board.



December 20, 2004 at 04:53 AM · Imposing ?

That depends upon the musical or visual. Those already mentioned are great. Nadia-Solerno-Sonnenburg,Nigel Kennedy Jeanette Nevaeu, Hiefetz, Ivry Igitlis and more all had personal charisma. We then have to acknowlege people like Charlie Daniels and Vassar Clemmens who were not great violinists but effective. Mark O'Connor,Stephan Grappelli,John Lu"Ponti also made their mark. What about Jack Benny ? Prior to that was Ole Bull.

December 20, 2004 at 05:27 AM · I understand, I'm sorry. I really wasn't being serious.

December 20, 2004 at 05:33 AM · Oh there are female violinists that have good stage presence...I think Ida Haendel is one of them...The Grand Dame of the Violin.

December 20, 2004 at 05:58 AM · hah, i think that look ysaye gives getting off the carriage was priceless.

December 20, 2004 at 07:00 AM · Greetings,

did you catch the look of relief in the horse`s eyes though?



December 20, 2004 at 07:42 AM · Good one.

December 20, 2004 at 07:48 AM · Henry,

Despite Gitlis' comments in the Art of Violin, I promise you Ginette Neveu was a woman.


December 20, 2004 at 08:08 AM · Plus Sue voted for Ida Haendel. And of course Ida is most definitely a "she" as well! :)

December 20, 2004 at 11:41 PM · I would put in a vote for Kolja Blacher, who I recently saw performing in Melbourne. He played Shostakovich 2nd concerto & he seemed so grounded & solid technically, & his ability to carry of such a symphonic concerto with what appeared to be such minimal physical effort made him appear superhuman. In that respect he reminded me of Oistrakh....

December 21, 2004 at 04:07 AM ·

December 21, 2004 at 05:01 AM · My teacher at the Con said his playing was ruff...

December 21, 2004 at 10:50 AM · He is said to have the best Sibelius around. I strongly urge anyone who has a chance to hear him to do so indeed. If I had to choose one thing he did all night which took everyone's breath away, it was the way he entered right at the beginning. So subtle, and so poignant. To me, that is true virtuosity. Of course, he later went on to unquestionably ace the piece, but I was absolutely impressed by his entry. Wonderful stuff! It was pretty obvious why he's Ashkenazy's personal favourite.

Did you see the concert, by the way, Adam?

December 21, 2004 at 12:41 PM · No, I couldn't attend it, but 3 of my friends and my teacher attended.

December 21, 2004 at 01:15 PM ·

December 21, 2004 at 08:52 PM · Keith,

I think Adam's comment was fine, since he wasn't offering his own opinion. He was quoting his teacher. If Adam had said "I thought his playing was rough" then fair enough.

Incidentally, I heard the broadcast on ABC Classic FM, and I would have to agree with Adam's teacher....

December 21, 2004 at 10:37 PM · Some say/said the same of Heifetz. Not to draw any comparisons, though. Just offering an alternative perspective on 'roughness' in the art of violin playing. After all, it is a well known fact that Heifetz wasn't as 'ruff' in concert as he was on recordings, simply by virtue of the fact that microphones are placed far closer than audiences are. Heifetz had them right up to the f-holes, but it is a similar concept. There are some who reckon that the cutting sound before each note helps in projecting that note. Out in the hall, it is said that the 'roughness' disappears and gives way to the note itself. Not many new players do this anymore, it seems. Perhaps times and tastes have indeed changed!

December 21, 2004 at 10:56 PM · sarah chang does

December 22, 2004 at 08:47 PM · I'd say definitely Heifetz. The man was surpassed by none in technique, and showed it. He was just phenomenal.

In my personal opinion - Vengerov may have stage presence, but he can't play a note in tune. Ok, maybe a few. Can't stand his stuff.

Another favourite of mine would definitely be Yehudi Menuhin - he was imposing in a very subtle way.

