10 Great Female Violinists
Female Violinists Overtaking the Men?
I was looking at some articles about listing famous violinists, past and present, say 8 or 10 on the list. To my surprise, and slight irritation, the lists contained but not one female violinist.
I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, but that doesn't mean to say I don't need to set the record (or recording) straight. Here I've set out my own list of 10 female violinists, and I apologise for the ones I've left off, and there are plenty of them. What's more, at violin competitions women are frequently passing through to the final stages more than men, reflective of the fact the ladies nowadays are making their definitive mark with a fiddle under their chin.
Ida Haendel Plays Showcase Sarasate
Ida Handel Likes a Joke
Watch this interview with Ida Handel held at the Wigmore Hall in London. She has an ironic Jewish sense of humour, and is great fun.
Ida Haendel In Conversation
I went to see Ida Haendel in Harrogate, northern England in the mid-1970s. She was quite extraordinary, and appeared in a very tight long dress, violin and bow in hand and proceeded to climb the three steps up onto the stage. My heart was in my mouth, fingers crossed, hoping she didn't fall flat on her face and her 1696 Stradivarius. She didn't and went to perform a mesmerising concert including Karol Szymanowski's Myths.
Born in Poland in 1928, Ida Haendel was still giving a masterclass as late as 2013, and performing, albeit unofficially, into her 80s. Having picked up the violin aged three, that's a fair few decades of dedication. Not surprisingly she's known affectionately as 'The Queen of the Violin.'
Larger than life, her style is defined by great gestures. Even into her late years her energetic sounds could match the best of the up and coming younger generation. Her flamboyant dress sense hasn't diminished either! Listen to this recording of her in 2006 playing Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen aged an astonishing 78. It begins with a long slow schmaltzy introduction, before launching headlong into the fast and furious tornado that is the second part. If you want to see virtuosity, watch these fireworks.
You'll be forgiven for not recognising the name. She died in 1949 along with her pianist brother in a plane crash when she was only thirty, having ventured into the recording studio on few occasions. As a result, the music-loving world lost a rare talent with few commitments to posterity.
Ginette Neveu upset the apple cart when she enters the Wieniewski competition aged just fifteen and beat the established David Oistrakh into second place. Maybe it came as no surprise to the child prodigy as she had been used to waltzing off with all sorts of prizes and her first large-scale recital had been at the age of seven playing the Bruch violin concerto in Paris.
The tone she produced was pure and round; she could be strong and delicate. Listening to the small collection of recordings I yearn for more, but grateful we at least have those. Her showcase piece was Ravel's Tzigane.
Her Stradivarius violin also perished in the air crash.
Anne-Sophie Mutter With Her Teach Aida Stuki
Anne-Sophie Mutter. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto - Finale
When she was thirteen Anne-Sophie Mutter was taken under the wing of Herbert von Karajan and began to perform Mozart concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic. Since her early start, she has grown into a mature musician, collecting Grammy awards on the way.
Over many years works have been composed especially for her, including those by Penderecki, Lutoslawski and her former husband Andre Previn with whom she remains friends.
She is also known for her dress sense (and been criticised by some for it in the past) as she appears on stage in gloriously tight creations by John Galliano. What she wears is not the issue, she's a player of the first rank with a sure and deft technique which is well equipped to demonstrate on either of her two Stadivariuses. She also likes to cook, run with her dog and spend time with her family, and she also is quoted as saying she doesn't like practising. Can't say it shows.
Julia Fischer is probably my favourite modern-day violinist. She has an exceptionally natural style of playing allowing her to produce flamboyantly exiting performances that curiously never spill over the top. I once had the good fortune to catch a performance of her on television - her encore - not the main event was the frighteningly tortuous Hindemith solo sonata, crowded with double, triple and quadruple stopping. Involuntarily, I stood up in my sitting room and clapped and hooted at the end. If you only listen to one of the recordings in this article, choose this, to the very end. I grant you will have the same reaction as I did.
She creates a clear line of radiant yet deep tone, coupled with blistering technique. Unsurprisingly she is in high demand the world over with many awards under her belt, but still, makes time to teach - she became Germany's youngest female professor at twenty-four. There are some critics already dubbing her the violinist of the century. Time will tell, but there is no doubt she will be up there with the all-time greats. I predict she won't be out of the top twenty, male or female.
Julia Fischer Playing Hindemith
Tamsin Little was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Bradford, and this hall was named after in honour of her contribution to British music.
The Tamsin Little Music Centre, University of Bradford
British violinist Tasmin Little is a graduate of the famous Yehudi Menuhin School, not a trailblazing child prodigy as many of her peers have been—more of a slow burner. Nevertheless, she has developed into a stunning performer with a gorgeous round tone who has championed the works of Delius - her recordings have had praise lavished upon them. She decided to stop entering competitions when she realised the judges were insurmountably divided on her style of playing - they either loved it or hated it. I'm afraid Delius sparks the same discord.
I had the good fortune to see her in Leeds, England playing Bach accompanied by Wayne Marshall - such interaction between the two of them, and she had her trademark music stand with her. It's operated by the foot and turns over the pages without her having to lean over and whip them over with her bow hand. Miraculously she's been berated for using such a practical contraption - do I wish I'd had one during the nerve-wracking misery of Associated Board exams when I'd be terrified the music would slide off onto the floor as I hastily snatched at the page.
