Why are chamber music violinists not more famous?

January 13, 2021, 8:24 AM · 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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otdayisyIiM

Replies (72)

January 13, 2021, 12:37 PM · I think the quartet players themselves would discourage it.
Edited: January 13, 2021, 5:09 PM · 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.

I am such a fan of the playing of Zoltan Szekely, who commissioned and premiered the Bartok 2nd concerto (the recording of the premier, to my ears, is unsurpassed), but who was primarily known as the leader of the Hungarian String Quartet for about 35 years. I'm sure every member of the current Danish String Quartet would be fantastic as soloists, and I'm sure they're not the only ones.

I've heard some soloists that sound great, and then don't necessarily make the transition to chamber music in a way that I find satisfying. As much as I love Augustin Hadelich, I thought the time I heard him playing sonatas was not well suited, as if his sound was meant to cut through a non-existent orchestra, but it might have been an off day for him or even just for my ears - I have really enjoyed hearing him as a soloist a number of times.

I kind of like hearing a musician with a chamber-music mindset, playing the solo repertoire, even if perhaps other audience members might not feel the playing is big enough. I think it's hard to balance the clarity and nuance. With that said, with very much "blending" quartets, I'm not sure if I'd really want to hear the 1st violinist as a soloist as much - I tend to like quartet setups that have a strong voice for the first violinist.

Edit: To Jean's point below, I mentioned the Danish SQ, which rotates the first violin chair, but I think either violinist does a fine job in that role, and it's an example of a very well balanced string quartet where each individual also manages to shine through.

Edited: January 13, 2021, 1:29 PM · 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.

A string quartet isn't going to fill Orchestra Hall to bursting with sound. Nor audience members, usually. A recital like that won't have "something for everyone." The instrumentation is the same throughout, so you'd better be a "music lover" to appreciate that in spite of relative monotony along that particular dimension. It won't have crashing cymbals and tympani rolls or screaming piccolos or the thrill of all the violin bows leaping into the air at once. These amenities engage smaller children and grown-ups alike.

Maybe things could improve if, for example, the St. Lawrence String Quartet could be riding exercise bikes while sawing through some Haydn, or if they turned cartwheels onto the stage, etc. But generally a recital is just less of an "event" than an orchestra concert with a soloist.

January 13, 2021, 3:22 PM · 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.
January 13, 2021, 5:03 PM · 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.
Ori Kam seems to feel at home in both worlds, despite not being a violinist.
Edited: January 14, 2021, 6:38 AM · 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"!
January 14, 2021, 8:06 AM · 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.

Soloists' names go on the top of the marquee and the CD covers. Not the same for chamber group members.

The question might be -> what distinguishes the successful performing soloists from the performing chamber players? It is probably charisma; some qualities in addition to their musical skills that attract the audience.

January 14, 2021, 8:13 AM · 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.
January 14, 2021, 9:03 AM · 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.
Edited: January 14, 2021, 10:13 AM · 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?
January 14, 2021, 10:15 AM · 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.
January 14, 2021, 10:52 AM · 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?
Edited: January 14, 2021, 11:06 AM · 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!”

Chamber music is a niche genre within classical music. Many violin students aren't introduced to it until later in their studies, assuming they don't quit by then. Even when they start, it's usually Haydn or Mozart quartets (or even Beethoven and Brahms), which sound deceptively easy to less mature students. Most people don't appreciate how hard it is to play those well until much later.

Edited: January 14, 2021, 1:12 PM · "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."

I think Irene nailed it. 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. (That's not always the case, but often it is.) We're conditioned NOT to admire Arnold Steinhardt as an individual violinist, even though we can hear his sparkling violin playing in the Guarneri Quartet recordings. You can hear John Dalley too, but you have to listen more closely. (Reading the score while listening helps greatly to concentrate on the inside parts.)

Regarding the inability to name violists or cellists, that's true, but it's true of orchestra principals too. Most of us can name at least half a dozen CMs but how many of us can name even the principal 2nd violinsts of the same orchestras? I'll admit I can't. And the violists? They're back there next to the bassoons somewhere ...

