The Greatness of Walter Verdehr

August 26, 2006 at 06:10 AM · When I was attending a summer science research program at Michigan State University for high school students, I had the privilege of attending several concerts by faculty member Walter Verdehr.

Verdehr routinely performed with the Verdehr Trio consisting of clarinetist wife Anna and pianist Gary Fitzpatrick (?) I thoroughly enjoyed their old world style of making music especially since it was basically the opposite of what I had grown up hearing and doing in NY.

I brashly went over to his studio on campus and played Paganini Caprice #24 for him, and he told me to make the rolling chromatics in variation #3 more double stop like. Later that summer, I found out from Margaret Pardee that he had come to Meadowmount and told her that he had seen me and enjoyed my playing.

A few posts ago, somebody raised the question of old school German playing. I had forgotten to mention Verdehr's name, as that was long ago. Still, I remember him well and consider him one of the greats. Perfect intonation, great taste, humble musicianship, understated style, clean tone. Had I not been so programmed to be a doctor by my parents, I'd definitely have considered studying with him. He'd have been really good for me, not just in terms of violin playing.

Has anybody else here studied with Walter Verdehr or attended any of his concerts?

Replies (34)

August 26, 2006 at 07:03 AM · Greetings,

Kevin, here is some blurb on him

Walter Verdehr is professor of violin at the Michigan State University School of Music.

He received a Diploma from the Hochschule fur Music (Vienna), and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School of Music. Verdehr is recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, the Michigan State University Teacher-Scholar Award and the Dean's Council Apollo Award. He has made many solo appearances in recital and with orchestras in the United State and Europe. In 1973 he founded the Verdehr Trio with his wife, Elsa Ludewig Verdehr (clarinet). He has made annual tours and masterclasses in the United States and Europe with the Verdehr Trio, as well as tours in Australia, China, Russia, Turkey. He has commissioned many leading composers to write for the Verdehr Trio, including Ned Rorem, Gian Carolo Menotti, David Diamond, Gunther Schuler, William Bolcom, Joan Tower, Libby Larsen, Bright Sheng and Peter Sculthorpe. Verdehr has served as juror for the Naumburg and Prague Spring international violin competitions. He has recorded Barber, Menotti and Arutiunian violin concertos for Crystal Records as well as eleven CDs entitled "The Making of a Medium" with the Verdehr Trio.

But I got to keep pulling your leg about this `old German School` stuff. I`m damn sure Mr Verdehr doesn`t play in the only clearly defined /recognizable `german school` which was dead long before Carl Flesch came on the scene...

Cheers,

Buri

August 26, 2006 at 01:01 PM · Uh, have you actually seen Verdehr play in concert Stephen?

He's as classic German as they come - refined and tasteful. I find his style reminiscent of Adolf Busch, whose playing I really enjoy. Though Verdehr doesn't force his violin like so many players do nowadays, his tone carries just fine in big concert halls because he's mastered the art of German bowing and owns Guarnerius and Storioni violins.

August 27, 2006 at 10:32 AM · Greetings,

Kevin, the qualities you picked on (refined and tasteful.)have nothing to do with any school of violin playing.

>He's as classic German as they come - refined and tasteful.

So he uses a book under the arm bowing style and holds the bow with his fingertips?

There is no agreed version of a German school extant except that rightly considered defunct at the time of Flesch. The gentleman in question didnt even do his major studies at a German Institute.

I pick up this point in all seriousness because someone as knowledgeable and helpful as yourself has a big influence on the list, yet what you are saying here is fundamentally misleading .Clearly defined schools of playing died out a long time ago primarily with the advent of two factors:

1) ease of travel and exchange

2) a shift in thinking in pedagogy in general that recognized the individuality of students and what is best depends on individual factors.Eclecticism rules.

Where the issue does get confused i think is that one can recognize traits in students of individual teachers(Galamian bow arms are not hard to spot. Students of Grach also stand out for some reason..) but these sdhould probably be attributed to specific teachers rather than creating some kind of mythical school.

