What's the difference between a soloist and an orchestra violinist?

February 14, 2018, 6:40 PM · The title says it all. What are the core differences between a typical orchestra violinist (or a musician as well I guess) and a soloist?

Do soloists normally play way better than orchestra musicians?

Do they practice a lot more?

Are they worse at some things?

What are the main skills that make you be a soloist?

Replies (94)

Edited: February 14, 2018, 7:33 PM · The soloist plays the solo part; the orchestra violinist play first and second violinist parts!

Kind of stating the obvious here, intentionally. Arguably the soloist part is more difficult and the center of attention. The entire orchestra play second role. Also, typically, the soloist memorized his/her part, and is the only one playing it, whereas orchestral players play the first and second parts from sight reading.

Are the orchestral players not as good as the soloist? Not necessarily so. It's just a different job IMO. Obviously there is a lot more pressure on the soloist, with little or no room for error, so they have to be a lot more prepared. On the other hand, I don't think the soloist (I assume) has to deal with nearly the same variety of repertoire as the orchestra players do. Where the soloist has weeks if not months to prepare (in theory) the orchestra players often has a few hours if any time at all (e.g. movie music production).

That said, there are situations where for e.g. Heifetz got together with an orchestra for the first time and produced a recording in less than 4hr without having seen the music ever before!


Edited: February 14, 2018, 7:58 PM · In a world of hyper-precision virtuosity expected from anyone in the upper echelon of playing, I suspect being 'a soloist' as a career is more a result of:

1. Good publicity skills
2. Good people skills
3. Right time, right place
4. Extroverted personality with assertive features.
5. Attractiveness

With skills being so highly honed in the classical music world these days the difference between a soloist and a concertmaster at the point where the careers diverge is likely extremely small, and the difference being more desire and personality than technical achievement.

February 14, 2018, 9:03 PM · If all the orchestra players played like the soloist it would sound very messy!
February 15, 2018, 3:47 AM · As a soloist you have to be able to perform flawlessly under terrifying scrutiny and pressure.
February 15, 2018, 3:53 AM · Here's Hillary Hahn interviewing Alex Kerr touching upon some of your questions.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qmMqkD0J5k&t=828s
February 15, 2018, 4:44 AM · this past entry on v.com is interesting, the two-volume book mentioned there is also very interesting, I have it.

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/201310/15110/

Edited: February 15, 2018, 6:10 AM · And then there is that rare breed - CM + soloist + conductor + quartet founder/leader + teacher, all under one hat. I have in mind Dennis Simons, the current conductor of Bristol Chamber Orchestra.

See this interview,
http://nwso.org.uk/2017/06/02/conversation-conductor-dennis-simons/

February 15, 2018, 7:59 AM · Orchestra violinists usually sleep at home*, successful soloists - not so much!

*except maybe on "Mozart in the Jungle."

Edited: February 15, 2018, 8:26 AM · I've thought about this in that past, and in other threads I've tried to inject the question as follows:

Supposed you're a first-stander in your orchestra, maybe even CM. The soloist is standing a few feet away from you, blazing away at the cadenza of their concerto. What thoughts do you have:
(a) The soloist is way better than me -- I could not do what (s)he is doing.
(b) I've got the skill and artistry to do that, but I lack the "other qualities" that would make me a good/willing soloist.
(c) I'm just as good as the soloist in every respect. But I chose the orchestral life for my own individual reasons.

I don't think it's all that obvious. Now, if you put Josh Bell in front of an average fee-for-service orchestra, I think we know what the answer would be. But someone like David Kim or Martin Chalifour? I doubt they're intimidated, but I'd be curious to learn how they'd answer that question.

Edited: February 15, 2018, 9:21 AM · Once upon a time In America/NYC, it helped if the head of the violin cartel liked you ( if you aspire to a solo career and have the digital skills); or at least wouldn’t do anything to actively sabotage your career.
Edited: February 15, 2018, 9:39 AM · Mischa Mischakoff*, long-time concertmaster (CM) of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini kind of set the standard for CM-level talent - at least among the great orchestras of the Western Hemisphere. Even after he retired he was in demand as a soloist, playing concertos with other orchestras even into his 80s. I think that level of ability is still being hired to CM our great orchestras.

* The book "Mischa Mischakoff, Journeys of a Concertmaster" by his daughter, Anne Mischakoff Heiles is a really good read with wonderful history that I never knew - especially about Mischakoff's escape from Russia with cellist Piatigorsky. The trade-paperback version of the book comes with a CD featuring his playing in his divergent roles as soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and concertmaster.

My father, a research MD whose Columbia University lab was on Welfare/Roosevelt Island in New York's East River (under the 59th Street Bridge) in the late 1930s to mid-1940s. One day while walking through the chronic disease wing of the hospital on the island Dad happened upon a recovering TB patient who had been the concertmaster of the WOR (radio station) symphony orchestra before he got sick. That CM was about to be released and his physician allowed him to resume playing violin a small amount - and he did it by joining my father's amateur weekly string quartet. It was not long before they stopped playing quartet music and the CM would play violin concertos with them while the regular quartet members played the accompaniments from piano scores. My father said it was like playing with Heifetz. I was told that once his doctor released him to go back to work he joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra* that would pay him several times more than his CM job had - he needed to pay for his medical care. *( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Whiteman )

Edited: February 15, 2018, 10:07 AM · Joshua Roman was principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony for two years before his rockstar solo career began. I'm sure I've seen every one of the CMs perform as a soloist with the orchestra. Many of our symphony musicians play in chamber ensembles as well. They are all excellent musicians.
February 15, 2018, 10:16 AM · Violin soloists have several characteristics that make them successful:
1.necessary, but not sufficient - technique that is above and beyond most concertmasters
2.the ability to thrive under intense pressure - critics will comment on 1 wrong note in a 20 minute concerto
3. amazing memory for music - Izhak Perlman knows over 300 songs for concertos and encores. He tells his accompanist the encore selections the night before.
4. endurance - travel is frequent
5. expressive - last, but not least - within the framework of the written work, they find ways to create more audience emotion than most violinists. They have analyzed specific notes and rhythms versus the orchestra and in the context of creating emotion.
February 15, 2018, 12:00 PM · There are many strata of soloists.

I've read some nontrivial number of biographies of violinists who call themselves "soloists" when what they mostly do is play a free recital or two a year, and teach privately. This is probably not what most people mean when they think of "soloists".

Then there are the folks who derive some of their income from recitals and concerto performances -- call it a dozen such engagements a year -- but mostly teach as their primary source of income. (This seems to be reasonably common for university professors.)

There are the folks who have a few dozen engagements a year. You might or might not recognize their names.

And then there are the ones that have upwards of a hundred, perhaps even several hundred, engagements a year. They're tiered into people who primarily play in first-class venues with internationally reknowned orchestras, and everyone else.

Most people think of the top-tier soloists who travel constantly to concertize with big-name orchestras, when they think "soloist". But they're only a tiny percentage of the overall number of violinists who label themselves "soloists".

February 15, 2018, 3:02 PM · OK, by soloist I mean the violinist who plays the Bruch concerto and then the rest of violinists that play in the orchestra.

Could any (or most) of the violinists in the orchestra replace the soloist?

Edited: February 15, 2018, 3:27 PM · "What are the main skills that make you be a soloist?" Determination, skill, time management, personal discipline, and the willingness to be an independent contractor. Many professional musicians can play as well as the professional soloist but they don't want the life of a totally independent contractor.

As one who had a high-travel job I learned that living out of hotels and airports is a life with few perks regardless of the adulation of the crowd at a performance. In my professional field I had the skills and talent that made me an in-demand speaker/consultant. After a bit over a decade I bailed out and got a regular job.

My sense of the soloist is that their life is very similar to what I experienced - periods of elation amidst a world of hotels, airports, delays, frustrations, et cetera. There are more than a few top-soloists who abandoned the road for a steady gig and a better life.

Edited: February 15, 2018, 5:42 PM · Tim, I think
Community orchestra: no!
Regional (at lest semi-pro): probably yes for some of the pros, but they might not do it from memory
Top tier orchestras:Yes - probably an audition requirement.

