Went to a lovely concert given by a group of distinguished European string players in memory of the Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh, whose centenary falls this year. Sandor Vegh founded the International Musicians’ Seminars in Prussia Cove, an inspiration to many of today’s leading players.
At the concert there were two different string quartet groups, giving me the chance to listen to two of my favourite violinists as quartet leaders. Readers of this blog already know how much I admire Viennese violinist Erich Höbarth, with whom I’m halfway through a in Perth Concert Hall. The other quartet was led by American violinist Daniel Phillips of the New-York-based Orion Quartet.
Both these players are to my way of thinking ideal examples of how to approach chamber music. Their performances are totally focused, without ever showing off or deliberately drawing attention to themselves for effect. Many musicians add a layer of ‘mime’ to signal their feelings and point out certain musical twists and turns to the audience. I can’t dismiss this kind of approach, as I know from experience that many audience members like it, even rely on it. However, speaking for myself, I’m more fascinated by musicians whose gestures are economical and whose concentration draws the audience in. Any dramatic visual effects arise from their efforts to express the music, but otherwise their understanding is transmitted entirely in sound. It feels as if the music is too important for mere display. This is not to say, of course, that they are not interesting to watch – on the contrary. They are interesting precisely because they are not trying to manipulate what I see.