Cheers,

Buri

August 27, 2006 at 11:07 AM · Buri, I'm curious what you're talking about with students of Grach. I know two of them and hear some slight similarities that I attributed to his interpretations maybe, rather than something he asks for specifically, like something to do with bowing for example. Just curious to maybe get a better understanding of what's going on with them.

August 27, 2006 at 04:43 PM · If you actually saw Verdehr in concert, buri, you'd see that I'm not being misleading one bit. The old German violin school is UNMISTAKEABLE to those who have experienced it live.

One doesn't have to study at a major German institute to play that style. For example, there are tons of American violin teachers in the Midwest who are trained in that method. I met one of those violinists at my Arizona Opry earlier this year.

Yes, Verdehr does that book under the arm and fingertips thing buri. And he does it WELL.

Verdehr is a large man, well over 6 feet tall. For him to play the violin, he needs to draw his arms in to accomodate the instrument. Though he is an acknowledged Galamian disciple, there's nothing "Galamian" about his playing.

The playing of Walter Verdehr was much like that of another NY professional violinist of reknown, Dale Stuckenbruck (concertmaster of the Brooklyn Philharmonic). Stuckenbruck was a very fine violinist who was highly respected in NY circles for his classic German style. I love the German purity of sound, flexibility of bowing, understated but powerful musicianship, and judicious use of vibrato. Stuckenbruck buzzed through "Le Ronde de Lutins" for me at a rehearsal at my high school once, impressing the heck out of me. Yes, he had the classic German bow arm. In fact, it was Stuckenbruck who introduced me to the baroque bow and laughed gently when I struggled with it. That said, Verdehr and Stuckenbruck sounded nothing like each other.

Dale Stuckenbruck is another violinist who I have really come to respect over the years. Has anybody on violinist.com worked with this fine NY professional?

Side note: The conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic 15 years ago was a small but powerful genius named "Yuval Waldman" who was a disciple of Gingold. I only saw Waldman play the violin once, but it was obvious he was a PLAYER.

August 27, 2006 at 11:16 PM · Greetings,

sorry, but i think your argument s is completely straw man. First, you keep talking about purity of tone, elegance and so forth as the purview of one particular 'school' which makes no sense whatsoever. Are you saying the players you have in mind have more of these qualities than Francescatti, or Kogan playing the Beethoven, or Hugh Bean playing the Elgar? It just doesn"t hold up.

Then you talk about huge physiquend how they adapt as proof of a Greman school of playing but all those greta players have done is adapted their techniques to the demands of their body type. My point exactly. I guess there is a tendency to use teachign material and idea that have been influenced by German players but that also implies that they have not absorbed outside influences in the open world of the 20c. Busch is an interestign case. He is as far as I am aware, not cited as a representatiove of 'the German school.' He is just the genius Busch and his influence has been felt by all manner of players the world over.

I think there are other sound worlds out there that differ from the kind of high tech, clean (?)loud , agrresive playing one can hear from talented but lesser players and for sure there is a tendencey to associate it with the Galamian influence or even call it 'Aerican' which is somewhat unfair. But Galamian himself stated that his bowing was a mixture of Mostras, Capet and himself.

I think it is valid to tlak of some traditions and influences. For example, whta Ysaye passe ddown through Mr Gingold or to a lesser extent Aaron Rosand. I also think that players do sound different accoridng to cultural background. Generalizations about Itlain temperamnet versus French elegance, British laid backness and so forth can still hold up to some extent but again, do nothing to support the existence of clearly defines schools from each country.

But the bottom line is that these days talented people do their own thing and are open to all manner of choices . They may appear to resemble the last three clealy defined(in Flesch for example) schools of playing but they really cannot be defined as belonging to a particular school. That is why we talk about Bron students, or Galamian studnets , or Delay or Ozim but don't get bogged down with untenable references to historical schools of violin playing.

Cheers,

Buri

August 28, 2006 at 02:59 AM · Buri, just because I'm saying the German school has purity and grace doesn't mean that other schools don't.