December 22, 2004 at 10:04 PM · the young yehudi menuhin was superhuman. i'm surprised nobody mentioned him.

the old menuhin? let's change the subject.

December 22, 2004 at 11:49 PM · The young Menuhin was definetely imposing because of his youth, and the technique and musicality he showed at such a young age. In his 20's I'd definetely say he was imposing...but even as an elderly man, in the 1950's and 60's he had a presense on stage, an enourmous respect. This respect gave him maybe not such an imposing look, but definetly a stage presense - for as an elderly man I think he was less concerned with technical showoffingness then with musicality and changing peoples emotions through a concert.

December 30, 2004 at 07:17 PM · A nice few comments here on the subject of imposing presenses on stage by violinists, behooves me to put my two cents in, with respect to my seniors.

Some names here came rushing to me as refreshing glimpses, as I remember watching much footage of these various artists. To the list of violinists of yesteryear I'd include Jacques Thibaud straight away. He had all you might want in terms of charisma and fresh spellbinding musicality. I feel too Isaac Stern was such a violinist. He seemed so disarming and vulnerable, that you end up at the edge of your seat in anticipation for his lucious sound. Then you have Christian Ferras, a personality that overtakes your conciousness as you watch him play.

Ysay, Neveu, Heifetz, Szering, and Haendel were among the most mentioned violinists in terms of presense. Though certainly were such imposing figures, I find however a certain tension in a relaxed atmosphere that these Titans could obviously not achieve. I'm not very fond of Menuhin at all; but the obvious is, that he commanded a very tight respect from musician to audience member, such that reverance jumps off the screen and engulfs you. Oistrakh of course had it both ways--subtlty and tenderness coupled against a strong tension such that all are aware of something supernatural in the midst.

Then the name Paganini came about. Accuracy obviously is unatainable, but legend has it as the truth; Paganini was indeed an overpowering presense that got everybody cowering in all corners. With that in mind, the impresion of Henryk Wieniawsky on any audience remains etched in history as being intense and suffucating. So huge was his presense--literaly and musicaly. Auer too had that reputation.

As for Joachim, Sarasate, Vieuxtemps, and according to some accounts Bull and Ernst, they were great personalities but not stage commanders such as is being discussed here.

Regardless of how a violinist looks, however, the sound can be very imposing and be coming from a seemigly happyly relaxed person. Francescatti was intense, firy, had a huge sound...and a smile. Arthur Grumiaux too had a very placid demeanor, yet he can make you cringe at some of his renditions--they're so powerful!

Imposing violinists today are about as intense as they are not musical. Some try to emulate their idols, some their teachers, and the musicians among'em play as they are. Christian Zimmerman tries his darndest to achieve tension and respect with his acrobatics on stage. Forget it. Joshua Bell is even worse; you can tell when it's so unnatural, so fake. Bell's weak and uniteresting sound seems not to match those deep knee bends and thrusts, it is just effect. Anne Sofie Mutter and Hilary Hahn too are hype; they have nothing in their hands in terms of musicality, and they try making up for it in sluty garb and waving back and forth, trying to eek out a sound they cannot achieve. In the case of female violinists today who are able garner respect in a physical sense is the outragious but honest Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg; and her musicality soars...she is truly the musician. Julia Fisher seems to be following the pattern of a young beautiful woman on stage, but her musicality is admireable. Midori will remain a favorite of the concert goer specificaly, in lieu of her charm and direct impact upon the beholder.

All in all, I found from the guys my age on stage Gringolts to be a person one sits up to and demands attention; Vengerov has no chance at that. Perhaps Mullova and maybe, just maybe Shaham...his kind warm presense intoxicates at least me, if not anybody else.

December 30, 2004 at 10:49 PM · I like shahams precense as well, very unassuming, but not apalogetic or weak or any way.

December 30, 2004 at 11:20 PM · Greetings,

I presume 'sluty' is a mispelling of sultry?