January 14, 2021, 6:57 PM · 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.
Edited: January 15, 2021, 12:10 AM · Greetings,
quartets definitely made a quantum shift from soloist and three smurfs (CF Joachim quartet) to a partnership of equals. I think orchestral players in particular often yearn to play chamber music because years of not particularly being able to express one’s own ideas can take a mental toll in spite of the other joys of such work. Soloists in the sense of the top handful who have name recognition even among the public would not function well within the context of a quartet over the long run. The mentality is different. Other combinations are less problematic I think. For example, Heifetz, Rubenstein , Piatigorsky was something off the planet. I think a lot of people have forgotten that one of Heifetz’ major contributions to the world of music was to thrust chamber music on stage at Carnegie Hall even after he had cut back on his solo career. He wasn’t exactly the worlds greatest ‘chamber musician’ but he was deep enough to understand its value and the need to promote it.
The Guarneri quartet were vociferous in protesting that quartet playing demands the same powers /super power playing usually associated with soloists. So they were very considerate in helping each other do concerto performances or recitals on a regular basis. John Dalley also played first violin on a number of occasions to ensure that the supposedly secondary role wasn’ t diminishing his awesome solo abilities. These days I think most top quartet players are like most top orchestral players in that they could stand up and perform a concerto of some kind at very short notice. There just isn’t enough space in the world for all the wonderful players who think they will enjoy a glamorous , soloist career until they are sixty or so.
Interestingly,Joseph Szigeti spend his whole career immmersed in the Beethoven quartets and advocated them as study material for anyone aspiring to be a top ranked player.
Cheers,
Buri
January 15, 2021, 7:33 AM · Who can name any of LeBron James’ teammates? It takes 5 people to play exquisite championship basketball but it takes celebrity to sell tickets.
Edited: January 15, 2021, 9:17 AM · 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).

When Spohr played quartet on his concert tours* he played at any place with three local musicians who were willing to participate. Rehearsal time would be close to zero**. The quality of these musicians in many places was adequate if he was lucky, often less than adequate; he would have to choose the program according to their capabilities.

Then came the era of the "dictator quartets", named after the first violinist and dominated by him (I don't think there was a woman among them). The other three people were no-namers.

Nowadays, as has been pointed out already, things are more democratic in chamber music--which fits the essence of the genre better. It is symphonic music that is conceived for a dictator (called conductor); chamber music is better without. And "thanks" to the oversupply of awesome performers we have a wealth of ensembles that do a fabulous job like never before in the history of chamber music.

* Go read the stories in his autobiography.

** If I remember correctly the premiere of the Kreutzer sonata (not by Kreutzer, by George Bridgetower) was done with zero rehearsing; Beethoven didn't have time because he was too busy writing down the music. I have nothing but admiration for Bridgetower! Somebody ought to write a proper biography about him.

And BTW, Steve, I am not sure all those people are so very self effacing. Many probably would not mind a little more name recognition; they just know the situation and accept it I suppose.

January 15, 2021, 9:27 AM · String quartets are famous.

I agree with those who suggest that a quartet is an ensemble of equal artists and it’s inappropriate for one to get star billing.

January 15, 2021, 10:11 AM · Out of topic really, but I remember reading that Paganini loved to play Beethoven quartets in an informal setting.
January 15, 2021, 10:51 AM · 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.

[quite irrelevant to this discussion, but 2 hours ago I had the first of two Covid-19 vaccinations] `

January 15, 2021, 12:39 PM · Chamber music violinists are not more famous because most people think that the term "chamber music" has something to do with restrooms.
:))
January 15, 2021, 2:37 PM · Sander has always been a little potty...
Edited: January 15, 2021, 3:01 PM · Trevor I envy you doubly: first for getting a shot, second for playing in an orchestra where cellists recognize Casals's vibrato!
January 15, 2021, 3:38 PM · Jean,
my Covid vaccination was - ahem - age-related!
January 15, 2021, 3:46 PM · Thank you, Stephen. You're on a roll, so don't flip your lid.
January 15, 2021, 4:00 PM · I’m so engaged in this I’m getting flushed.
January 15, 2021, 4:19 PM · Yes, this gives new meaning to Handel's Water Music.
Edited: January 15, 2021, 4:53 PM · 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.
Edited: January 16, 2021, 12:40 AM · 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.

By contrast, chamber music may appeal to a larger number of players, including both professionals and especially amateurs, and may take place not only in the concert hall but also in more intimate venues, such as someone’s home. The spotlight is less on the individual and more on the group. In addition, I think a lot of chamber music - Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven - was written to be accessible to both amateurs and professional players; it's great music in part because it's accessible to a large number of players and not simply to specialists or virtuosos.