BUT --- Let me add this:
A couple of years ago I attended a concerto concert by a local amateur symphony orchestra. All are amateur players although certainly some of the players have violin performance degrees - especially the concertmaster and the principal second violinist - who that afternoon performed the Sibelius and Barber concertos. I can't remember which young woman played which, but the solo performances were flawless and most expressive and the orchestra wss not distracting. I cannot remember if they played from memory or not, but if they did not it was not distracting.

Edited: February 15, 2018, 8:15 PM · Andrew, my childhood violin teacher knew Mischakoff. They played together (I believe they may have shared a stand!) in the Scandinavian Symphony of Detroit, a pick-up group that Mischakoff led in his "retirement." The Scandinavian Symphony is not mentioned in Mischakoff's Wikipedia page, but you can find a recording of the group on YouTube.

And yes, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra would have been a very top-level and well-paid gig at the time.

February 15, 2018, 4:37 PM · A few points:

A soloist has to stand out; a rank-and-file player has to blend; a concert master has to lead the troops.

An orchestral player spends most of his time not quuite hearing what he is doing. Their solos can be competent but disappointing.

Orchestral parts can be as difficult as solos, but there is safety in numbers!

February 21, 2018, 1:40 AM · In a semi-pro orchestra, most (possibly all) of the amateur violinists would likely be able to play Bruch on two or three weeks' notice. They might need a month's notice to play it from memory. The pros would all play it from memory on no more than two weeks' notice, and the concertmaster would likely play it from memory on two or three days' notice.

To expand on the concertmaster or section leader skill set: it most closely resembles that of a chamber musician. Much like chamber musicians, section leaders sometimes have solo passages where they have to play out, but rarely play solo for an extended time. Watching the other principal string players is a must, as is motion to cue other musicians.

All that being said, on string instruments other than violin, many of the leading soloists are orchestral players, mostly section leaders in major orchestras. There's far less demand for cello soloists than violin soloists, even less demand for viola soloists, and still less for double bass soloists, so no more than a handful of people can be full-time soloists on those instruments.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 4:06 PM · An orchestra violinist needs to blend. Even in FFF passages will not need to have a booming sound.
Soloists need to have a big sound - except maybe baroque or early classical concertos with a small ensemble - to soar above the orchestra. Watch how they sometimes use every mm of the bow. Can have a fast whole bow stroke. And may play practically next to the bridge at times - not just when way up the fingerboard -. Up close they may sound a bit scratchy.
A cellist friend of mine once walked into Rostropovich's hotel room where he was practising. In the hallway the sound was glorious. Entering the room he was surprised by the hissy , scratchy sound up close. But then R did possibly have the biggest sound of any cellist.
Here Schlomo Mintz plays the Canone:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRNBJ07YGjQ
Just after minute 5 and minute 10 you can hear him play up close.
Or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDzTk3ra7U8
This is soloist style playing, trying to get as many decibels as possible out of the instrument.
February 21, 2018, 8:51 AM · “In a semi-pro orchestra, most (possibly all) of the amateur violinists would likely be able to play Bruch on two or three weeks' notice. They might need a month's notice to play it from memory. The pros would all play it from memory on no more than two weeks' notice, and the concertmaster would likely play it from memory on two or three days' notice.”

I think a “soloist” is not just someone who is able to play concertos. Rather, she is someone who can earn most of her living by playing concertos.

Edited: February 24, 2018, 2:13 PM · Hello to All ~

As a Violinist who has been blessed with an international concert performing & recording Solo playing career and membership in Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra, After an extensive Solo career, launched in London, UK, under Wilfrid Van Wyck Concert Artist Management, Ltd. also in London & listed on the Violinist Roster w/Ruggiero Ricci, Henryk Szeryng & Nathan Milstein, I do feel I can comment on the very fascinating question now posed by Tim Ripond, with much experience vis a vie the demands of professional concert touring, internationally. Before stating the 'Obvious', please allow me to address a vital quality required for any violin (or other) performing/recording soloist: that of enormous physical stamina and the ability to sleep anywhere at any time & when one can grab it! Utter physical stamina is a huge requirement to begin, maintain and sustain a vital Solo Concert Career. As a soloist, one must be 'repertoire ready' = carrying at least 5 or 6 major violin concerti each concert season; Bach's Solo Violin Sonatas & Partitas at internationally high artistic musical-technical level's in the same regard as Olympic athletes who, known inside their given Sport & sphere's, must strive to keep their 'Olympic' level skills Up & ever reaching beyond for the highest public acclamation of superior excellence as the Medal's of Bronze, Silver and Gold ~

Likewise, the bonafide concert artist, once established, lives Life in a real pressure cooker & one must be 'bred' for this very disciplined way of life. It isn't 'normal' to practise the violin 6-even 8 hours daily from a very young age & onward as concert touring is (as said by many here) exhaustive & usually with little let up in a concert season of booked solo w/ orchestra concert schedule's which includes violin & piano recital's (with endless repertoire - so wonderful to perform yet requiring the 'perfect' piano partner in sync with one's musical 'feel' on much of our loved Violin/Piano Sonata recital literature - from Handel, Bach, Mozart, Brahms Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Cesar Franck, Faure, Grieg, Sibelius (his 6 Humoresque's & of course, Violin Concerto in d minor!), the 2 Prokofiev's, Copland, Mathias, etc., plus Concert pieces for Violin/ and Orchestra. Let me state that No Great Violinist I've known or studied with would dare to perform any major violin concerto, (i.e., Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens #3/b minor, Dvorak, Sibelius, Prokofiev's I & II, Alban Berg, Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, Bruch #1/g minor, Glazounow, Walton, Vaughn Williams, Korngold, Shostakovich, both #1/a minor & II, Khachaturian, Goldmark, Chausson Poeme, Bach E Major #2, et al without knowing Every Note in the Orchestral Score! Both my mentors, Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein, were Great Musicians with the entire scores memorized (this goes without saying!) & digested into one's near digital file of mental, harmonic, melodic & technical nervous system physical memory ~

Without all that, a soloist describing him/herself as such is fooling the self, the music world, and concert public in every major musical capital of the world. My great friend & mentor, *Nathan Milstein, used to say, "There is a world of difference between playing a violin sitting down and standing up!" Truer words were never uttered, and by one of the 2 or 3 Greatest Masters of the Violin in both the Twentieth & yes, Twenty First Centuries! Heifetz + Milstein & David Oistrakh, & Fritz Kreisler are Timeless and cannot be copied ~ All just mentioned can be role models & heroes, of course, & they never fail to inspire, but as an artist-pupil of both JH & NM, for extended periods of time, I do know it's folly to copy! This segues into uniqueness of sound/tone/& individual style ~ I dare say every violinist here knows the 'Heifetz Sound' in less than 4 or 5 notes of listening to JH recordings! He was totally unique and revolutionized violin playing without trying or wanting to; No, Mr. Heifetz was 'from God' as all his revered soloist violin musical colleagues unanimously agreed! Milstein was the closest peer of Heifetz, tho' some may argue Oistrakh was closest to JH or and ...! This is Okay and Real, folks! Do Believe this: it is rarified air 'Up There' as it is with true Tennis Great's, Roger Federer, Rafa Nidal, & Aussie's Rod Laver & Lew Hoad! All are bonafide artists whom No CM's with exceptions of an elite few (Josef Gingold, Great CM of Cleveland/Szell; & yes, my colleague, Anne Mischakoff Heiles (whom I engaged as Artist Teacher of Viola, once I was appointed Chair, String Faculty of the original American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, & honoured with Anne's father, CM of Chicago/ Reiner Mischa Mischakoff's, former post at ACM as Artist Teacher of Violin and Chamber Music, & in the course of things, Anne met her husband, the fine pianist, William Heiles, whilst on our core Artist Teacher String Faculty, in Champagne-Urbana!) + close friend/colleague, Nathaniel Rosen, engaged as Artist Teacher of Violoncello, a Tchaikovsky Int'l Violoncello Competition 1978 Gold Medal winner in Moscow & Piatigorsky's musical heir, w/ whom I was a class-mate when studying w/ Heifetz at USC, to mention a few I've known, worked/played alongside with, & let it be said that Josef Gingold was most probably the Greatest CM in American Major Orchestra annals - to not take anything away from Mischakoff, but as a rare violin pedagogue, Gingold more than distinguished himself & played the violin in very close proximity to Stern (*a more refined artist than Stern, IMO) and Szeryng.