You haven't seen enough good German style violinists like Verdehr and Stuckenbruck perform live to be able to talk knowledgably about what they actually do in concert. I'm telling you, great German violinists are just as distinct in their style as somebody trained in the Auer line or from the old Belgian school. If you saw these guys play live, they'd leave just as strong an impression on you that they left on me. Their musicality, their way of making tone, and their ethos are distinct from other schools.

Though ALL players of all nationalities absorb influences from all violinistic milieus, players still can adhere pretty strictly to a specific school for their own purposes. I myself am an example of that, having been trained in different methods but choosing to align myself almost completely under the Auer method for musical and physical reasons.

Definitely listen to Verdehr, buri. I think you'll enjoy his playing very much.

August 28, 2006 at 03:20 AM · I googled Verdehr to see how his playing looked. This was the first hit. Freaky that on the same page is an old business professor of mine (R. J. Calantone).

http://newsbulletin.msu.edu/feb12/distinguished.html

August 28, 2006 at 03:31 AM · I have been interested to hear the back and forth about Walter and also Yuval Waldman both of whom I knew as fellow students at Juilliard. Walter was a good tow the line Galamian student who was a fine musician and promoted himself as a chamber musician and a cultured person. Yuval was a fine musician who didn't practice enough in my opinion but considered himself to be a great musician and promoted musicianship over technique. Both have turned out to have interesting careers. Yuval has turned to conducting in order to do the musician thing very well. Walter has done chamber music, very well in my opinion. However, to characterize either as to a specific school, I would be doubtful. Yuval definitely was influenced by Gingold, but Walter was more Galamian influenced and when I knew him had a typical Galamian bow hand and also when he played a concert here at Baylor Univ. with his trio. I also am a Galamian, Gingold, Delay product, but I have had comments about a recent cd I did that I sound "European" in approach, but I am an American. I think as others have mentioned the school is not as important as the individual artistic statement each player makes. Bruce

August 28, 2006 at 05:18 AM · Hey buri,

Studying with Mr. Preucil, one of the new things he opened my eyes to was the use of extensions and finger crawling in shifting in order to produce a more connected line, in contrast to good old shifting Flesch-style with the hand and forearm initiating and keeping the hand frame of a fourth at all times (which is excellent and works most of the time). His seems a very organic technique to me (I do not try to copy everything about it, he does what works for him, but some things would be very awkward for me). Of course there are huge influences from Gingold, his main teacher, but I was thinking about this specific point and wondering if it could have come from Francescatti, with whom he also studied...the whole crawling-with-the-finger-and-hand-coming-after thing reminds me of things I've heard about Paganini's technique (as propounded by Ricci), and there is a thread (albeit tenous) from Zino to his father to Paganini's only student Sivori...

August 28, 2006 at 10:27 PM · I don't know anything at all about anything, but I'm having so much fun learning . . . keep on hashing this out all of you! Fascinating. All of you are making me think and rethink. This is way better than Monday night football.

August 28, 2006 at 11:31 PM · >You haven't seen enough good German style violinists like Verdehr and Stuckenbruck perform live to be able to talk knowledgably about what they actually do in concert. I'm telling

this is an incredibly arrogant,ignorant and mindless comment. You know -nothing- about who I am, who I studied with, who I have and haven't seen.

August 28, 2006 at 11:45 PM · Confucius say Buri is right.

August 29, 2006 at 12:42 AM · Here's a rare, dare I say even unique, thing; I actually agree with Keith.

Neil

August 29, 2006 at 04:16 AM · I wasn't trying to be negative or arrogant toward you, buri. I'm just saying that if you've seen as many German style violinists live as I have, you'd recognize their style in Verdehr and Stuckenbruck no matter what other teachers they've had.

To my knowledge, you haven't heard either of these two guys play. Thus I'm not sure why you're criticizing my judgment when I sat within arms distance of these two men and experienced their playing live.