To make an analogy with tennis... Serena Williams and Roger Federer are well known for their singles playing but I suppose most casual fans would struggle to name who won the doubles titles at last year’s US Open. It’s the singles matches that draw the larger television audiences even though the doubles matches are often more exciting to watch.


January 16, 2021, 8:14 AM · "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."

This is fortunately not the case. Most string quartet websites feature four bios, plus a short history of the ensemble.

January 16, 2021, 8:44 AM · 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.
Edited: January 16, 2021, 9:28 AM · 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 can identify many SQ members by name, and not just the primarius; it just so happens I always pay a lot of attention to the viola. Historically, the members of the Juilliard Quartet, from top to bottom were quite famous with people who enjoyed chamber music, just like the members of the Amadeus Quartet and somewhat later, indeed, the Alban Berg Quartet, all four members. The Beaux Arts Trio, same thing. Today, I'd say the Quatuor Ebene is famous like that and the Belcea Quartet.
January 16, 2021, 9:36 AM · 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...

BTW "Quatuor sine nomine" is probably the most apt name for a string quartet ever!

January 16, 2021, 1:37 PM · Surely the most famous soloist who also shiningly excelled in chamber music was Pablo?
I didn't like Jascha's Beethoven Op 12 no 2 last movement, but with Primrose, Piatigorsky, etc, he was almost peerless.
Peter Schidlof was highly valued by other viola players.
January 16, 2021, 2:02 PM · The name of the first violinist of the Belcea quartet is not that hard to guess. You get only one try :-)
Edited: January 16, 2021, 2:28 PM · "Peter Schidlof was highly valued by other viola players."

So was the Juilliard's Raphael Hillyer, and his successor Samuel Rhodes - whose daughter Harumi Rhodes is the 2nd violinist in the Takacs Quartet (see, it's not that hard!).

Robert Mann, the long time first violinist of the Juilliard was famous, period. Isidore Cohen who played 2nd in the Juilliard, but also was a longtime violinist in the very succesfull Beaux Arts Trio, was pretty famous, too.

The first violinist of the Belcea quartet is Corinna Belcea, it's a quartet that is interesting because it combines players from all kinds of different traditions.

Edited: January 16, 2021, 3:09 PM · 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.
Edited: January 16, 2021, 2:48 PM · 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...
January 16, 2021, 2:54 PM · 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.

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. Playing in a quartet is still four individuals with individual voices that we can identify and the skill set required is, IMO, at least equal to that of a concerto violinist - if rather different. It may not be quite as technically demanding (of course arguable) but its often musically more so because of the skill to ensemble one that is (again IMO) usually greater than for the soloist.

Edited: January 16, 2021, 7:36 PM · 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.

This thread has spun off into multiple, interesting branches:
1. whether groups' musicians are individually famous
2. whether groups' first violinists are or should be (more) famous, and why
3. And if so, what if they are more famous than the other members of their group?
4. whether the first violinist is more instrumental than others in the group ("often the expressive success can be traced to the first violinist": the Beaux Arts Trio with Menahem Pressler is an example of when that is not necessarily the case despite having fantastic, soloist-caliber violinists.)
5. whether all musicians in a group are equally instrumental in the group

Edited: January 16, 2021, 7:44 PM · 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!

Also, I think the importance of all the players is very important if you're asking why people say "the Guarnari String Quartet is brilliant" rather than "Arnold Steinhardt and friends are brilliant". I think your point about first flute etc is a bit of a false analogy - in that circumstance, the players are serving more as soloists than chamber musicians. Perhaps we need to recognize more how great the principal 2nd violin is - which is probably more of a true chamber music role.

Edited: January 16, 2021, 10:11 PM · @Albrecht, I can't name more than a few members of chamber groups either, even of the ones I've seen.

Perhaps one reason why violinists can recall the names of soloists more reliably is because of the way we've mostly been trained. Scales, studies, and almost entirely SOLO repertoire. It's the "Bruch Level" that we're aiming for -- not the "Death-and-the-Maiden Level" (or whatever chamber piece might be comparable to the "Bruch Level"). You don't see posts from teenagers wondering what quartet or trio they should learn next after finishing Haydn Op. 20 No. 5. We grow up listening to concertos and wondering when it will be our turn to play them. Most of our discussion on this forum is about solo repertoire. Nobody asks for help with fingerings in a quartet part.