December 30, 2004 at 11:47 PM · David, I agree with many of your points, but have to disagree about Anne-Sophie Mutter. Listen to her slow movements if you doubt her musicality. About Shaham, I have never seen anybody look so relaxed on stage, he really takes the biscuit, and I like his live playing even more than his recordings. Shaham is a genius. As is Anne-Sophie Mutter :-)

And Vengerov.

(cant forget Heifetz)

Ok im finished

December 30, 2004 at 11:57 PM · Slutty is slang (if it matters) for sultry... My point is, where is the unmasked musicality of the finely bedecked violinist? The stunning gown usualy overrides the playing...

December 30, 2004 at 11:59 PM · Ok im back.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is no slut! :-)

December 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM · Oh hi David, I didnt see that last post of yours! Lol! I agree with you about joshua bell, I saw him on TV once, and he was doing all the poncey over the top faces, and he wasnt even playing, he was miming!!!

December 31, 2004 at 02:51 AM · David, you are incorrect.

Just one example. Oxford English Dictionary.

slut- noun (derogative)a slovenly or promiscuous woman.

sultry-of a person, passionate/sensitive.

It is also rude to dismiss other peoples reasonable objection to offensive language with 'as if it matters'

December 31, 2004 at 02:58 AM · So Keith, I take it the Sibelius concert with Boris was good? (A somewhat rendundant question).

I am kicking myself for missing it... The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) was playing on the same day (they did a great baroque performance though).

I guess I'll have to wait until Boris comes out here again.

Fiona, Thanks for the tip about Kolja Blacher.

I noted that he's the guest lead violin/director for one of the ACO's performances this coming May. On the promotional brochure, he looks really intense as he stares into the camera!

It'll be interesting to see how he compares and contrasts to Mr. Tognetti. I certainly am not missing that one.

December 31, 2004 at 03:43 AM · david, why is Hilary Hahn all hype? I think she's really talented.

December 31, 2004 at 04:30 AM ·

December 31, 2004 at 08:54 PM · David, I don't really agree wtih your points about Heifetz, Milstein, Szeryng, etc. about something they lacked. I do completely agree with you about Joshua Bell and Mutter, but not about Hilary Hahn. Although I must admit, sometimes she bores me, she is still very young and one good thing about her is that she isn't fake. She doesn't TRY to be overly musical like Bell or Mutter so I feel she doesn't try to hype at all. Since she's young and not fake, I'm hoping she'll develop good musicality.

December 31, 2004 at 09:48 PM · Ilya Kaler...yikes.

Ginette is pretty awing though.

December 31, 2004 at 10:33 PM · There was a fiddler at a square dance I attended many years ago. He was about 6'8" 300 pounds, with a terrible complexion, and very few teeth. Reminded me of a lyric: "...Big as a mountain and ugly as sin..."

THAT'S an imposing presence.


Hey mystery demeriter, I'll censor myself, to save you the trouble


Happy New Year everyone! 5 hours into 2005 (in the UK) and im just about sober now, that'll teach me to drink only twice a year.

January 1, 2005 at 11:29 PM · yeah, i'm in the same boat.

January 1, 2005 at 11:49 PM · Hope youve sobered up now Owen...


January 2, 2005 at 08:35 AM · Mr. Brivati, I didn't say "as if it matters" because I figured it mattered, and I understand it is rude. I wrote "if it matters" because I thought it not to be slang really (and as you pointed out, it is), so I wrote that leave to my doubt out there.

I'm sorry if I offended you or anybody, I have the utmost respect for you all.

January 2, 2005 at 08:55 PM · innocent mistake. You should call im buri thouh, otherwise his panties get all knotted up and he makes life difficult for us all.

January 3, 2005 at 12:07 AM · Guess not lol

January 3, 2005 at 07:28 AM · Greetings,

David, I promise to unknot my knickers and lets enjoy talking in the new year.



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