Josef Gingold had that very rare blend of fused knowledge w/ artistry and love of people & pupils, plus All Repertoire - Orchestral, Chamber Music, Violin Concerti, the lot as we say in England!! What's more, Heifetz truly admired Gingold, as did almost every major Violinist in North America, the UK & Continental Europe & B.I. (Before the Internet!) which is even more impressive to my own generational colleagues! (Not near the "home" yet -but 'matured' & thankful to have studied with 'Giant's Who Walked The Earth' ~ All String Giant's and some Conductor's lest not forgetting Nadia Boulanger performing Stravinsky's Duo Concertante in London on 3 days notice for Paris TV, this is the Life of a Soloist and a soloist carrying the expectations of the concert going public who Know My Teacher's!! Egads!

It's marvellous to achieve one's true Best in a public concert/ & series of concert's & recordings, not for the cheering crowd, but for one's insides and
interior realisation of, "I made Music which honoured Sibelius" & this, fellow violinists, is what Matters and Lasts! If human person's practise throughout their live's only for the roar of the audience, it will be a less than joyous ending ... Perhaps after a night's rest, I might come back to address the wondrous & inter-personal rewards of teaching & mentoring ~ i.e., passing on part of the Torch of, in my case, both Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein, and lots of potato's in the mix as represented by orchestral playing (+ years of prep by father who knew all) in Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra at its Peak!!

TBC ~ With best musical greetings to All here!

Elisabeth Matesky*

*UTube, Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class, USC - Khachaturian, JH-7,
Elisabeth Matesky (Russian version, Library of Congress Master
Performers) Google www.linkedin.com/Profiled Int'l Career
the Strad (since 1971) AST Journal (American String Teachers Assoc.)
the guardian.com etc.

February 22, 2018, 6:52 AM · What are we calling a "soloist"?

Because they come in many forms, from classical to folk to pop, and all of them play solo. And even in classical, the range is still quite wide I think; it wouldn't be that surprising to find people who are popular in some region or country but wouldn't be able to get in an orchestra in a highly competitive country.

February 22, 2018, 6:28 PM · On violin, it would be someone who can make a living playing concertos. On other string instruments, I'd consider a "soloist" to be someone best known for solo performances and recordings, even if they aren't full-time soloists. E.g. Carter Brey, who is probably better-known for his work a soloist than as the NY Philharmonic's principal cellist, or Roberto Diaz, who is best known as a viola soloist even though he played in orchestras throughout his career until he became the Curtis Institute's president.
February 22, 2018, 9:13 PM · Fascinating reading. Big thanks to those who commented.
February 23, 2018, 7:52 AM · Andrew, there is a long list of cello soloists who are not primarily orchestra musicians.
Edited: February 23, 2018, 8:16 AM · David Zhang said: "Once upon a time In America/NYC, it helped if the head of the violin cartel liked you ( if you aspire to a solo career and have the digital skills); or at least wouldn’t do anything to actively sabotage your career."

Why not name the cartel and its head? A lot of the people involved have passed on, and it is time. The violin world will benefit in several ways if those who know something about a topic where people tend just to drop dark hints about sabotaged careers, if not worse, now put the topic on the table.

February 23, 2018, 8:20 AM · >On violin, it would be someone who can make a living playing concertos.

Right, but that's an incredible wide category. Lindsey Stirling for example would fall in this category, and also less skilled violinists than play covers of popular music.

It's impossible to answer unless we bound and question to classical soloist, and even there one would have to apply further bounds to the question that would make the question trivial.

February 23, 2018, 12:38 PM · I think it's likely she could, now that she has a following and quite a marketing team behind. The fact that it wouldn't attract the attention of musicians or people who listen to classical often doesn't matter much since people in general don't care.
February 23, 2018, 2:21 PM · Lindsey Stirling could not make a living playing concertos, not even close, and definitely not with the Four Seasons. She doesn't have that kind of technique. She is truly brilliant at marketing but as a violinist, mediocre at best and I suspect her recordings are heavily auto-tuned. Not to mention that an individual hiring an orchestra is by definition not getting paid to play.

I've been reading this discussion with jaw dropped, honestly.

February 23, 2018, 4:16 PM · I think the way we normally use the word "soloist", we specifically mean a "classical soloist".

Lindsey Sterling is a pop entertainer.

David Garrett, Vanessa-Mae, and Andre Rieu are crossover artists. Garrett and V-M are sometimes classical soloists (when they're playing normal concerto engagements with orchestras), and sometimes crossover entertainers (when they're doing everything else). Andre Rieu is a crossover entertainer.

February 23, 2018, 4:20 PM · I presume the OP didn’t think of Lindsey Stirling when asking these questions about techniques and skills between orchestra violinists and soloists.

Nearly everyone in here knows how well she plays, and even a beginner like myself, honestly, would recognise some rather obvious limitations in her playing.

Not to disrespect what she achieved of course. Though a bit irrelevant, she could be an interesting side-thread to this discussion.

February 23, 2018, 4:31 PM · “Perlman is teaching a lot more these days. If, suppose, more of his income is related to teaching and not playing, does that mean he’s no longer a soloist?”

That’s a tad equivalent to saying Heifetz is no longer a soloist when he died.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 4:40 PM · "I presume the OP didn’t think of Lindsey Stirling when asking these questions about techniques and skills between orchestra violinists and soloists."

It's clear he didn't. It's a interesting problem that appears if someone tries to have a rounded definition of "soloist". The meaning is diffuse at best and it seems that pushing for a strict definition woud imply Frieda's point given above: "In the strictest sense, I think that results in a very limited list (Hilary Hahn and others who regularly concertize in the US and Europe", thus rendering the question trivial.

Any musician could potentially make a living playing concertos, regardless of her skill, provided she is popular enough for whatever reasons - high skills aren't particularly important in business nor necessarily more profitable. To consider solely those soloist who play technical demanding pieces to the highest standards would be to reduce the very few violinists are quite likely better than most if not anyone orchestral players (e.g Hahn, Bell, Markov, etc), in which case the question "Do soloists normally play way better than orchestra musicians?" answers itself.

February 23, 2018, 4:56 PM · There is a grey area to what constitutes a ‘soloist’ and what not. There is a grey area to most other definitions.

However IMO it is still a bit of a stretch to call someone like Stirling a ‘soloist’ when you clearly know she isn’t relevant, given how the original question was framed and discussion was intended.

It appears to me that things don’t work when pulled into the extremes. This definition shouldn’t be too narrow to only include the top names out there, and shouldn’t be too broad to include pop violinist entertainers who would definitely fail to even apply for a section violinist in a known orchestra.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 6:30 PM · I know terms usually are not 100% objective. There's always a grey area around them and their limits, as I've read here,but for sure I was not thinking about Stirling at all.

A definition that seems to be quite shared here is that one that a soloist is someone that makes a living giving concerts around the world.

Well, it's a huge mistake to put the idea of "money" or "making a living" in the definition. If you do that, imagine Hahn starts to play concerts for free and all her income is from any other source. She wouldn't be a soloist anymore, and that's plain wrong.

I don't know why there's such controversy on this term. A soloist is that violin player that gets to play the violin solo part of any concert, anywhere in the world. Yeah, these people normally make a living doing that, but that's an effect of being a soloist, or a path that soloist normally choose, but it's not WHAT makes you a soloist.

In other words...
Why Hahn gets to play the violin solo part instead of any member of the orchestra?

What makes Hahn, Heifetz, Vengerov, Garrett, Milstein, Mintz, Bell, Shaham, Zukerman... different from any regular random orchestra violinist?

Could they be replaced by any (first?) violinist of the orchestra?
Of course, letting that violinist prepare the concerto.

Are they simply better and their technique is much more exquisite that orchestra violinists, or can most of the orchestra violinists replace the soloist and perform with a similar talent the list of pieces?

Oh, and yeah, I'm thinking classical only, although I know this could be applied to jazz violinists as well. Not sure about "pop" violinists, doubt it.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 9:49 PM · "What makes Hahn, Heifetz, Vengerov, Garrett, Milstein, Mintz, Bell, Shaham, Zukerman... different from any regular random orchestra violinist?

Could they be replaced by any (first?) violinist of the orchestra?"

