The Solo Traveller's View


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David Garrett and the Critics

An attempted Analysis of a Musical Phenomenon – Part 11

David Garrett’s critics put themselves in line with all those who, in the course of history, have made it their business to find fault with artists whose accomplishments surpass or reinvent the norm. It is a risky undertaking to criticize the extraordinary. Of course criticism does not per se oblige anyone to deliver a better performance; and yet it will inevitably draw attention to the critic’s inferior abilities. How can anyone take a swipe at those whose achievements are way beyond their own and hope to look good in the process? It just isn’t possible. Nevertheless, there will always be people prepared to run others down for a thrilling moment of self-importance.

In our media world, thriving as it does on negative opinions and emotions, it seems quite impossible for anyone to be above gratuitous critiques; not even someone as inoffensive, not to say delightful, as David Garrett. How is it that by some commenters his modesty is portrayed as arrogance, his professional commitment as a lack of engagement, his hard-earned self-assurance as vanity? Certain German newspapers seem particularly prone to this; their journalists obviously regarding basic research as unnecessary and wilful misinterpretation as a handy tool of their craft.

Criticism may be rooted in a thorough understanding of a particular subject, yet it sprouts easily from ignorance too. It may express an objective point of view, or sheer, blinkered partiality. How does one tell the difference? The clue always lies in the way such criticism is phrased, for the chosen words are like a double-sided mirror. On the one side they will reflect a view of the subject, but on the other they show the mind that does the reflecting.

Deutschland, deine Künstler 4a

Sadly, this analysis of David Garrett as a musical phenomenon would not be complete if it did not also contain a look at the negative comments to be found on his YouTube material. However, it is fair to say that one has to scroll through acres of acknowledgement, praise and admiration to pick out remarks such as these:

“i don’t like him because he think he is the best when there are a lot of musicians better than him …he is very presumptuous” – “He is soo over rated and banking on his charisma to sell seats.” – “He’s only the fastest violinist because REAL pros don’t really go for titles like that.” –  “Cada vez menos música y mas show” – “why is he so famous? i’m sorry but I have many friends at my music college playing way better than that. really.” – “Even me can play melody on every instrument in an hour if you show me how to use that instrument.” – “Nur weil jetz wieder so´n Pseudogeiger berühmt ist, müssen ihm wieder alle zuhalten und keiner darf was gegen sagen. So wie´s immer ist.” – “Lo siento, pero no me gustó la interpretación y me uno al clamor general: quítenle el violín a David Garret por Dios!” – “Lol, he looks like he’s raping the poor violin and the violin is screaming for help but no ones noticing” – “David Garett is just a buiseness product ! HE IS JUST AN EPIC SHITTY VIOLONIST! He got no credit ! SPIT ON HIM !!!” – “Klassik meets Plastik. Echt Scheiße.” – “what a load of shit. kill the motherfucker.” 

And there is worse; unquotable words, intended to violate David’s integrity before our eyes. But such offensive cruelty must destroy any respect its author may have hoped to gain for his point of view. Instead, we are reminded of a story about a city in ancient times, whose inhabitants had sunk so low in their morals and manners that they habitually threw filth at anyone who stepped out of his house cleanly dressed.

I wish these pop artists would stick to their ‘pop music’ and stop molesting the serious art of classical music by their ‘cute buffoonery’.” – “Bach retourne dans sa tombe. C’est une putain de honte, ce mec ferait mieux de faire des concertos de Viotti.” – “Brahms would be disgusted” – “Ecco secondo me, un buon esempio di come si possa massacrare un capolavoro della musica occidentale.” – Also, das tut mir jetzt leid, aber ich störe mich nicht an seinem Aussehen oder Erfolg (den ich nicht ganz nachvollziehen kann), sondern an der INTERPRETATION. Und die ist einfach in allem over the top.” – “… so, in the end, it seems like playing for the showbiz DOES damage the artist. This is not David Garrett I heard when he was younger. It is good but is so fake and without taste. It is too f”ed up even to speak about style. Lucky I know he is a great violinist, otherwise would put him next to Edwin Marton and Andre Rieu. Pitty!!!!”

That David Garrett is so exceedingly good at what he does and so extremely successful with it just appears to fuel his critics’ anger more.