So Neil and Keith, I guess you've seen Verdehr and Stuckenbruck play then. I'm interested in finding out on a technical level from you two why buri (who hasn't seen them to my knowledge) is right and I (who auditioned live for both of them) am not.

August 30, 2006 at 01:05 AM · Buri, I can see where you're coming from on the whole "individuality" thing--no one needs to be summarily lumped in with everyone else.

But, what's the harm in making some distinctions and noticing similarities? At least it's a place to start--right? Of course, you're right, every violinist is unique, but I don't understand? What is the problem with categorizing just for the sake of discussion? A little enlightenment?

August 29, 2006 at 11:55 PM · Kevin, there are times in life where you learn that others possess depths of knowledge that engender confidence. Buri is one of those in whom I have total confidence in his knowledge of such matters. Mind you I have no confidence in his spelling, but that's another matter entirely.

Let's just say I'll take Buri's pronouncements (and his associated well-argued posts) on this matter over yours every day. :)

Neil

August 30, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Come on guys . . . I think there's been some fascinating positions shared from both camps. As is usually the case, the answer probably lies somewhere else and in both places all at once.

Positions are not as important as people, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to learn from all of you here on violinist.com.

The minute things start erupting in flames, I feel like I lose out. I'm trying to learn something here, and I can't learn anything when people start putting up their walls and stop sharing their knowledge with me.

So, come on, please, I beg of you. Be nice to each other and I'd like learn about the different ways people approach their music. I learn so much from people and so very little from positions.

Please don't be angry with me. I'm a nice little Mommy of four who moonlights as a supermodel.

August 30, 2006 at 03:36 AM · Well said, kimberly. We need more intelligent grownups like you to keep violinist.com going.

Because I had the privilege of auditioning for Verdehr as a youngster, I'd like to mention the one thing about Verdehr that makes him so great: his CLASS.

Even though at the time I was a little violin student with a $300 violin auditioning for him, Verdehr treated me with utmost respect as if I were a colleague. I wasn't used to that kind of respect at the time, but that's how he was. I'd also state that Dale Stuckenbruck and Yuval Waldman were every bit the same way, as was the ENTIRE Brooklyn Philharmonic when they shared the stage with my high school orchestra.

I've since learned that only the finest artists like Verdehr show such total humility and respect for even the smallest and least skilled of violinists.

Oh yeah. As far as spelling goes, isn't buri an English teacher?

August 31, 2006 at 05:44 AM · I've been lurking around here lately and after reading the Guidelines for Writers from Laurie and everyone's input about how things have been for the past few days... there's one thing on here that really irks me a lot.

"Let's just say I'll take Buri's pronouncements (and his associated well-argued posts) on this matter over yours every day. :)"

As Laurie said in a recent post: I would like this to be a community where people address each other with respect, one that welcomes people of all ages, abilities and varying views. But also a community where people can have a lively debate. We will disagree. But let's take some individual responsibility; disagreement is not the same thing as disrespect. And even when disrespect is perceived, it might not be intended.

The comment tossed about taking one's point of view over anothers any day is quite repulsive and close minded! We're all musicians wanting to learn and grow and closing someone off like that is so demeaning. No one holds a seniority title on this site when it comes to sharing ideas, comments, suggestions, or even facts (some disagreed upon). I know that I come to this site for advice and to gain knowledge about the violin itself and becoming a better musician.

Laurie wrote: And even when disrespect is perceived, it might not be intended.

Now I know that I basically have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with this thread, but that comment (which really irks me a lot!) was intentional and disrespectful not only to whom it was directed towards, but the Violinist.com community as a whole... as if no one else counts and we only come here to read the responses, comments, and arguements of ONE commentator!

I was raised with the philosophy, "You can learn something new from anyone... whether that be the cashier at your local grocery store, your mailman, and even a fellow musician!" And it's true you can learn something new or interesting facts, school of thoughts here.. which makes this community so great and keeps me coming here everyday to read new things, violin gossip(!), and respectable debates.