If we're taking the big names as you did before, the answer to the second question is very much no. Most of the top names have played better than all those middle-aged orchestral violinists since their early teens.

What makes them different? I wouldn't know, and I doubt anyone could give an exact answer to explain why they're better. You just hear it.

"Are they simply better and their technique is much more exquisite that orchestra violinists, or can most of the orchestra violinists replace the soloist and perform with a similar talent the list of pieces?"
1. Yes.
2. Probably most if not all of them can play the same pieces, but they might sound bland compared side by side with Hahn.

February 23, 2018, 7:45 PM · “Well, it's a huge mistake to put the idea of "money" or "making a living" in the definition.”

Taking money out of the definition, then any Tom, Dick, or Harry could hire a small orchestra, rent a hall, play the solo part and IS a soloist!

Edited: February 23, 2018, 8:17 PM · I think money isn’t a necessary condition, in the sense that it is usually inferred from other conditions. Also, would you not call a doctor a doctor if he devotes his whole life to do volunteer treatment for free?

In my humble opinion the most important part of a soloist definition is that they must play as a soloist with a professional orchestra, with an audience. The most demanding piece within a certain soloist’s repertoire should theoretically match that of Bruch at least (a normal audition piece for orchestra members AFAIK). This solo activity must at least be done several times during the years the soloist is active.

As for everything else, it gets more complicated when we try to include groups of samples sitting on the boundary and attempt to cover any possible atypical situation with other outliers (not that this shouldn’t happen though).

February 23, 2018, 8:38 PM · “would you not call a doctor a doctor if he devotes his whole life to do volunteer treatment for free?”

The violinist who plays her whole life for free is an amateur. Money is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

February 23, 2018, 8:54 PM · A. Should we always consider someone an amateur just because they play for free, no matter how great they are?
B. Is being an amateur and being a soloist mutually exclusive?

I get your point though I’m not entirely convinced.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 9:00 PM · Are we really limiting it to the top handful of soloists, though? There seems to be a pool of musicians who have frequent solo engagements, sometimes as many as 40-50 a year, but mostly with regional orchestras and freeway philharmonics and making only a few appearances per year with higher-profile orchestras. I have a high school friend who was a piano soloist in that category for a decade, though it seems he's now settling down as a music professor. I've also seen a violin soloist who was probably in that category play with the LA Philharmonic. That might be the kind of soloist where the questions in the original post don't have obvious answers, on the rare occasions in which they are performing with a major orchestra.
Edited: February 23, 2018, 9:48 PM · “Having a career as a soloist is to be an outlier”. Aren’t we considering the population of soloists themselves? The outlier and atypical situations I was talking about are the people falling into grey areas (may or may not be classified as a soloist in a strict sense), sorry for not being clearer.

I think while most of us would be likely to have a rough idea of what a ‘typical’ soloist would be (i.e. someone regularly playing solo with a professional orchestra etc.), a much more difficult task is to set up the boundary for that group. I mean, how can we draw a completely clear line between a soloist and a non-soloist when there are so many grey areas? Just to be clear I called anyone near that boundary line to be an outlier, or an ‘atypical’ situation. In this context and definitional debate I wouldn’t say Perlman, Hahn, Mutter are outliers, since they perfectly fit the soloist definition, and when you think of ‘soloist’, they would be likely to come first to your mind (even though they are truly ‘outliers’ technique-wise).

The problem is how far we are willing to go from those top soloists? How broad the whole population should be? How wide should the boundary extend? Who can draw the line? I think it’s impossible to reach a consensus. So it’s best that we just treat a soloist as a ‘typical’ soloist and continue the discussion from there without having to have a precise definition.

Edited: February 23, 2018, 9:54 PM · The same as the difference between a surgeon and a primary care physician. There are bad and good ones. They are both speciallist and important in their field, they just don’t have the same role.
February 23, 2018, 10:50 PM · Frieda, ‘There are naturally many grey areas for musicians’ - this is why we had so much trouble reaching an agreement on the definition of a soloist :) that’s why I proposed we just stick to a typical soloist in everyone’s sense without the need for that definition, after having quite long debate about it.

No, I was by no means stick to my own definition. After all I’m nowhere near playing the violin fluently, I’m not in the circle of musicians, and I’m not in the US. I would trust your opinion more than mine if you are any of those :)

Having said that I thought ‘playing soloist with a professional orchestra, with an audience’ per my definition already implies the sufficient playing level of that soloist. How can people who sound unprofessional be able to be selected for that position, I don’t know.

I’m also not quite sure about whether a soloist *has to* get her main source of income from playing solo to be considered a soloist. But I suspect people would have diverse opinions on how much money and the proportion of income from solo performances one needs to earn to be a soloist :)

Edited: February 24, 2018, 6:51 AM · Just as a point of information, the Bruch is not a normal audition piece for professional orchestras. It's much too easy. The most frequently played concertos (or fragments, typically about three minutes) are Tchaikovsky and Sibelius.
Edited: February 24, 2018, 2:27 PM · Reading some of the jaw dropping comments here shows either ignorance or jealousy or both ~ I'm astonished upon seeing a pop entertainer w/violin & bow, Lindsey Stirling, being included with both my violin mentor's, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. And have contributor's forgotten about Great Soloists Fritz Kreisler, Henryk Szeryng, Alfredo Campoli, Ginette Neveu, Arthur Grumiaux, Ricci, Ida Haendel, Toscha Seidel, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Elmar Oliviera, Mischa Elman, and Michael Rabin, plus ... ?

The language being tossed about is a reflection on those doing tremendous injustice to wondrous Soloists who were and are fabled players. If any here have to look up any of the "Names" I've just listed, your 'opinion' is minus any knowledge excepting social media or something you read in books by truly uninformed & opinionated bias 'writer's' ~ And in using a lovely yet far less challenging Violin Concerto as the Bruch #1 in g minor as a reference
of a Soloist, is truly obsolete as Mary Ellen Goree has pointed out above!

Additionally, all violin concerto 'lists' for major & regional American orchestral auditions include the Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart's, & Mendelssohn. In major international violin concours violin concerto repertoire includes Shostakovich #1 in a minor, Op. 99; Korngold; Prokofiev's I & II; Khachaturian & Wieniawski's #I in F# minor, & #II, in d minor. Participants must perform Paganini Caprice's listed, an Ysaye Solo Sonata if listed; & Ernst's 'Der Erlkonig'. I challenge any here to say they have played Ernst's 'Der Erlkonig' in public or that Lindsey Sterling, David Garrett or Andre Rieu have performed this Titan work of the solo violin literature!

As an aside, it was heartening to read Andrew Victor's mention of Mischa
Mischakoff!!! Indeed, Andrew, it brought back wonderful memories of our
teaching together and unknowingly bringing my longtime colleague & friend, Anne Mischakoff Heiles, a Husband in William Heiles, whom she
met when leaving a West Coast position to come to us at ACM!! A Big Thank You, Andrew!

Edited: February 24, 2018, 9:30 AM · Willy wrote “ A. Should we always consider someone an amateur just because they play for free, no matter how great they are?
B. Is being an amateur and being a soloist mutually exclusive?”

A. Yes by definition

B. Yes by observation

( amateur as in playing for love ONLY; ie no money)

I am puzzled by the not so subtle attempt to relax the definition of “soloists”. There are violinist who are both soloists and amateur ( in the sense that they play for free)? Really?

Edited: February 24, 2018, 10:37 AM · Frieda, there are solo careers and there are solo gigs.

Soloists like Bell, Hahn, Chang have established solo careers; Pealman, Midori, and others who are now mainly teaching had solo careers. An career is of course related to $$.

There are many who have been given the chance to play the solo part at one time or another, but make their living doing something else, that includes ( and I mean no disrespect here) concertmasters and section leaders.

Edited: February 24, 2018, 10:45 AM · "Taking money out of the definition, then any Tom, Dick, or Harry could hire a small orchestra, rent a hall, play the solo part and IS a soloist!"

Yeah, that's exactly my point, those Tom, Dick and Harry are also soloists without a doubt if they are the ones doing the solos. The real question is... why them get to play the solo instead of any other member of the orchestra?
Because they are soloists.

But, what makes them a soloist?
What do they have that other members don't have?

It doesn't matter that you make no money or that you're not famous, what matters is if you are the one playing (regularly) the solo parts in all the concerts. That makes you a soloist.

