Why are chamber music violinists not more famous?
Discussions on famous violinists seem to always centre on concerto soloists. Some of these reasons are obvious, - they stand out but shouldn't we be more sophisticated than that? Two groups of violinists are equally accomplished, if not necessarily in the virtuosic aspects of playing but in the ART of playing and integration within a group. The first is concertmasters (some of who do reach star status) but I would love to highlight the great violinists of chamber music. Where would be be without those incredible interpretations such as by Günter Pichler of the Berg quartet?
Of course one can not evaluate a quartet by anything other than the quartet as a whole - but that should not stop us from recognizing brilliance within it. And it should be stated that often the expressive success can be traced to the first violinist (not meaning to start an argument here!).
e.g. Berg quartet playing Schubert's Death and the Maiden:
I think the quartet players themselves would discourage it.
I think quartet playing is probably a little more cerebral than solo playing, but it's also quite demanding, even if the need to project over an entire orchestra is not there. I think the best soloists can play chamber music quite convincingly, and the best chamber musicians could easily be very thrilling as soloists, forgetting about the mysterious market forces under which some careers thrive and others wither.
Concertos are orchestral works and "going to the orchestra" is something that people still feel is a dressier, more formal, and more highly anticipated occasion. All the more so when they get to see some glamorous person in front of dozens of formally-attired musicians and the conductor making a grand entrance and all of that fanfare. Now, the same soloist can also give a recital, but generally they've become famous from their orchestral appearances.
From what I've heard or read in interviews etc I believe not often these string quartets really have a "leader". It is often very organic. But regardless of that, I share your admiration for the violinists in these top string quartets. Breathtaking.
Jean, often enough also with the violists and cellists. Herbert Kefer, Lawrence Dutton, Kyril Zlotnikov are not the only ones coming to my mind immediately.
One reason some excellent players choose to perform chamber music rather than the concerto repertoire could be that they don't relish the scrutiny (personal as well as musical) the latter invites. To put it another way, the chamber music environment is more self-effacing which suits a certain personality type. We're doing them a favour by not making them "famous"!
I think that for devotees of chamber music performance the performers' names are familiar. However, there are far fewer people for those audiences than for soloist and symphony performances.
I should have made the distinction in my post, but I was considering two forms of 'fame'. The answers why chamber music violinists are not famous in the public eye are given above and I think fairly obvious. However, my main question was why they are not famous in OUR eyes, that of violinists and other people who are thrilled with chamber music. We just about never refer to them by name even though we know that a certain quartet could not be the same without those particular violinists - and for the more classical repertoire that is particularly the first violinist.
Elise - yes, good chamber musicians ARE accorded the greatest respect by their peers and those who follow the genre closely. That doesn't mean we need to be constantly singing their praises, in fact I believe it's invidious to single out the most prominent player from what should be a 100% collective effort. As Andy Warhol pointed out, fame is a fickle accolade, not always awarded to the truly deserving and of little or no lasting significance.
It could have something to do with how classical music recordings are marketed. I notice a lot CD covers for chamber music do not feature photos of the artists. While many, although not all, CDs featuring soloists usually feature a photograph. I'm not sure what catches peoples attention first when they see a CD. Is it the text, the artwork, or the photos?
I feel like in my circles "we" definitely refer to chamber musicians by name and acknowledge their individual musicianship. However, talking about the "incredible interpretations such as by Günter Pichler" ignores the considerable contributions the other musicians in the quartet make to facilitate and shape those interpretations.
Exactly as Irene said above. In fact I would venture to say that in terms of fame, Pichler is not necessarily getting the short end of the stick. If I ask most people to name the violist + cellist of the group, how many people would stutter, or not even know their names? How many people reading this post right now managed?
I agree with Irene. In chamber music, the other musicians can make a big difference in what one can achieve. Take the same pro chamber violinist and have him perform with a group of lower skilled amateurs? “He's not bad. I suppose he must have studied the violin in college.” Play with conservatory-trained musicians who are not chamber music specialists and who have one or two rehearsals before the show? “He’s pretty good.” Play with his professional chamber musician colleagues who rehearse painstakingly together? “Wow, I didn’t realize how breathtakingly good that violinist is!”
"However, my main question was why they are not famous in OUR eyes, that of violinists and other people who are thrilled with chamber music."
If one of the players in a string quartet stands out and get special attention I kind of get the feeling there is something wrong. The string quartet is a whole and I think a reason why great string quartets are in fact great is because of the wholeness.
Who can name any of LeBron James’ teammates? It takes 5 people to play exquisite championship basketball but it takes celebrity to sell tickets.
What Buri said. I think we live in a golden age of chamber music, at least as far as performance. One reason chamber musicians are not famous is that there are simply too many wonderful performers for anybody to remember all those names (even of the ensembles, never mind individuals).
String quartets are famous.
Out of topic really, but I remember reading that Paganini loved to play Beethoven quartets in an informal setting.
