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Itzhak Perlman's Tone


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My former violin teacher told me that there are several reasons for modern virtuosos to sound alike. One is that the pedegology has gotten a lot better and uniform. bow hold, hand positions, and etc have gotten to be very similar due to this improvement in teaching methods. Second, the violinists today grew up listening to CDs and records which influences their tone. The old masters did not grew up with different recordings of the same concerto to influence their musical ideas. Third, none of the old masters went to a conservatory. They were all products of individual teachers. Apparently, this preserves the "pedigree" of their playing style. Ironically, he said some of the most distinct violinists today produce their distinct sound from some of the bad habits that they have formed. I am no expert so I am going to sit back and listen to others opinion on this.

oh, BTW, I think Perlman is the first of this generation of modern violinists that you can't tell who is playing.

[This message has been edited by Pennstater (edited 01-19-2002).]

[This message has been edited by Pennstater (edited 01-19-2002).]

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I believe that to be true, and I, too, have that same problem. :-) Not that it is terrible, mind you, just that it is homogenous.

Pennstater, I think you are correct in the uniformity of teaching. I believe that we have gotten to the point of finding what seemed most agreeable to the audience ear then standardized it and packaged that sound. It's only my opinion, but when I speak with people, I hear a large majority express the warm lush sound as that which they feel is good. Whether true or not, if expressed then I can't help but feel that marketing companies will pick up on that preference and geer up in that direction. Also, it is undeniable that the sound is pretty, and naturally if there is a way to make that sound, and it can be explained easily - there will be a natural desire to learn how to do it. I feel that we know how to this - there are many posts testifying to the technique in producing a full round tone. As a result, this is how we learn. However, there is little or variety, for the most part, at least it does seem to point that way. I've read in various articles the same complaint of this standardization, and we get back to the marketing concept and what sells. About ten years ago, I read an article in Strings magazine stating that there is a loss in the individuality of sound due to the competition for success: there is no doubt about it, that there are a large amount of violinists for very few soloist positions :-). So in the battle to succeed, there appears little desire to take risks or chances at something different if the outcome could result in an unsuccessful career path.

There were conservatories in the past: but each school seemed identifiable. Why? Perhaps as suggested, less availability of communication and distance between areas with transportation difficulties in getting from one country to another in short periods of time. Interpretations were also allowed to flow with less restriction (more freedom was allowed the artist to interject their own personality, and tastes). I might suggest that the individuality factor might be more agreeable in the 'contemporality' of the music. If we think back, 1900 wasn't that distant from 1830/40. And so forth. I can't believe it, but in todays terms you know we are talking about Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. That kind of puts a header on it for me...I don't consider that very long ago :-(.

To get back to the point, perhaps it was felt that the artist could be allowed to add more of themselves to the music, not being that far away from the composer. I don't know, seems reasonable to me.

Today, we head toward purity in interpretation - Bach style, Mozart style - staying true to composer's time period and intention (that is, within reason). Maybe we do this because we don't feel we are allowed to change what may have been agreeable to composers during that time period. It was some time back, and not being that close, we may feel we do an injustice to take what a composer wrote and make it our own. Perhaps it's a fear of misinterpreting -- putting in some rock and roll, or rap (gasp) or whatever. :-) I don't know - just throwing out thoughts. I feel, though, in the interpretation there is more standardization because of this and therefore again homogeneity.

These are a few thoughts I've had about the methods employed in playing - and it just ideas...

Regards,

J

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 01-19-2002).]

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I can recognize Perlman only if he's making scratchy bow changes and attacks, because of a certain character of sound his scratches have.

The old masters did go to conservatories, though the schools weren't as homogenized back then: Wieniawski (Paris), Sarasate (Paris), Ysaye (Paris), Thibaud (Paris, got 2nd prize Monteux), Busch (Cologne), Kreisler (Vienna and Paris), Heifetz (St. Petersburg w/ Auer), and Oistrakh (diploma in violin and viola) come to mind.

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Engineering has a lot to do with it too.

A lot of Perlman's older recordings, in my opinion, sound better because they were recorded for LP.

On LP, you can't do the computerized echo chamber distortion that you can do nowadays. Also, the timbre of the violin is different. on CD.

To me, Aaron Rosand's vaunted recording of Sarasate's "Spanish Dances" on LP sounds radically different than the CD version. I vastly prefer the LP version, which sounds much warmer and more live than the recording does.

By the way, I find many Perlman's recordings to sound vastly different from one another.

In his youth, he had a full Galamian sound coupled with that warm early Guarnerius. As he got older and acquired Stradivaris (most notably the "Soil"), his style changed to that of a more graceful quick motion player than a power player - though Perlman still has the power when he wishes.

From what I've heard live and from his LPs, Perlman doesn't sound much like some of the CDs I've failed to recognize on the radio.