And I was intrigued about what do they do differently, why them. Is it that they practice a lot more, a lot better?
They sight read equally as good as orchestra members?
Their level of playing is simply beyond the regular O. member?

Yeah, I included Garrett because he's been or actually is a soloist, although his rock/crossover alter ego is what really made him famous to most of people, I guess. I, nevertheless, heard about him playing classical pieces, and it was later when I discovered he also did rock stuff and that kind of things.

You know, if Heifetz (to name the "God") had all his income from his parents huge companies (just imagine it was the case)... would that make him a "regular" amateur?

Hell no. In the definition of "soloist" you can't include words like money or fame. The soloist is the one that gets to play the solo parts, and that's it. Most of them will tour the world playing the major concertos and stuff, also chamber music of course, but if Bell or any other big name out there wasn't famous or making a living by playing music, that wouldn't make him NOT being a soloist at all. He would still play just as well as they do normally, but without fame and money, and yet they would be still soloists without a doubt.

I sense many of you confuse soloist with famous, rich or "one of the greatest". Soloist does not imply fame or rich in any way, although in most cases those 2 things come along. Also, you don't necessarily have to play like Heifetz to be a soloist, you don't have to be "one of the greatest" to be considered a soloist, although for sure you must stand out since you're the chosen one to play the solo parts, for a reason. That's where my questions are all about, why soloist stand out, or if they could be replaced.

February 24, 2018, 10:41 AM · There's plenty of soloist caliber players in a modern great orchestra. On the opposite side, many good players hate playing in orchestras and refuse to get into the audition process.

Have nothing against the "unknown" soloists. It's not always their fault this happens (one could argue it's rarely their fault alone.) Even if they play less engagements, they are still true soloists.

Let me be clear-I love Vengerov's playing, as well as that of some other players as well, but even they know there are plenty of soloists that are special musicians but just aren't what we call "big names". There is something special, maybe, about those players you love, but so there is with many who you will never hear about.

They play the violin at a transcendent level, but there are many players like that "anywhere."

I would generally agree with the artistry argument as well, but honestly I have heard more inspiring performances from artists most of you don't know about, than some of the good players that have incredible reknown. Plus some orchestra players are very musical individuals when they play their solo stuff-the boring "robot player" vs "true artist-soloist" is rarely a thing, I find.

Can't argue with the really extraordinary musicianship of many of the current better known soloists, even if I may not particularly love all of them. I still attend concerts by many of them-and encourage you all to do so as well.

I also believe that, while the playing level is beyond high nowadays, the special soloists of the past that paved the way were really incredibly gifted individuals, and that modern world reality may prevent us from experiencing this type of musician ever again-may I be proved wrong.

(Important fact: I love both old and new Concert Soloists, so please do not misconstrue my words.)

Edited: February 24, 2018, 11:47 AM · Something any young violinist just out of college and embarking on a solo career should be aware of, and I am sure they are, is that when performing with a professional orchestra any of the violinists in that orchestra is capable of doing that solo performance with the benefit of a lifetime of experience behind them.

A few months ago I was deputising in the firsts of a local community orchestra for a performance of the Sibelius VC. At the last rehearsal (the only one I attended) the soloist was a young woman who went through the Sibelius like a rocket, playing impeccably from memory, and in the second half of the evening sat alongside me to play through the other major work, the rarely performed magnificent Saint-Saens "Organ" symphony. It was only afterwards when we were packing up that I discovered she wasn't the soloist after all but a member of the second violins of the BBC Welsh Orchestra, who happened to come from the area. The real soloist, two days later, was a teenage girl from Wells Cathedral School (which has a stellar music department) and her performance was on a par with that of the BBC professional. This young lady, too, occupied a spare chair next to me and sight-read the Saint-Saens in the second half of the concert for experience.

Edited: February 24, 2018, 2:45 PM · ~ to Tim Ripond ...

Please, Tim, don't throw David Garrett's name in the same Mix with Nathan Milstein. Period! Amongst knowing violin colleagues of mine, world wide, this displays a preference for 'Fame' notwithstanding Quality!! 'Juilliard prodigy', David Garrett may be 'famous' to the 'YouTube-only-on-the-surface-"fame-means-Great- crowd"',but he can't play Unaccompanied Bach to save his Soul ~ What were you thinking!??? That's Insane!!!!!

Does Andy Warhol's Soup Can compare to the Mona Lisa?? I want to swear, but won't go Low. Please put this in proper perspective, okay?!?

Thank you ~

Elisabeth Matesky*

* to Frieda ~ my dear, if D.G. Cuts the most challenging part of Ernst's 'Der Erlkonig' in part of a recording, he can't or hasn't yet figured out How to Play the harmonics!! A cut up 'Der Erlkonig' isn't Valid & wouldn't be accepted in any major international violin concours Today! He went to Germany & got his sticht together & has famed himself on YouTube. So What?? Do you really think he can stand next to Mr.'s Heifetz, Milstein , Oistrakh, Szeryng, or Other's I wrote of earlier in another post!! ???

This is the lowering of Violin Art and I won't sign on to this. Zrub!

Elisabeth Anne Matesky

Edited: February 24, 2018, 4:43 PM · Kudos to Frieda. No one has made such comparison.

And IMHO it’s entirely up to them if they do, if the comparison is constructive. Doesn’t the human race progress by each successive generation striving to be better and better than their fathers?

P/S Also IMHO, D.G is by no means a mediocre violinist (though he may not be as good as the legends). I love his recording of 24 caprices.

February 24, 2018, 4:53 PM · I want to point out that David Garrett is probably the closest example we have to a true crossover artist. Yes, he plays concerts that have heavy pop/rock elements, but he also does traditional concerto-with-orchestra and pure-classical-recital engagements.

Garrett's training is fundamentally classical in its base; remember that he's been a student of not only Itzhak Perlman, but also Zakhar Bron.

He's not a classical soloist of the caliber of Hahn or Vengerov, but he certainly has a nontrivial traditional concert schedule, playing on a level that is comparable to some of the lesser-known soloists that have primarily European-centered careers. This contrasts, for instance, Vanessa-Mae.

His Bach interpretations are probably a matter of a debate, but it's not because he can't play them the "usual" way. There's a YouTube recording of him playing the Chaconne at the age of 13 in a more standard interpretation, by the way.

February 24, 2018, 4:56 PM · Many soloists do more recitals than they do concerto-with-orchestra engagements. I don't think that makes them any less of a "soloist".

Being a "soloist" is a role, just like being a chamber-musician or an orchestra player. Many players will have careers that span all three of these roles. Some players will have one of those roles dominate so strongly that it essentially defines their career.

February 24, 2018, 5:11 PM · DG’s business & career model works for him. I think he made the right choice that taps into his strengths as an entertainer.

IMHO, performers like DG are helping classical music stay alive by reaching a new audience on YouTube.

February 24, 2018, 7:00 PM · “To David Zhang: you mention the difference between a soloist career and soloist gigs. But aren't most soloist careers a series of soloist gigs, booked by an agent?”

I guess that is where money comes in. If the series of solo gigs can be substained, then you have a career; if not, you look for a CM position.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 4:09 AM · So, an amateur CAN’T be a soloist, I get it :-))

just a definitional thing IMO.

@Lydia I don’t think doing primarily recitals would make the soloist any ‘lesser’, but IMHO I’m not sure those who *only* play recitals should be called a soloist, unless they are extremely well-known and have impeccable techniques.

In my definition posted above, I think a soloist should have played concertos with a known orchestra and an audience during his active career. If we relax this assumption, the number of soloists could increase to 5 times the population of professional orchestra members.

P/S thanks Mary Ellen for correcting that orchestra audition requirement should be more difficult than Bruch.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 6:12 AM · One of my orchestras specializes in free charity concerts, which means that everything is on a fairly tight budget. One spin-off is that the orchestra is largely reliant on free downloads of music from IMSLP or borrowing from public libraries. Sadly, the current climate of austerity in local civic authorities this eastern side of the Pond is resulting in many public libraries being closed or mothballed :(.

