What Makes A Soloist

February 6, 2021, 10:10 PM · I started the violin late at 12 years old. While my technique was not quite fully established many other things were such as my sense of musicality. After two years of playing, I had my first solo experience performing the cadenza of Capriccio Espagnol. Approaching my 5th year of playing, my technique has improved greatly and now I can work on more complex pieces such as the Bruch and Mozart Concerti. However, the soloistic edge I had in my early years seems to not come through as much. Has anyone else ran into this clash of technique and musicality and if so how do you find a healthy balance between the two ?

Replies (18)

February 6, 2021, 11:09 PM · Greetings?it seems to me much of the answer lies in the question you ask at the end of your post. You are certainly asking an interesting thing, but there is ultimately no clash between technique and musicality. Real Technique emerges and develops as a function of musical needs and technique itself is the means of expressing your innate musical impulses so one should not make such a strong conscious mental decision to keep them separated.When you start making a distinction between the two, practicing one while leaving the other standing outside the room things cannot go well. There is no integration of heart , mind and body.
It is important not to live in the past too much as well. WE rarely have an objective idea what happened then and its gone anyway. The only place to live is right in the present and that is actually rather hard to do but is the ultimate goal of playing the violin. Always think about the musical message you want to send, imagine the kind of sound that requires and experiment with the techniques that produce that elsusive but beautiful goal. You can only do this by what (maybe DeLay) said: hang your ears on the sound. Listen, listen to yourself.
Probably not too helpful but I did my best ;)
February 7, 2021, 12:20 AM · Thanks Buri,
You bring up a great point of the technique being more of a functional mean for innate musical expression. As well as not focusing on the past too much or viewing technique and musicality independently but rather harmoniously.
February 7, 2021, 5:06 AM · Ben I am not really in a position to give advice to a budding your artist as yourself, but a concrete example of what Buri wants to say (I think) is that, say, Flesch scales, or Dont etudes and the like, the hard technical stuff, you should practice them as if real music, i.e., never switch off your musicality.
February 7, 2021, 6:21 AM · Hi jean,
yes, taht’s a big part of what I’m saying. But at the same time, as you noted i another post about Basics, there are only a small amount of things to consider when playing the violin. Rhythm, sound, intonation ,ease etc. everything else is adjusting proportions to optimize what one might call these prime factors. Then when one gets to abstract concepts like style, expression and so on. The approach doesn’t change. We dont just have this mind set of ‘ok, Ive done my hour of sevcik like a good stduent,’ so now I can work on getting more expression into my performance of this Mozart concerto. In fact we are first creating a certain way of playing a Phrase in our mind’s ear and then...
You know this as well as I do. What proportional adjustsments do I have to make to my bow stroke , vibrato, to create this crescendo? etc. That is , the music is the technique and vice versa.
As far as the original post goes I don’t think it really concerns musicality versus soloist if edge tobe honest. Musicianship as imagination and technical level should advance hand in hand according to a player spotential. I wonder if Ben is referring to the kind of swashbuckling, ‘How can anyone think this is difficult feeling one has on stage pre teenage wise, then the pressures and insecurities of life start creeping in and nothing is ever quite the same again...?
February 7, 2021, 6:36 AM · What makes a soloist?
I was going to say "Ability, Charisma,....and a good agent"!

But the Charisma has to be manifest in every note and phrase we play, hence the Ability.

February 7, 2021, 8:57 AM · Buri - I wish every aspiring violinist, heck musician, could read your post. Bang on.

To the OP: needless to say, your question related specifically to a 'classical violinist soloist' but as per Buri's post I think you could learn a lot from looking at solo playing in other genres of music - be it jazz, easy-listening or street buskers. In each case you need to have something to say, or (since that is now a cliché) the music needs to be bursting out of you. If it is the technical challenges will melt.


February 7, 2021, 10:01 AM · Jean, I like what you said about etudes. I am sort of intermediate I guess and I have an etude book which I love (Kayser). There is a song in each etude and I try to bring it out. There is sometimes more satisfaction in that than in the other pieces I am assigned to learn.
Edited: February 7, 2021, 11:50 AM · Great discussion. I've never been a professional musician, but was a serious amateur for most of my life, I am still proud to say that it is my most dear art form. I think I've said this elsewhere (and so have a few of you), but I believe that at its heart, music is an "in-the-moment" art form. And there are few other aspects of music as significant as the instrument that most closely parallels the human voice - the violin (and it's stringed cousins).

So, for what this is worth, I would say that my perception has always been that the players (whether great soloists and professionals or the rest of us) reach the heights when they are truly "in-the-moment" - technically, musically, and emotionally - and project that to the listeners. That's what makes it a truly blessed art form.

So (and here's the hard part)...How does one be fully in-the-moment?

Edited: February 7, 2021, 3:00 PM · Ben, I will venture that your "soloistic edge" has not gone downhill, but instead that you have become a more skilled and critical listener than you were before. If so, it is nothing unusual. Pretty much goes with the territory.
February 7, 2021, 3:15 PM · I'm with David - Sometimes there are benefits to having the unselfconsciousness of someone who hasn't quite learned to hear themselves. We may objectively play worse, but nerves may not be a factor, so we feel good about our performance. As we get better and train our ears, we seek to bring that sense of freedom to our newfound technical abilities, and when we can work at levels that raise our confidence bit by bit, we find we are playing better in every possible way.