She is very keen on bringing classical music to the attention of people who wouldn't necessarily listen to it. She permits free downloads of her recordings to help fulfill her philosophy.
For her interpretation of the Elgar violin concerto, Tamsin Little won the classic artist award at the Classic Brit Awards in 2011. In 2012 the Order of the British Empire (OBE) was bestowed on her in birthday honours list for services to music.
South Korean violinist Kyung-wha Chung was born into a musical family and found fame at nine playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in her native Seoul. By thirteen she had moved to America where she entered the Julliard School (where she now teaches) and subsequently went onto forge an international career.
Kyung-wha Chung has two brothers who are also professional musicians, cellist Myung-wha Chung and pianist/conductor Myung-whun Chung. Together they toured as the Chung Trio, mostly in the 1990s. All three have paved the way for the acceptance of serious Asian instrumentalists in the largely western world of classical music.
Having played and recorded with many of the greatest orchestras, Kyung-wha Chung has found her way into the hearts and minds of listeners and critics alike, picking up many awards on a route. She was forced to suspend her playing career for five years due to an injury to a finger but has since resumed to the delight of audiences.
Monica Huggett Plays Vivaldi
With the rise of interest in early music and authentic performance came a wave of virtuoso specialists. Monica Huggett has been at the forefront of celebrated violinists who have embedded themselves in pre-twentieth century music.
Her performances of Bach and Biber attracted high praise and Gramophone awards, she coaxes rich sonorities from her violins (she plays several) and demonstrates a sensitivity of line coupled with the nimbleness of dexterity, showing off the fleet-of-foot writing so prevalent in baroque works for violin.
The baroque violin is set up in an alternative way to that of modern instruments; it has no chin rest, gut strings rather than metal or metal-covered gut, a shorter neck and fingerboard which slopes at a flatter angle than its modern counterpart, and the bridge has more give in the wood.
Baroque bows are distinctive in that they curve upwards and the hairs are not as taut. The tip is longer and has a swan-like appearance to it.
Not only has she played with many leading early music bands, such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Academy of Ancient Music, she co-founded her own group, The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with harpsichordist and organist Ton Koopman, both of whom also serve as directors. Monica Huggett has also guested as conductor for many other orchestras and is artistic director for The Portland Orchestra and The Irish Baroque Orchestra.
Baroque Violin by the Maker Stainer
Russian-born Viktoria Mullova, having won both the the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky competitions in 1980 and 1982 respectively, defected amidst the consternation of the regime she forsook to the delight and welcoming arms of the west.
Her musical interests span several styles and centuries from baroque— her Bach performances have drawn much acclaim—to a recent project, Stradivarius in Rio, taking her to Brazil to record non-classical songs with a small hand-picked band. She is happy to embrace The Beatles, jazz, and world music as part of hr musical raison d'etre.
She recently recorded the Prokofiev concertos which have attracted huge plaudits. I saw her on TV once, having stood in at the last minute for an indisposed artist, playing one the fearsomely challenging Shostakovich concertos. After the last chord she gave a big sigh of relief —obviously she had been worrying about pulling the performance out of the bag at such short notice. She did, with panache and aplomb.
Viktoria Mullova plays on the Jules Falk Stradivarius and a Guadagnini, her bows are by Voirin and Dodd, and she owns a modern copy of a baroque bow.
Nicola Benedetti Plays the Vivace From Szymanowski's First Violin Concerto
Nicola Benedetti is a violinist who has successfully fought prejudice. Prejudice against having unbelievably good lucks who happens to be a serious artist and a seriously brilliant artist at that.
Winning Young Musician of the Year in 2004 at sixteen opened the world stage doors for Nicola Benedetti, playing the formidable Szymanowski Concerto No1. Hard on the heels of her success in the competition came a recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon and a constant stream of concerts, which include chamber ensembles as well as solo work.
Nicola Benedetti is passionate about encouraging children to take an interest in music, not only classical music, though she advocates that all children should be exposed to it, as well as other genres. She is vice president of the National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain, open to children between seven and fourteen. Extending her desire to bring music to the people, she played at the Scottish rock festival T in the Park. Her album The SiIver Violin featured in the top thirty album charts.
The Gariel Stradivarius is on loan to her, an instrument once belonging to the late Princess Diana's family. She says if her house caught fire it would be the one thing she would save.
Life as a musician was probably always on the cards for Janine Jansen as her parents, brothers, and uncle are all in the business. She now regularly records with members of her family.
Her early career took off slowly. Most of her concerts took place in her native Netherlands, but after she was picked as a new generation artist for the BBCs Radio 3 and from there went on to kick-start the 2005 Prom season. She has with played many orchestras around the world including the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic.
Janine Jansen particularly loves the Beethoven and Britten concertos though she has recorded an impressive range of works for violin and orchestra with reviews to gladden the heart of any artist. Besides her violin plus orchestra collaborations, she has a particular affinity with chamber music and is heavily involved in the International Chamber Music Festival held each year in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
In 2003, Janine Jansen was handed the coveted Dutch Music Prize from the Ministry of Culture. She plays with a beautifully refined tone on the Baron Deurbroucq Stradivarius.
© 2017 Frances Metcalfe