Anyway, getting back to the orchestra, we have at least half a dozen members in the strings, brass and woodwind sections who are sufficiently experienced and trained to provide in-house soloists, which they do on a regular basis, so we do not usually have to rely on external soloists. For instance, in the last year the Bruch vc was performed by the CM and the Lalo cello concerto by the principal cellist. Memorably, our conductor, a professional horn player, recently stood in at very short notice for an absent piano soloist (who for very good reason had to pull out at the last moment) and performed one of the Mozart piano concertos virtually at sight. He apologized for not directing from the keyboard under the circumstances, which was why he borrowed a colleague from another orchestra to do the baton waving.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 12:25 PM · The problem of using a completely hypothetical situation to make point is that it is rarely helpful to the discussion.

I am not aware of Hahn or anyone in her league would play for love of music ALONE. In the event of playing for charity, the earnings were, directly or in directly, donated. That is they still charge a fee! If someone can point to anyone in Hahn’s league who routinely plays for free, I will be happy to change my mind.

It hard to compare “soloists “ in non-professional orchestras who give “charity” concerts to career soloists like Hahn precisely because of money. To be honest, it is not easy to decide which direction “charity” actually flows in a concert where the audience will disappear if market level ticket price is charged.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 12:35 PM · Frieda, because a soloist needs to fill the house without offending the sensibility of traditional audience of classical music. One can call herself JH reborn but she is NOT a soloist if people are not going pay to hear her.
February 25, 2018, 1:32 PM · Mr. Willy,

Often the quality of the soloist has no bearing on whether he/she plays with an orchestra. We have nowadays a concert marketing system, especially in the US, that limits engagements to the bigger names that favor the "almighty" dollar. This also affects what the audience gets to even listen to, repertoire-wise. I agree with the unquestionable quality of many of these performers, but without any malicious intent (I WON'T mention names), a few of them are living in-even recent-past glories/accrued reputation, and many "no-name" soloists who play lots of recitals and only a few concerto engagements per year are in no way or fashion "less good"-indeed, often they haven't yet received their much delayed recognition in the US concert scene. Being a great artist is not defined, IMHO, by having a "hot", modern concert reputation, but by how they actually play these great musical art works.

In the past it was somewhat different, so I am not putting "old school" vs "new" at odds with each other.

In short, a "soloist" isn't determined by reknown, amount of concert engagements, etc. but by musical function. Great artists are also not necessarily great because of fame, but because of what they actually do with the music (artistic interpretation, which while subjective is not too hard to determine when someone is actually masterfully good.)

Example: Heifetz was great because he was, not because people took notice. I am glad they did, and that he was among the most influential to ever play. Others were not so privileged, but were specially gifted in many ways. Similarly, today there are many greats and not so greats that are famous AND not famous. They are all still soloists, if not all "master artists".

Feel free to disagree. Just feel it's unfair that we base our definition of "soloist" or even great artists on whether players have more exposure than others, as if it was so simple, and without taking into consideration the "lesser" names that are not *necessarily* any less a player. Explore beyond what the general market sells you, and appreciate the art of the violin in many shapes and forms.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 2:15 PM · “In short, a "soloist" isn't determined by reknown, amount of concert engagements, etc. but by musical function”

And who determines the so called “ musical function” ? Orchestra managers/directors who know the hand that feeds them better than anyone will engage a soloist according to their “musical function”. Does anyone actually think an organization that had gone dark for rest of the season wil engage someone who is great according to someone on v. Com but is totally unknown to their season ticket holders?

Edited: February 25, 2018, 2:35 PM · Mr. Zhang,

Disagree-I won't let Carnegie Hall tell me who the great artists are (I do hold a subscription, so I support concerts of this kind.) I will explore and find out *myself* who the "greats" are. And in the end, by musical function, they are all soloists, whether they are frequently engaged or largely ignored.

It's a travesty against the artists to insult them by claiming only fame validates their art. Good art is good, whether well-known or obscure.

February 25, 2018, 2:59 PM · Sure, we are all soloists! I am engaged nightly in my basement and my daughter thinks my interpretation of solo Bach is more profound than anyone else’s := )
Edited: February 25, 2018, 3:20 PM · @Frieda, I am not saying that an amateur can’t be a soloist. I was saying I’m ok with this though I have a different opinion.

My opinion is that an amateur CAN be a soloist, and that money shouldn’t enter the definition as it is usually inferred as generally true from the context, or in some cases irrelevant. This requirement seems a bit superfluous and unnecessary to me.

I would be more convinced if someone said a soloist is required to be a human, has both hands, and knows how to hold a violin and a bow. Hey, they are absolutely essential conditions too, but should we mention them, together with a million more?

Should we agree to disagree anyway as this definitional thing now only serves to distract us from the OP’s topic.

February 25, 2018, 3:10 PM · Mr. Zhang,

You are so needlessly belligerent, and for no real, worthy reason. You seem to have no idea what I am referring to. Since you don't, just agree to disagree, and move on.

Best Wishes on your studies, even if you are no soloist, nor will ever be (nor am I, for that matter.)

Edited: February 25, 2018, 3:33 PM · "It's a travesty against the artists to insult them by claiming only fame validates their art. Good art is good, whether well-known or obscure."

1. The musician plays the solo
2. Gets paid to do so by a group or institution
3. Could potentially make a living only playing his instrument

Extended to any kind of musical genre.

This doesn't mean the work of others is of lower quality. Nobody is claiming their art is of lower quality for not being "soloists".

February 25, 2018, 4:01 PM · @Frieda don’t get me wrong. It was necessary to debate on the definition up to a certain extent. But the benefit of it gradually decreases as we dig further and deeper into it.
February 25, 2018, 4:19 PM · Frieda, I thought your non-redacted was an interesting choice of examples. R, while he didn't go on to a blockbuster career, continued to play a significant number of solo engagements until his old age, though mostly in Asia and Europe, and he continued to record on a reasonably major label, as well. But J retreated into mostly teaching.

It's worth noting that playing more recitals instead of concertos doesn't make a player any less of a soloist. This may be more clearly seen by thinking of the piano world rather than the violin world, perhaps, because a pianist by themselves is complete, whereas a violinist generally need a pianist collaborator.

February 25, 2018, 4:26 PM · Not sure if you said it with some sarcasm, but I honestly think it’s a good idea. Actually irrespective of how broad or narrow we define ‘soloists’, they are not a monolith, for both techniques and fame.

As for soloists, some are cream at the top (Perlman, Hahn, Vengerov, etc), some do crossovers (Garrett, Mae), some are a bit less well-known (Shoji, Renaud Capucon), then less and less, concerto or not etc ... I don’t know how to divide further, perhaps someone like Lydia could help.

As for orchestra violinist I suspect that the quality is a bit more consistent within violin 1 & 2, and within section violinists.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 4:28 PM · "So, an amateur could be a soloist for a performance, though not a career soloist."

But what does "amateur" mean?

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(It's a joke)

February 25, 2018, 7:40 PM · I don't know how is it that hard to agree on the basics, really. There's a score "title" or "label" that says "solo violino", or "violin solo". Whoever plays that part, IS a soloist, period. No money, no fame involved, no public money needed, no public approve needed.

Of course, then a 10 years old kid that "plays" the solo violino in Vivaldi's A minor should be considered a soloist. Well, actually the kid is a soloist in that moment, but it's obvious that my question about what's the difference between an orch. violinist and a soloist is referring to soloists that are great players, not beginners, that could, if they wanted and had the opportunity, make a living out of it and be rich and famous. But notice how those two things are simply choices of the already soloist. The thing is, if you normally play the solo violino, it's obvious your name is going to be "up there" (fame) and you're gonna make more money (make a living out of it).

Thanks God some people here actually read what I post, since I never talked about whose better between Milstein, Garrett, Heifetz, Hahn or whoever. I understand some people don't like Garrett because he does rock and even pop tunes in many of his concerts/rock shows, but one has to be really blind and deaf to not see what a nice player he is. The classical pieces I've heard sounded amazing, and his Paganini's are one of my favorites. As I said, I actually knew about him through classical pieces, and I think he is a great violinist, with a very powerful and sweet sound. I'm 100% sure he wouldn't receive so much hate if he was an orthodox violinist doing "normal" stuff like Perlman, etc... I love Milstein as well, I remember I listened to him for a few minutes and I saw pure greatness, definitely one of my favorite players as well.