I feel slightly nervous posting my 2 cents.... hopefully people can hear me out, since I feel like a little guy around here now! ;)

August 31, 2006 at 06:03 AM · The "c" word is hereafter banned, cough Confucius cough.

August 31, 2006 at 07:04 AM · It's amazing how much a professional career violinist like me has learned on this thread about Verdehr and Stuckenbruck from nonprofessional players (do some of them even play the violin?) who've never seen or heard them play.

Personally, I would never make judgments on a violinist's playing that I've never heard.

August 31, 2006 at 10:37 AM · Ryan - Some deservs to respected because they have contributed good things for some 6+ years. Buri has never letten anyone down with his comments, always well put and corect, and if he would say that martians as abducted his dog most of us would believe him. If you stay around for a while you will too. Btw, I recognize your name, from where?

Kevin - I have heard Verdehr in Barber (with Gregorian?) I liked it, but I can't say that it was the best Barber I've heard.

August 31, 2006 at 11:13 AM · Ryan, lets just say that I'll take Buri's pronouncements (and his associated well-argued posts) on most matters over almost everyone on this board every day. :)

BTW, whatever happened to people's ability to read a smiley? Certainly, it does appear that some here are determined to be offended no matter what is said, particularly if it dares to disagree with their preconceived ideas.

Neil

August 31, 2006 at 11:26 AM · Hi,

I just feel impelled to break a lance (that must be a horrible "spanishicism") in favour of Buri.

Despite some peoples' over-enthusiastic defence of Buri (which is also wrong, in a way, we should be arguing about what the relative merits of each argument are, not attacking/defending people).

We (at least I) are not all blind to Kevin's not-so-subtile innuendos and I find they degrade from him as a person. So what, you googled him up and found out he is an English teacher, so that means he is not a violinist and on top of that his spelling is bad!! That is demagogy if I ever saw it.

I personally couldn't care less, I have seen Buri propose ideas that I later heard people like Mauricio Fuks or Zakhar Bron defend. That makes me trust his oppinion a priori.

Have fun! It's back to practice with me...

August 31, 2006 at 12:02 PM · You can't teach english and be a violinist???

Why not???

Can you, say teach Romanian or Farsi instead? Now THIS is rasicm :-)

September 1, 2006 at 12:06 AM · Can we stop the bloodletting now? I don't want to lose another one of my free teachers!!! I can barely afford to pay the teacher I have, I can't afford to go to school and I need you people to get along so I can get a college level education without going to school!

Don't chase away anyone else. Be nice.

September 9, 2006 at 07:35 PM · This is an interesting thread and I wish I had had time to respond to it earlier while it was still fresh!

I believe that the problem with the discussions of "schools" is rather akin to the complications that arise from calling a time period "Baroque," "Classical," and "Romantic," in that the labels often severely postdate the very thing they are trying to describe. However (still bearing in mind the terms "Baroque," Classical," etc.) I'd be hard pressed to say that they never existed or that someone or another isn't consciously or subconciously imitating its style. Karl Klinger might have died almost a century ago but old footage of Suzuki show that his bowhold was perserved at least up until Suzuki's death. Hans Letz of Juilliard was of similar ilk to Klinger. And the Strad reported on how the old Mathieu Crickboom method (which bears a striking resemblance to Joachim's despite his years under Ysaye) is still being used in parts of Spain. Yes, I have yet to confront a book-under-the-arm poistioned violinist as to whether they are of the German School, but bearing in mind that most movements take at least a couple centuries to die out, my guess is that it may be a premature to close the book on this case.