When professional quartet players teach (which many do, I believe) the effect can spread far and wide. One example of this not-so-obvious influence: a principal cellist of one of my community orchestras was a pupil of a retired cellist of the Allegri Quartet, himself a pupil of Casals. More than one member of the orchestra have remarked on the resemblance of our principal cellist's vibrato to that of Casals.
Chamber music violinists are not more famous because most people think that the term "chamber music" has something to do with restrooms.
Sander has always been a little potty...
Trevor I envy you doubly: first for getting a shot, second for playing in an orchestra where cellists recognize Casals's vibrato!
Thank you, Stephen. You're on a roll, so don't flip your lid.
I’m so engaged in this I’m getting flushed.
Yes, this gives new meaning to Handel's Water Music.
Fame is overrated. There have been great violinists, like Aaron Rosand, Oscar Shumsky, Steven Staryk, and David Nadien, who weren't household names. Shmuel Ashkenasi, formerly the 1st violinist of the Veermer Quartet, is in my opinion, one of the greatest violinists and artist-teachers in the world today. His recording of the Paganini Violin Concertos on Deutsche Grammophon is my favorite. He certainly deserves to be more famous. Perhaps he just doesn't want to be.
Soloists may be more famous than chamber music players because their activities are often featured in large concert halls in large cities, attracting greater commercial interest and media exposure through ticket sales and television broadcasts.
"If you visit the web site of a string quartet, the "bio" is the history of the quartet, and they intentionally omit the individual bios of the players."
In the UK I think the most "outstanding" quartet leader of the last 50 years has been Levon Chilingirian, who heads up his group to this today although the personnel has turned over several times. A bit like Mark E. Smith and the Fall, there never was any doubt who was boss but also like MES Levon never seems to have coveted greater fame, or indeed the larger fees he could surely have attracted on the concerto circuit. Such people do exist.
String quartets attract a totally different audience than concerto + symphony shows. Gushy fandom as with violin or piano soloists is virtually absent. String quartet afficionados are often very knowledgable, they have a remarkable preference for plaid shirts, and may I say that the repertoire in rotation is many times larger than what violinists and pianists in the concert hall are playing? So, string quartet lovers have easily a hundred pieces in their heads; in the solo violin repertoire ten max. (There are about five Mozart piano concertos and three Mozart violin concertos on the repertoire; string quartets play about ten Mozart string quartets and add another violist and you have five more quintets; same story with Beethoven, and obviously there is a shitload of Haydn who never ever gets performed anymore by symphony orchestras).
I disagree with that last statement: I don't know the name of a single member of any of the quartets named (all of whom I have heard play, though mostly in recordings), neither present ones nor former. I am sure I read those names on a program or in a booklet but they don't hang around in my brain. And I am pretty sure I am far from the only person on this forum who is so woefully ignorant. At least I know the name of one member of the Vegh quartet--for obvious reasons...
Surely the most famous soloist who also shiningly excelled in chamber music was Pablo?
The name of the first violinist of the Belcea quartet is not that hard to guess. You get only one try :-)
"Peter Schidlof was highly valued by other viola players."
The violinists in the Beaux Arts Trio were/are wonderful soloists (like Daniel Hope), but it’s wrong to imply that the other musicians are not as important or as famous. Swap out Menahem Pressler and the trio would be completely different.
Frieda - I don't know if there is a language issue here, but 'famous' and 'important' are two totally different words and meanings. Famous refers to recognition; important refers to function. You can be famous without important as you can be important without famous - I guess I'm not sure why you went there...
Rather a lot of knee-jerk answers I fear. Yes, every member of a quartet is important - sometimes its and violinist and sometimes a violist or a cellist that is providing its heart. All true, and all said too often. But would you also say that it is wrong to recognize the concertmaster because the first flutist is also important in an orchestra? To me, this is odd logic.
Yes, "important or famous" is meant in the logical sense, in which "or" denotes a union (either or both) and not equivalency. This thread has people discussing importance, as well as others discussing fame.
Elise, you seem to be arguing from a fixed idea that no one recognizes the brilliance of quartet violinists, and I simply don't think that is true - and when I was at conservatory people seemed to love to talk about whether they liked this first violinist or that one better with xyz quartet. Maybe that's a function of your musical circle; but violinist.com's lack of a poster (so far!) who starts every sentence with "When I was the prized pupil of Bobby Mann taking lessons at his apartment every Saturday" doesn't mean that they don't exist. If you want to see more of those discussions here celebrating certain quartet players or iterations of a quartet, I encourage you to start them!
@Albrecht, I can't name more than a few members of chamber groups either, even of the ones I've seen.
"The importance of all the players is actually irrelevant to the question we (on a violin site) don't recognize the brilliant chamber music violinists as we are want to do for concert soloists". Elise - your question is still somewhat ill-posed and lacks a question mark, that's what makes it interesting. If the "we" means everyone on this site, the answer is that most of us aren't sufficiently interested or involved in chamber music. If you're asking WHY we "don't recognise" etc etc the answer is that those us who are interested DO! These players are very important; they aren't individually "famous" because that would be contrary to the whole chamber music ethic.
"You don't see posts from teenagers wondering what quartet or trio they should learn next after finishing Haydn Op. 20 No. 5. "
Once again, I completely agree with Irene...