February 25, 2018, 7:40 PM · I continue to be a proponent of the role-based classification -- that a violinist may function as a soloist, as a chamber musician, or as an orchestral player -- and that where the preponderance of their time is spent is typically how we classify them in terms of career track.

To that, we may add "professional" or "amateur". You can have amateur soloists, chamber musicians, and orchestral players -- that modifier given to the role continues to make sense in that context. Indeed, you could even divide the merely "professional" into a further category of "superstar". When we talk about "the great soloists" we are essentially applying the "superstar" modifier to the role.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 8:42 PM · “There's a score "title" or "label" that says "solo violino", or "violin solo". Whoever plays that part, IS a soloist, period. No money, no fame involved, no public money needed, no public approve needed.”

Yeah! That settles it. I am a soloist since I work on solo literature only. Those who think I am “no soloist” will have to agree to disagree and move on : )

Edited: February 25, 2018, 9:35 PM · David can try to find little faults in a haystack, but to me it has been clear enough that we are looking at soloists who are solid classical performers of reasonably high caliber (the way I understood it from the OP and others). I think everyone roughly understands the word ‘soloist’ this way especially when put into context vs orchestra violinists.
Edited: February 25, 2018, 9:46 PM · False, if you work on partitas and those kind of pieces where there's only one instrument, then you're not a soloist, I mean, that's like running in a 1 runner marathon, it has absolutely no sense to call that a marathon or competition, it's only you against you, that doesn't count.

Soloist is that one musician that gets to play the solo score, quite more difficult and demanding than all the rest of the scores, between hundreds or thousands of violinists.

By the way, I didn't know, and I actually don't understand, how the Bruch n1 is considered easy. I've seen top tier violinists fail at some parts, specially the fast runs in the first movement that go from G string to E string (I guess), playing them sloppy and not clean at all. I mean, if masters do fail at playing it clean and nice, I don't know how in some auditions it's considered easy.

May be is it because it has hard parts here and there and it's better to select pieces that are hard all the time?

Edited: February 25, 2018, 10:11 PM · When you hear 'soloist' you think 'someone who regularly performs solo pieces for a living'. You can extrapolate or think of hypotheticals but this seems to be the most widely accepted definition.

Bruch (especially the first few minutes, which is what audition panels hear) is a definite cut below any other "serious concerto" in technical and arguably artistic difficulty. However, I have seen some candidates play Mendelssohn (comparable) and they were taken seriously, although they didn't win the job.

To be honest it sounds like those people hadn't practised thoroughly enough.

February 25, 2018, 10:15 PM · There's nothing in the Bruch that's especially hard, at least on the scale of the Romantic concertos. Not every player -- not even Heifetz -- nails everything 100% of the time. (Some soloists are more consistent than others; Milstein, for instance, was extremely consistent.) And not every player necessarily feels obliged to have every note pop cleanly; by and large, the sweep of a run, and its initiation and top, are the important bits. Live performances are not recordings, and should not be confused.

I recognize that you're a beginner, Tim, and therefore don't really understand much about what is and isn't difficult. There's orchestral music that is technically extremely difficult, comparable -- or in excess of -- the standard concertos.

Also, the great soloists perform solo Bach. Some of them give Bach-only recitals.

Across all three roles -- soloist, chamber musician, and orchestra player -- there are strata. They represent distinct skill-sets. Not all soloists are capable of winning a high-level orchestra audition, by the way.

I think children, as well as less-well-musically-educated adults, often make the assumption "all soloists must be better than orchestral violinists" and it is not the least bit true.

February 25, 2018, 10:33 PM · Mendelssohn has those somewhat-treacherous octaves near the opening, at least. Bruch doesn't have anything of comparable difficulty in the beginning.
February 25, 2018, 10:42 PM · I would never recommend anyone play Mendelssohn for an orchestra audition, exactly because of those octaves on the first page. They are treacherous under stress. Mendelssohn is not the hardest concerto by a long shot but it is certainly more difficult than Bruch g minor.

Bruch is a gateway concerto; it's very often the first "serious" concerto a student learns. The third movement is more difficult than the first two movements, much the same as Barber.

Edited: February 25, 2018, 11:01 PM · “soloist is that one musician that gets to play the solo score, quite more difficult and demanding than all the rest of the scores, between hundreds or thousands of violinists.”

Ok, maybe I am trying “ find little faults in a haystack”, but if you are going to provide a definitive definition, you should get your facts straight. I am not aware of any concerto that involves “hundreds or thousands of violinists”.

A musician who performs solo Bach or Paganini caprices (That is, playing ALONE) doesn’t count as a soloist? Now I am confused.

The idea of describing the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra as one between a marathon runer and other competitors is interesting.

February 26, 2018, 12:18 AM · If Mendelssohn is too hard under stress I struggle to see why so many people choose Sibelius for auditions...

February 26, 2018, 12:45 AM · The octaves on the first page of Mendelssohn are unforgiving, with no margin for error. The fireworks in the first few minutes of Sibelius are difficult but more tolerant of very slight intonation variations. Sibelius has opportunities to dig in and work out some nerves; Mendelssohn does not.


February 26, 2018, 7:26 AM · Going back to the notion of skills, which was part of the original question:

A soloist needs a certain degree of compelling stage presence as well as compelling musicianship -- something that grabs the audience's attention and holds it. That does not necessarily need to be technical perfection. The soloist has to be able to play well in the spotlight, under stress. They need to be able to collaborate with a conductor and orchestra (if playing a concerto) or with a pianist (if playing in recital). Soloing with an orchestra requires solid musical communication and the ability to be followable; it helps to have an impeccable sense of pulse and the ability to clearly indicate the pulse.

An orchestral player needs control -- precision response to the printed score, to the conductor, and to the section leader. They need to be able to instinctively blend their sound into that of the section as a whole, and they need to be alert to what is going on in the orchestra as a whole so that they can react sensitively. It's also useful to be able to sight-read well and to practice extremely efficiently; the more quickly works are learned, the better the dollar-per-hour ratio. (That also rewards strong technical skills, and the ability to "solve" a passage with practical fingerings and whatnot.)

Edited: March 4, 2018, 4:28 PM · Last Call ~

Shocked beyond w/ exceptions of Trevor Jennings, Adalberto Valle-Rivera, Andrew Victor & Mary Ellen Goree, I am aghast at the ignorance displayed by 'arrogant's' slicing to pieces Giant's as though My Violin Mentor's over a 24 year period of mentorship and friendship, Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, were mice in a Laboratory experiment. Ouch and Ouch Again!!! I'm fairly sure the Strad Magazine would like to have a 'Go' at this raging-at-each-other out of mythical ignorance posturing attitude to carve up much written here w/ exceptions of 4 above named contributor's & moi, for depiction and on international display amid knowing music journalists, fine pitched critic's in London, & pro musicians around the globe in major musical capital cities including Berlin and Vienna, sanctuaries of urtext & authentic musical style for the past 5 Centuries plus Milan, New York City and numerous parts further!!!!!

Please don't try writing anything else about my violin mentor's, whom I'm quite sure, none on here studied with, either in 3 days a week 6 hours a day Master Classes or privately, at least 2 x a Week for a minimum of 3 & 1/2 hours to maximum 5 hours each 'artist tutorial's' in London w/ Milstein for 3 & 1/2 years. A contributor had the arrogance to pronounce Milstein, 'very consistent.' So heartened that whomever thinks Nathan Milstein is consistent but neglects mentioning his utter wizardry, aroma, sultry innuendo through the intonation induced numerous variated speeds of no vibrato to quivering vibrato when called for by the Music being portrayed by Milstein, not to mention allowing that 'Heifetz isn't always 100% perfect', but golly, who is counting Heifetz's purposefully & deliberately coloured in shaded notes in order to present a more emotionally moving offering of the 'Havanaise' of Saint Saens?? And while this Heifetz-Milstein taught 'soloist' (throw in Concertmaster, Chamber Music Sonatas w/ Piano + different woodwind/ brass instruments), sincere instrumentalist & Violin Doctor is at it, how about mentioning the most vital quality which is the spiritual element necessary to offer up Unaccompanied Bach Violin Sonatas/Partitas, Ysaye Solo Sonatas, Ernst's 'Der Erlkonig' in full and all 24 Paganini Caprices with Mozartian clarity & interpretation of beauty, rather than 'fast & furious run-through's' with faulty intonation as a David Garrett. Not once have I seen any awareness of qualities possessed by great musician-soloist's offering moving music 'Up' on this dissection of a threatened species of great concert artist soloists playing beloved works for the least (as Heifetz in WWII for our troops & allied troops in virtually all theatre's of war, at real & great risk to his personal safety, but nevertheless, playing recitals for the wounded, maimed and One Soldier left in a South Pacific battle field who managed to crawl to hear Heifetz, who later said 'it was one of the most moving musical experiences' of his over 70 year global concert - recording career for Duty and Loyalty to America not for money, folks) ~ So how about some humility to pass around to nearly all who joined the "mob" as our split-in-pieces population in America yet not truly knowing the Why's nor Where's of print & online generated combatants of a great Nation in Flux ...