Incidentally, I've always recognized Henryk Szeryng's older playing - that bumptious quality from him is unmistakeable.

In his youth, though, Szeryng was a fleet clean player in the Milstein mold. Stunning ability.

[This message has been edited by HuangKaiVun (edited 01-19-2002).]

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I must defend my idol Mr. Perlman.

I strongly disagree with the premise here. I grew up listening to Perlman, Stern, and Heifetz, among others, and frankly, I find virtually everyone's sound to be unique. To my ears, it sounds just as silly to say that "Perlman sounds like everyone else," as to say "James Earl Jones has the same voice as everyone else." I can identify Perlman, Shaham, Hahn, and the others with whose playing I am familiar fairly readily.

Find someone who has never had chocolate before and give them a piece. Immediately ask them if it is light, dark, semi-sweet, etc. We all agree that different chocolates taste different, but we must also acknowledge the similiarities.

I find this whole argument tedious. No two instruments sound alike, no two people, and yet we (actually it's you people) are so quick to dismiss a player as "modern" and "homogenized." The trap is being unique and quirky just to be different. LWL already proved with her sound clips postings how absurd this whole premise and argument is. Perhaps I am a "modern violinist," but those who know me can spot my playing a mile away. And trying to identify someone you don't know, and then saying you can't identify them because they are "not individual enough" is, to my senses, very silly.

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And yet the original poster can't help what he hears - with 5 subsequent posters (NOT INCLUDING MYSELF) and the subject of the post himself agreeing!

If you insist on denying the "modern violinist" term, Jonathan Rubin, then DON'T CALL YOURSELF ONE.

I - and a great many others - will never tire of the "modern violinist" discussion.

[This message has been edited by HuangKaiVun (edited 01-19-2002).]

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I'm not familiar with LWL's sound clip posting, and so this idea may have already been tried.

How about someone post say, 10 sound clips to a website? Ten different virtuoso violinists. No names attached to the sound clip. Clip #1 Clip #2 etc.

Then have another column posting the ten player's names: Player #1, Player #2 etc.

Then challenge as many Maestroneters to match up the Clip with the Player (not on Maestronet, but to an e-mail address so as not to influence others).

After a month or so, post the results to Maestronet. I'd LOVE to take part in such a challenge.

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Dear Jonathan,

Please don't get me wrong!... I'm not defending the "modern" violinists notion...good grief. That idea is ridiculous.

What I was describing however, is a method used by many in teaching. We know how to make good sound, and how to make bad sound, simply put. No one should desire to make bad sound. That would be terrible. Perlman is a wonderful violinist, there is no doubt about it. But what I was getting at is that admiration can sometimes lead to copy. It has been said that the highest form of compliment is in imitation, and it is in that way I felt that we may be seeing alot of similarity in sound...not exact just similar. :-) Who wouldn't like to sound like Perlman, or Kreisler, or whomever you'd love to sound like? It's natural. I conjecture through thoughts that perhaps the original poster felt as they did because of the admiration for Perlman's sound, and possibly many violinists want to have that tone. That's all; It is a very warm and pretty sound. But there's one original, and in this case Perlman. I don't know who else they are listening to, only if the other violinists they heard sounded like him, then they must be similar in his sound.

I'll get back to the art of violin and Perlman, when he expressed what he felt as different. The artist vs. violinist? Well, we've gone through that enough, but he himself was pondering what I walked through above. In many thoughts, I come down to originality, and that's the crux of it all. There are many fine violinists, and each do have their own personalities. True, I can't disagree with that. Look at Hahn vs. Bell! I can tell the difference in an instant, as I know you can. Then Mutter and Shaham - again major difference. But in many cases the difference is not as distinct as, for lack of anyone else at the moment, Heifetz and Kreisler, yes? Now I'm going to disagree with myself and say that many violinists in past generations are not as distinctive either. So, it has nothing to do in my opinion, with time. But it does have everything to do with art. When I watched that program I was amazed by what Gitlis was saying in his reflection of how artists went about originality. How did they ensure that they would be different? He came down to saying that some artists liked playing certain notes slightly flat, for color. I found that a very interesting idea, and it so intreged me, that I began likening the art of playing violin to the art of painting in shades of color selection and mood portrayal. It is a very interesting idea! But to do things like this, especially in today's market, you would be taking large risks - at least I think so. And if it came down to auditions and job interviews, could you risk playing a note slightly flat because you, personally, like the way it sounds but the auditioner would think you out of tune :-)? Well, that is kind of hinting slightly at what I've been musing over. Could a person risk not getting the job, by staying firm to a belief and what some may feel is their way of expression in art. Agh...that show really got to me, as you might detect. I think the idea of independance in the arts is something that crosses the mind of many people. How much can you risk for art? It is a difficult problem and decision, and certainly flies in the face of practicality.