But what if your own trajectory through the concerto literature happened long ago? Then how do you know the current soloists? I think the answer is that you've been conditioned to learn them, and you're just as susceptible, as a violinist, to the "fame factor" of soloists as any other music lover.

Edited: January 17, 2021, 1:16 AM · "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.

What would your own answer be?

BTW I haven't clicked your link to the Alban Berg in D&TM yet but yesterday I listened to an old recording of the Endellion and what I heard was a superbly integrated performance. I can't remember the names of any of the players

Edited: January 17, 2021, 4:18 AM · "You don't see posts from teenagers wondering what quartet or trio they should learn next after finishing Haydn Op. 20 No. 5. "

True, but those are the teenagers who think asking make-or-break questions online is going to get them to soloist heaven. Maybe those are not the ones who are going to get very far, because they don't have good teachers and, most importantly, they're fundamentally cookie-cutter. 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.

One of the problems in music life is there is an unlimited supply of fiddlers who know just ten concertos and a couple encore pieces but they have really no sense of musicality.

January 17, 2021, 7:18 AM · Once again, I completely agree with Irene...

I think that concepts in life often happen in 3 levels:

Level 1, the most basic, is: 'Soloists are amazing, they are simply the best!'

Level 2, is where people start to scrutinize the level 1er's: 'concertos are for the shallow + immature , chamber music is absolutely where it's at if you're looking for substance!'

Level 3, is actually a regression back to level 1 but with some acknowledgement of level 2: 'Chamber musicians are definitely legit, but playing solo works is by definition not any less legit, and also has the practical application of requiring less people to perform (if using piano accompaniment) and quicker discernment of level.

If I want to find out how good a violinist is in the shortest amount of time, I'm not going to go for Beethoven C# minor and listen to the 2nd violin part. Of course eventually one can find out the technical and musical level! But it could take 1 or 2 minutes. Or I could ask them to play the opening of Brahms concerto and find out in 15 seconds. Just because it's a technically difficult concerto, doesn't mean that you can't discern level of musicianship.

Another gross simplification of this 3 level concept I made up...

Level 1: 'OMG I love Tchaikovsky and Sarasate, it's so satisfying and exciting!!'

Level 2: 'You are obviously a pleb, do you not know the late Beethoven quartets and Mahler symphonies?'

Level 3: 'Tchaikovsky and Sarasate are incredible composers and at their best can easily move audiences, what more do you want'

ok I can't help it, one more which absolutely triggers me

Level 1: 'I love Beethoven Spring sonata and symphony no. 5!'
Level 2: 'Beethoven 10 and the 7th symphony are more substantial, and you are a simpleton for liking the 5s'
Level 3: you know how this goes already

I'm not saying that anyone here falls in whatever category, because I don't know you personally as people, but these kinds of discussions just make me instantly think of how often level 2 has the biggest population.

January 17, 2021, 9:07 PM · 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.
January 18, 2021, 2:50 AM · It's the "my ignorance trumps your knowledge" philosophy, best ignored I think
Edited: January 18, 2021, 12:40 PM · 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.
Edited: January 18, 2021, 1:37 PM · I think I get what James is saying.

I think people, especially young people, getting into classical music can tend to have a certain trajectory. The real "crowdpleasers" are what someone hears first, and as someone gets deeper into different eras and composers, they run into messages about who the "serious" composers are, and then there is a temptation to think that lighter fare that is immediately accessible is somehow inferior, and that eventually, when people chill out, they find that they don't have to denigrate music because it is popular, or lighter.

I don't think this is the trajectory for everyone, but James may be speaking about his own evolving experience as a listener and critic, even if it does seem judgmental against those who haven't "transcended" to the final plane of boundless musical wisdom. I get it.

Edited: January 18, 2021, 1:01 PM · Christian probably better explained what I was trying to say...

Maybe it's just the people I've met in my life, or my circle of friends, or it's just me... This recent situation happened only a couple of months ago at a (legal!) gathering. One girl asked all 7 of us who the most underrated composer was. If you're playing at home at your computer right now, I invite you to think of an answer before reading on!