James, you are accusing the majority of people to be terrible snobs. This is not only not very polite, it is also wrong or at least a massive exaggeration.
It's the "my ignorance trumps your knowledge" philosophy, best ignored I think
Totally understandable, and I wasn't exactly anticipating any agreement from anyone. I do agree that my calling out of other's impoliteness could itself be seen as impolite, but I also don't think it is a massive exaggeration at least from personal experience. I wouldn't say that I'm accusing people of being snobs, since in a sense I don't think anyone is intentionally being snobbish or impolite. I do stand corrected about the 'majority of people' though since technically the majority of people are actually likely to be beginners or very casual hobby musicians/music appreciators. I think I simply meant to say that this kind of 'snobbery' or 'elitism' (or whatever you want to call it, I'll call it phase 2 for now) is far more prevalent than we think it is, but that it's also no one's fault and it is actually natural.
I think I get what James is saying.
Christian probably better explained what I was trying to say...
Herman wrote, "If your biggest ambition is to play the Bruch notes just like name-soloist-of-your-dreams I'm not entirely sure you're ever going to get very far."
Notoriety comes from being named. When an orchestra gives a concert the members of the orchestra are usually not named. (soloists and conductors are exceptions as they frequently change.) In chamber music it is generally the ensemble that is named.
This thread has become a train wreck - how did the discussion get switched from players to composers and does Michael really mean "notoriety"?!
I am afraid I am the guilty party. I brought the word "snob" into it and this word is strong enough to explode a discussion.
I wouldn't say so!
Notoriety does not necessarily imply a negative connotation, see it’s first definition in Webster’s online. This being said, there were better words to use.
Fair enough, the Latin derivation is value-neutral but in my book (unpublished) "notorious" would always imply a certain ambivalence if not outright condemnation! Among quartet leaders I'd say Peter Cropper of the Lindsays was famous for his passionate commitment but notorious for not always hitting his notes dead-centre
The reason the thread wandered is because the original question was understood ambiguously. Either it wasn't written precisely enough or we (I) didn't read carefully enough. Also, this is an open forum. Everything wanders -- even "what's the best fingering in Bar 137 of the First Movement of the Brahms" will eventually come to shoulder rests -- a reliable thermodynamic sink.
"This thread has become a train wreck"
Don't forget, sonatas are also chamber music (except for BWV1001, -3 & -5, I suppose, plus some by Biber, Ysaye, Reger, etc).
V.com topics remind me of those arcade games where the ball bearing dropped in from a hole in the middle at the top and then bounced of an array of a hundred or so nails - a near infinite number of possible paths. Perhaps it was called 'a train wreck'!
Well, back to the topic:
Personally I love the incisive logic of James’ writing. I hope he carries on contributing until I die. After that he can do what he wants...
James, seeing Buri's comment above, I revisited your comments, "Beethoven 10 and the 7th symphony are more substantial" in particular. What exactly do you mean by "Beethoven 10"? Barry Cooper's 1988 hypothetical reconstruction (I can't help suspecting that some of the sketches that Cooper cobbled together for the Andante were actually multiple sketches for the same passages, and many of them would not have appeared in Beethoven's final version)? Wellington's Victory? Brahms 1?
Beethoven 10 is violin sonata number 10, the one dedicated to Rode. The word "substantial" was not intended to be taken literally if I understand James's intentions correctly. Both sonata 10 and symphony 7 are certainly substantial but so is the fifth symphony, the work to which they are supposed to be compared.
just for the record I also would like to state that I value James Dong's presence on this forum very highly. great to have you James!
I read through this thread once more and what stood out for me was the sheer number of famous men that are mentioned. It's enough to make up a fairly large Masonic lodge; it’s kind of frightening.
Isn't that also a generational thing? Most of the men who have been listed in this thread are at the tail end of their careers or no longer performing. While I can name a bunch of prominent female chamber musicians, I don't think a single one of those I can name was born before 1970.
Luri Lee has been violin 1 for the Rolston Quartet, I believe since its inception. Violin 2 was another female, Emily Kruspe, for a couple of years, but she left. I had a chance to see them here in Blacksburg in early 2018 when they had still a different violin 2 and they were fantastic. Luri Lee is a great violinist.
My teacher was first violin of the Moscow String Quartet, which was all female. It seems like a lot of strong female players came out of the Soviet system - I don't know if it ended up being more egalitarian than in the west, but you still had the Vienna Phil doing their damndest to keep women out for years - Chamber musicians have more autonomy than orchestral musicians, but it doesn't help if the place won't book you.
The chamber musician who influenced me the most by her coaching was violinist Galina Solodchin of the Delmé Quartet. Measuring about 4'10", she emigrated across Europe from Russia in the '50s or early '60s and hated Russian music with a vengeance. She and her violist husband John Underwood would practically have to leave the room on hearing some poor cellist launch into Borodin 2. The passion she brought to Haydn and Beethoven had to be experienced to be believed, and she even had me playing Elgar in full-blooded Slavic style.