Like Buri mentioned above, musicality must always be our goal.

Edited: February 7, 2021, 4:18 PM · A great amount of talent and a huge amount of practicing.
Forget about childhood/teen social life. Then if you're lucky and have good connections, maybe...
Edited: February 7, 2021, 4:53 PM · Greetings,
David neatly brings us back on topic. I would add ‘complete and utter conviction that you something to offer the world that no one has ever come up with before.’
Anyway, for so long the front (and backs) of top tier orchestras are stacked with players who might well have been soloists. There just isn’t enough space out there. Also , one needs to be. a little careful about the word ‘soloist.’. If you play a concerto with an orchestra a few times a year I gues you are ‘the soloist’ on the night. If , like Ricci once said ‘You wake up the next day in a different airport,’ then you are ‘a soloist.’. I think the elite tend to be a lot more diverse these days.
February 8, 2021, 4:11 AM · hi Ann, I fully sympathise, these Kayser etudes are so well written and can be approached as real music. for some variation, have you seen the "Violin Etude Page"? http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~leonid/violin_studies.htm
February 8, 2021, 10:10 AM · What Buri wrote in his first post on this thread is absolutely stunning advice. I've heard a lot of wisdom from him in the past, but that one was a true masterstroke.

I agree with David Burgess's comment too. I had the unsettling experience that I though my intonation was fantastic -- until I realized it wasn't. I was playing something for my teacher (I think it was my second lesson since returning) and my teacher stopped me and said, "That G is out of tune. It's too high." I said I thought it sounded right. So he proved it to me.

It took me a long time to realize that the teacher I had as a child, who was a wonderful violinist and who I greatly admired, was a total zero when it came to violin pedagogy. I didn't learn about "ring tones" until I returned to the violin as a middle-aged couch potato and got a teacher who actually knows how to teach violin.

One thing to remember is that -- for most people -- your ability to listen will develop roughly in parallel with your ability to play. So there's stuff you can't do now, and there's also flaws in your playing that you can't hear now. Another thing I couldn't hear as a teenager were all the scuffs and scratches while I changed strings during scale practice. It never occurred to me to listen for it.

I'd like also to mention something I saw in a video of Josef Gingold giving a violin lesson to Joshua Bell at an age when his full-sized violin looked too big for him, so he was maybe 11 or 12. Josh was playing a Dont study. Gingold told him that he should make his physical movements elegant, saying something like, "If it's not graceful and elegant, then it's wasted movement." I think it was about Bell's bow arm.

February 8, 2021, 10:25 AM · Sanders wrote : "So (and here's the hard part)...How does one be fully in-the-moment?"

I really think there is only one way to achieve this:
You have to not give a #$%^ what anyone thinks or your looks, your style, your instrument - and of course most of all your playing. Hard? Not at all - I bet you are in-the-moment virtually every time you practice! If you can find a way to carry that into the performance hall all the fruits of the gods are yours.

February 8, 2021, 12:22 PM · Jean, Thank you, there is also a nice violin wiki page with lists of etude books and links to youtube performances.

An example:


One can click on each etude for an analysis of fingerings as well as the youtube.

February 8, 2021, 2:35 PM · There is no division of technique and musicality. Now, there are certainly beginners who sound comparably good despite their crude technique because they still manage to play with dynamics and have an instinctive sense for the phrase. But as players advance we come to simply expect that; it's no longer impressive. The music and its interpretation becomes more complex, as well, so the player has to become more sophisticated in their ability to interpret. Interpretation has to both involve the ability to "hear" what you want something to sound like in your head (the "musicality") as well as the technique to actually replicate what's in your head on the instrument.

Edited: February 9, 2021, 4:01 AM · Hi Paul,
thanks for the complement. I thought Lydia put it better though. Anywa, interesting you mention that clip. It reall stuck in my mind as well. For what little it’s worth I thought Galamain was ,in his somewhat ‘I’m gonna plant a seed now’ way trying to warn the young Joshua about the dangers of overall excess movement while playing. Looking at those videos as a whole, when you compare other players to Joshua they sound relatively washed out. I also suspect they sensed Bell was something unique and that if they tried to imitate the excessive physical displayed he did they could emulate his genius. Alas, it just looked fake. Bell, of course, did not look fake at all. His shee awesome talent just flowed though all that flopping around. But the prescient Galamian knew, in my opinion, that for a true genius like Bell to have a long , successful solo career he would need to rein in those movements that can when combined with the stress of such a life and the kind of nerves of steel required to play so often to so many people in so many places, lead to erratic performance quality. To some extent , this came true (assuming I’m not talking out of my nether regions). Joshua is arguably one of the most unforgettable and magnificent players ever when on form , but just a little more than one might expect, things don’t go quite so well in the land of the immortals.
I do get weird ideas sometimes...
Warmest Regards,

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