That being said, I'm not sure if the movement Kevin is describing is the one that I've encountered. I don't how Mr. Verdehr holds his bow-- he's one of the many fabulous violinists that I've yet to see live. However I was always under the impression that tone wasn't the German School's strength. Earwitness reports about Klinger's chamber music performances always described beauty of line but never mentioned pure or focused sound. And the most prominent German-school LOOKING violinist, Joseph Szigeti (yes he had long arms to adapt to and was by nationality, Hungarian but Hubay was a Joachim student after all) in spite of his tremendous tremendous musical/violinistic ability had neither fuzz free tone nor flexible bowing. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Also I think there is an ad hoc German approach to general instrument-playing thanks to their long-standing tradition of higher education (Germany has some of the oldest universities anywhere). Even sans the broken wrist, Flesch could be called scholastically German in that he talmudized technique up to its gills. In a similar vein, I believe there to be a German approach to music making (especially for Bach, Beethoven etc.) that emphasizes strict adherence to the score and the banishment of any ideas that come from outside of the manuscript. (Yes I know this practice exists elsewhere but this theme comes up too often in interpreting German music to be deemed a coincidence).

And a quick word about the flying ad-homs-- in the same way we are too quick to pass judgment on public figures, we are too quick to pass judgements on others. We are in this profession because we are passionate about what we do-- of course at times that unfortunately leads to a passionate defense of our opinions at the expense of tact.

But if someone makes one off-handed comment as result of being overly emotional, I don't think that gives others free license to jump all over him, especially if that individual is known to have an underlying respect for others in general. And as far as the "English teacher" comment goes-- I don't think Buri's mistakes come from not knowing the language so much as typos. Personally, I used to get annoyed at people who neglect to edit before publishing their words on a web page. But then I started noticing how cumbersome it was to reread my entires ten times and also began taking to the idea that to some people, the internet isn't so much of a book as a spoken, improptu dialogue where stuttering and slips are permissable. That's my two pesos worth anyhow.

Lewis

September 10, 2006 at 02:35 AM · Can someone explain what the "book under the arm" referrs to? Cheers.

September 10, 2006 at 02:43 AM · Lewis,

What a lovely post. Thank you.

As for the disrespectful comments on all sides, people sometimes make such comments when they feel attacked or hurt by others' comments. While it doesn't excuse anything, I think we can all be a bit more forgiving and understanding of each other.

Sharelle, the book under the arm refers to the position of the right elbow in which it is very low and close to the body while the wrist is suspended to some degree. Personally, it drives me crazy, but there are some terrific violinists like Kavakos who somehow can make it work.

-Laura

September 10, 2006 at 03:15 AM · I've tried that book-under-the-arm thing (usually while backstage before orchestra, trying to warm up a bit while holding my music under my arm) and it's weird. I can see how it could be made to work (heck, just ask Szigeti) but it feels very strange. :)

September 10, 2006 at 07:21 AM · The book-under-the-arm reference is to the German school of bowing, which actually taught that the left upper arm should stay close to the side when bowing.

September 10, 2006 at 02:53 PM · Not all German school violinists have that dropped lower elbow.

I've seen plenty of German violin school teachers from the Midwest USA who have flared elbows and "Russian" bowgrips. Many of those players have bow postures that look identical to those used by Heifetz and Milstein. Yet they have had absolutely no exposure to the Auer method and often don't even know who Auer and Heifetz are! In fact, I saw one of them in the 2nd violin section of the Berlin Philharmonic on a video telecast (wouldn't go so far to say he was Auer trained either). That's hardly surprising given that Leopold Auer trained with both Dont and Joachim. Hence the old "Auer" method is actually a variant of the old German school.

I also have a Italian friend in Florida who's an active concertizing violinist at the local level - at the age of nearly 90. He had attended Juilliard in the old old days and studied with one of the great teachers there (was it Maximilian Pilzer?) In any case, he was German trained and did the classic book-under-the-arm thing despite being only about 5'5". This man functioned as a strolling violinist and would sing standards while he played. He wasn't the most technically correct violinist, but he certainly was the most adorable and one of the most active players I've seen live.

August 20, 2010 at 01:34 AM ·

SO MAY I ASK YOU GUYS, Is MR. VERDEHR a GOOD TEACHER?  I am now looking for a good teachr for my master's degree..  IL be waiting for KIND answers.. thank you so much!!!

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