1 guy said 'Rameau', 1 replied 'Schumann', 4 more said 'yes definitely Schumann' and I said 'Tchaikovsky'. There was shock. 'Are you serious? How is Schumann not more underrated than Tchaikovsky??'. I tried to explain that since the overwhelming majority of people here said Schumann was underrated, that must therefore mean they personally don't underrate Schumann, which means that at least amongst people in this small sample size who think Schumann is underrated, Tchaikovsky is actually the more underrated composer. Is Schumann actually underrated if most people think he's underrated? Does that not mean that he is no longer underrated, and that he is at a level of recognition where he deserves to be, or is even potentially overrated? Can you imagine the chaos if I told them I think Schumann is overrated... It's basically like if I were to state here that chamber musicians are overrated, I would definitely be on the receiving end of a witch hunt.

Edited: January 18, 2021, 2:55 PM · 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."

It depends. If that's your ambition as an eight-year-old child, and you come within spitting distance of it you're 10, I'd say you've got a decent shot.

I didn't find James's comments off-putting at all. Maybe I'm a miserable snob too, then, but I think a lot of our maturation processes are meandering, pendulum-swinging sorts of trajectories.

Haha I just realized I listened to that whole Razumovsky YouTube without remembering to first turn off the radio in my room. Some kind of symphonic music. It's a concentration method I have used for a long time -- by tuning out the radio I am more able to focus on my work. I learned as a child that I could concentrate better on my piano practicing if there was noise in the background like the dishwasher (especially good) or the lawn mower.

January 18, 2021, 5:21 PM · 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.

It really is as simple as that. If you want fame, make sure you get billing.

January 19, 2021, 3:23 AM · This thread has become a train wreck - how did the discussion get switched from players to composers and does Michael really mean "notoriety"?!
January 19, 2021, 5:35 AM · 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.

Michael on the other hand, if we give him the benefit of the doubt on "notoriety"*, put it back on track resolutely: If your name is not mentioned nobody will remember it.

* In a thread like this one we should definitely be generous with the benefit of the doubt; who knows when we need it ourselves? Like I do right now.

Edited: January 19, 2021, 7:54 AM · I wouldn't say so!
But anyway, I finally got around to listening to Elise's link and I don't feel that Günter Pichler deserves any greater praise than the rest of them. For sure he's got more work to do and does it well, but not as a "front man"; they impress me as more like the Beatles than the Stones, or indeed Martha and the Vandellas
January 19, 2021, 8:54 AM · 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.
January 19, 2021, 10:17 AM · 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
Edited: January 19, 2021, 1:30 PM · 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.
January 19, 2021, 3:04 PM · "This thread has become a train wreck"

And we will work tirelessly to always remember the victims of 1/17 - 1/18.

January 21, 2021, 8:24 PM · Don't forget, sonatas are also chamber music (except for BWV1001, -3 & -5, I suppose, plus some by Biber, Ysaye, Reger, etc).
January 22, 2021, 8:46 AM · 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'!

January 22, 2021, 5:29 PM · Well, back to the topic:

A solo violinist is promoted by his/her name, a chamber music ensemble is promoted by the name of the ensemble and that is how it should be.

The individual names of the members of the ensemble can of course be mentioned, but the point is their ability to play as an ensemble.

They are still individuals, but they are individuals who have the ability to kind of make the ultimate balance between the individual and the group.

Each part is unique and when combined with the other parts a new unique phenomenon is created, which is the music that is brought to life.

Chamber music is a wonderful experience.

January 23, 2021, 7:22 AM · 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...
January 23, 2021, 8:15 AM · 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?
January 23, 2021, 8:33 AM · 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.

January 23, 2021, 12:24 PM · 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!
Edited: January 26, 2021, 8:16 PM · 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.

Many chamber musicians are women and I have to wonder if all these famous men have made it more difficult for these women to become famous.

Edited: January 26, 2021, 8:30 PM · 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.
January 26, 2021, 9:17 PM · 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.

The last incarnation of the Audubon Quartet (now retired) also featured two female violinists, Akemi Takayama and Ellen Jewett (and a female violist, Doris Lederer, whose husband Tom Shaw was their cellist). I was grateful to have seen the Audubons a few times. I'm going to guess Akemi may have been born before 1970, but if so, not by much.

January 26, 2021, 10:50 PM · 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.
January 27, 2021, 1:35 AM · 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.


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