Anyway, my friend, I run through ideas as of late, trying to come upon answers to questions. Maybe through stimulating discussion, a reasonable solution can be found. It's late, and I better get some rest!

Best Regards,

J

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 01-20-2002).]

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My goodness, JKF, do you ever sleep? In my next life, I would love to have half of your energy and enthusiasm! wink.gif

I could be wrong about this, and please forgive me if I am, but I thought that during Heifetz's formative years, he was a great admirer of Kreisler, and was inspired by Kreisler's sound. Furthermore, at the risk of lightning striking, I actually find the Heifetz sound closer to Kreisler than Perlman (if that makes any sense).

I think the crux here is originalty, and some sense of spontaneity. I think the trap is when violinists imitate the "wrong" things, like an idiosyncratic shift or slide, or some particular bowing anomaly, with no musical consideration. The best interpretations are when the performer serves the music before himself.

There is a very fine line between "expressive intonation" and just out of tune. On the Heifetz recording of the Walz from the Serenade in C by Tchaikovsky made in the 70's (I know you know this one, JKF, wink.gif )his cadenza has an F# that is sort of half way between F and F#. But it is really perfect, and I can see why it wasn't changed with editing or a retake. It has a life to it and a humanness - why a silk flower will never be more beautiful than the real thing. For all of the criticism of Heifetz's machine-like playing, I actually hear a daring player (Even if he carefully planned every note, and didn't change) who is not afraid to sound organic.

To me, Heifetz's sound is like the perfect "Fiddler on the Roof" sound. It is absolutely accurate and precise, while at the same time throaty and earthy. It is the best synthesis (to me of course) of a great "fiddle sound" and a control and cleanliness that brings out the "non-digitalness" of his sound. There is a variety of color and shading that is unsurpassed. The Heifetz sound to me is like a spicy food that burns your mouth but soothes at the same time, so you must constantly eat it. It is rough and smooth, salty and sweet, all at the same time.

HKV - I actually do not consider myself a "modern violinist" by your definition. I am not of the Julliard/Galamian school. My teachers were Heifetz and Auer taught, and old German and Russian traditions, translated through my teachers and their personalities. I am fanatical about intonation because I think a violinist has to be. I play with a sound that I like - and people have asked me many times who my influences are - they are who I have mentioned. My teachers always stressed the need to listen carefully and figure things out. Very seldom did one of my teachers tell me specifically how to do something, other than my earliest lessons. The goal was and still is, good music making - which when I play it, is always my own voice. Perhaps when I get around to posting a clip of my playing, YOU CAN TELL ME, how modern (or not) I sound.

BTW - I guess I lied when I said this topic is tiresome... - JKF has that effect on me.

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Oh Jonathan,

Dear friend, we are of same mind :-). I was going to get back to sleep, but over and over again in my mind I passed what I posted. Rolling over to one side, saying, oh no what did I say. Then the other, ... I got up and signed back on. Yes, Yes, Yes! I believe you know so well the only picture he had in his studio of a violinist. :-)

Jonathan, you hit the nail on the head, being real, and being who you are. And it comes through in the playing, and in the style. I toil over this, you know. I hope I can only do as well as I know you do in your playing. You have such good thoughts, and a very beautiful style. Hoping as always, to hear and wishfully see you again... soon? :-)

Sending my very best wishes,

J

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I too have no trouble recognizing Perlman when I hear him on the radio.

I believe that anyone who listens carefully to many recordings of any given violinist will be able to recognize that violinist subsequently.

Historically, the different schools of violin playing did influence individual playing styles. I think in recent decades this has become less of a factor as distinctions between training methods of different schools and conservatories have lessened. Distinctiveness in playing style is now more a function of the individual violinist's anatomy and physiology rather than who his or her teacher was.

The only defining characteristic which applies to chronologically modern violin virtuosos is that they play with few if any technical flaws.

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I have two recordings of short pieces played by Perlman & each displays different tonal approach: the Heifetz tribute album has a slightly coarse, grainy sound while the earlier encores cd is warmer. A result of recording or deliberate stylization by Perlman? Anyway in both cases what Perlman has in abundance is energy & panache.(Love his version of Heifetz's arr. of Deep River)

I don't know about his concerto recordings. Do they last the course?

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His concertos are TERRIFIC across the board.

Probably my favorite of them is the video Tchaikovsky he recorded with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was Perlman at his finest.

Compare the rough hewn presentation of that Tchaikovsky to the more dainty (not necessarily more refined) version presented in the "Perlman in Moscow" video.

I enjoy Perlman's concerti very much. Actually, there's hardly anything of Perlman's that I don't like - and there are many recordings of his that I adore.

When it comes to HAVING FUN on the violin, Perlman is very much an old school master in style and technique if not recording engineering.

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