Enough is more than Enough ~ Long before writing cynicism's against one who has done concerts all over the World & took a 'Time Out' to care for a precious Mother, battling a severe form of Cancer for well over several years + other serious health issues, putting 'Career' on the back burner, try learning the Mendelssohn V.Con., note flawlessly in a public concert w/ full symphony orchestra + an Unaccompanied Bach Violin Sonata or Partita & Chausson's Poeme to play in recital in a major venue before microphones & film cameras with Only One Take, then go through a major or regional orchestra audition requiring 2 violin concerto's - most probably a Mozart + the Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Brahms & even Shostakovich No. 1 in a minor, Op. 99, along with at least 8 orchestral excerpts, & feel good about all the thorough work you did, then penn criticism's of this contributor because she wanted all to find out what it takes to be a soloist w/ violin recital repertoire & orchestral rep, + thorough knowledge of the full orchestral scores to all 4 listed above violin concerti ... Once one starts climbing 1st steps it leads to other steps & when one ascends to the top of the stairs in tact, a feeling of personal exhilaration will overtake the mind, body & most importantly, the Soul's of all here and far beyond what has been set down due to a lack of Doing! Go for it! To quote Tennis Great, Roger Federer, "The Best is Always Worth It!!" ~

Let us all be on our way with violin and bow ...

E. Matesky *

*UTube:Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Classes, USC - Khachaturian, JH-7,
Elisabeth Matesky (Brooks Smith, Pianist for JH Violin Master Class films)
(Russian version, Library of Congress Master Performers )

Edited: March 5, 2018, 7:04 AM · I imagine most people who read this site are quite familiar with the artistry of Nathan Milstein. Certainly I meant him no disrespect.

My late teacher, in an orchestral career that spanned over five decades (most of it in the Philadelphia Orchestra), was acquainted professionally with many soloists, and was friendly with Milstein on a more personal basis; his studio contained quite a few photos of them together. He admired Milstein more than any other violinist, living or dead. He considered Heifetz the pinnacle of violinists, but observed that he had "on" nights and "off" nights -- always great, but sometimes greater than at other times. Whereas Milstein could come into town and turn out multiple performances in a row at the same level; he never had an off night. My teacher was in the Pittsburgh Symphony when Milstein was making his EMI recordings with them, and he spoke admiringly of how Milstein could play take after take, identical every time -- a demonstration of incredible control, technically and artistically -- and displaying superhuman endurance to be able to do that with an energy-eating concerto like Brahms. Consistency is no small thing.

March 5, 2018, 2:47 AM · Interesting discussion, especially thanks to the contribution of Elisabeth Matesky. I wish there were more players of her calibre telling her stories and experiences!
March 5, 2018, 3:24 AM · When I responded to this, I was referring to non-superstar career soloists, which Frieda also mentioned. The superstars are a cut above everyone else, no question. But they are not representative of soloists, and they are not a majority of soloists.

Most of the concerts I've attended have been regional orchestras. If they're the top orchestra in their metropolitan area, they may have one superstar-level soloist every 2-3 seasons, and if they're not, it's even less frequent. But they still have soloists for most of their concerts, and most of those are career soloists who make a living on concerto performances and recitals. There are a lot more of those soloists than there are superstars.

Even that category of soloist gets opportunities to perform with major orchestras, maybe once every two or three years. I've followed the careers of two musicians who more closely resemble the typical career soloist, one a pianist who was a good friend of mine in middle school and high school, one a violinist whose father was my undergrad physics professor. Each has made about half a dozen appearances with major orchestras in the last ten years, interspersed among many, many concerto appearances with regional orchestras.

If we're talking about non-superstar career soloists, then on the occasions that they perform with major orchestras, there's little or no difference in playing ability between them and the orchestral musicians they're performing with; the soloists may even be a little below the level of the orchestral musicians. The difference between those soloists and orchestral musicians boils down to role-specific skills more than playing ability.

March 5, 2018, 5:57 AM · To say that a performer is ‘consistent’ is neither arrogance nor ignorance. It’s appreciation.
Edited: March 5, 2018, 5:16 PM · Last Response!

I do not make a habit of taking as 'Gospel' remembrances of my legendary violin mentor's by even former members or their pupil's of major orchestras who performed w/either Milstein or Heifetz when they were guest Soloist's ~ With all due respect, unless one knew either artist personally & studied very intensely with each (which was a blessing from Above for this author -contributor) many (but not all) passed down accounts are 'diluted', if you will ~

This is not meant to take away from any having shared memories here of those studied with teachers who were members of orchestras such as the Pittsburgh! Mr. Milstein used to tell me quite a few 'gems' about his 'on and off' relationship with Steinberg!! Btw, Milstein once told me re the Brahms Violin Concerto, "Elisabeth, I am so secure about the Brahms Concerto that if an Atom bomb were dropped on the RFH (in London), I would continue to play the Brahms I am so secure!" We talked about this and in response to my question, 'N., don't you ever get nervous?', NM made that statement. This is a direct comment from my violin mentor, Nathan Milstein, himself. Another important comment which might interest the person, Lydia, would be that the 'energy-eating Brahms' didn't seem to affect Milstein. He was just 5' 6 &1/2" & stocky with glowing health. God gave Milstein the gifts of vibrant health w/ the constitution of an Ox! He had all qualities needed to become what I've termed, "the long distant runner of Great Violinist's" as he was still playing 'like God' at 83, when performing his dizzying transcription of the original work for piano of Franz Liszt, Mephisto's Waltz, which his own family (myself included) felt & feel was most probably inspired by Mr.. Milstein's closest friend, Piano Giant, Vladimir Horowitz!! It took Milstein at least Three Years to make his transcription of 'Mephisto' for Solo Violin, & in the process, drove members of his family "crazy!" His 'Mephisto' for Solo Violin was received in a triple Sold Out Milstein Violin Recital in Chicago's Orchestra Hall, which I attended, sitting with the spell-bound Music Critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert C. Marsh! He turned to me, white faced w/ blood purple cheeks upon Mr. Milstein's last Bravura note, saying, 'Lizzie! How can he play like that?!' Dazzled, I said to my friend, "Because, my dear 'Bobbie', he is Nathan Milstein, & has been completely obsessed with his 'Mephisto' for over 3 years, speaking almost of nothing else, with obsessive rewrites and non stop w/ the fiddle day and night!!" Even the second most important music critic in America could scarcely believe what he'd seen & heard, Live, onstage!!! The Ovation must have lasted over 5 or 6 minutes!!! Every audience member went, literally, quite Mad!!! Such wizardry has yet to be matched & you can take that to the Bank, folks!!!! We went backstage to greet Mr. Milstein w/ 2 other highly revered musician's, all of whom were bedazzled!!! After a short private chat w/ my teacher, he agreed to meet all 3 of them, & I played a Game w/ Mr. Milstein, asking him to name which of them he thought was 1. Music Critic; 2. Conductor & 3. Music aficionado?! Milstein, (relishing this idea) thought a lot before matching each gentleman to a title!!! He got the Conductor right, but missed the Music Critic & Music aficionado, then very animatedly shook hands with all Three, winking at me & saying,'Elisabeth likes to play Games!! She is my protege and friend!!'

Nathan Milstein was grounded & of the soil ~ the most approachable Great you could ever meet ~ Thank you for allowing me to write a bit about one of the Five or Six Greatest Performing Artist's of the Twentieth Century!!

With musical greetings to all ~

Elisabeth Matesky

March 5, 2018, 8:36 PM · You need to write a memoir. :-)

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