“¿Y este fue alumno de Perlman?, que trabajo perdido.” – “He really is more of a pop violinist so all he has to do it crowd please however he wants (usually by playing things fast) and his fans won’t know the difference because they aren’t classically trained.” – “Anne Sophie Mutter spielt in einer ganz anderen Liga…Oder Sarah Chang…Garret ist einfach ein Kirmesmusikant. Wenig begabt; gutausehend – ja, guter Musiker: NEIN” – “Penoso!! Stonato e tecnicamente impreparato!!  Torni al Conservatorio magari a ripassare gli studi fondamentali del violino.” – “Beethoven rises from his grave to tell this man to stop” – “Flash those lights, amplify those instruments, play it LOUD, play it FAST without an iota of nuance, no feeling other than, LOOK AT ME… ten spotlights on ME….look at how I can bastardize a real work of music. There is nothing going on here other than the lowest common denominator bullshit to make the unwashed think they are hearing Beethoven… And the angels wept.” – “Motherfucker !!!!!! You have no respect for Brahms you son of a bitch”

It is all in the eye of the beholder, the eyes’ view expressed through the mirror of the mind, and that mind reflected in its words … to say nothing of syntax, spelling and punctuation.

In addition, a controversy concerning the cultural value of different types of music – classical versus popular – is rambling on, caught up in a loop that would make Möbius proud. The cultural establishments of Europe, and of Germany and Austria in particular, have long felt maternally possessive of Classical Music (with capitals) and regard themselves as the rightful guardians of this Holy Grail, with all of its attending rites and hallowed traditions. Such ladies and gentlemen of advanced maturity, of venerable lineage and refined education, set in their ways and unshakeable in their beliefs, naturally suspect anyone who does not conform to their exclusive rituals as musically inferior and as having sold out for cheap and dirty “softpornpopclassicjunkfood”. They remain fearful of contact with that strange race of musicians whose sounds and shows might be a threat to the classical tradition.

There is a decided overtone of segregation in those arguments put forward by journalists of the feuilleton, concerning the imperative need to preserve the purity of classical music. But they rant in vain, for it has ever been the way of history and evolution to send outdated notions to the fossil record. In overriding those carefully guarded boundaries, musicians such as David Garrett are helping their demise along, and no wonder the border guards don’t like it.

“He was really an outstanding classical Violinist. A hope for classical music. It´s gone. Now he is a young Andé Rieu. Well, de gustibus non est disputandum.” – “Er bedient die Erwartungen seines klassisch ungebildeten Publikums und hat damit großen Erfolg.” – “What could’ve been if he continued playing classical… I respect his decision to become a pop and rock player but he had such a bright future as a classical musician. It’s kinda sad (to me) listening to this and then seeing how he’s playing now.” – “Er möchte gerne ein ernstzunehmender klassischer Musiker sein, hat aber zugunsten des schnellen Erfolges seinen Tiefgang aufgegeben. Ich glaube nicht dass er diese großartige Form seiner jungen Jahre jemals wiederfinden wird.” – “este hombre no sirve para la musica clasica.” – “Ein absolutes Ausnahmetalent hat sich leider selbst auf Disneyniveau begeben. So schade!” – “I would play it differently. not enough Italian soul . sorry Dave!!!!” – “Als inszenierter Marketing-Zombie erreicht er natürlich die Massen, die für jeden Dreck dankbar und empfänglich sind und einen simplen C-Dur Akkord nicht von einer Autohupe unterscheiden können.”

Kreisler, Baden-Baden 4
While David Garrett obligingly fit the strict mould of the classical soloist as a child and a teenager, they had no problem hailing him as a legend in the making. Now that he has the makings of a legend and his skills are more impressive than ever, these are suddenly seen as lacking. He is perceived as aesthetically vulgarized by his crossover excursions and declared forever ruined by the corrupting contact with pop and rock music, which must necessarily have prevented his maturation as a serious classical musician.

It is a perspective one can certainly choose to assume, though it is not mandatory to express it with spitefulness. Does an offensive attitude really prove journalistic independence of mind? It just makes those who disagree wish they could lay protective wings about David and tell everyone to shut up and leave him alone.

But David Garrett already carries a magic cloak against revilements. Its fabric is woven of words too, but these are words of understanding, of expert acknowledgement and well-founded praise, and their protective power springs from the indisputable eminence of the musicians who uttered them.

There is Ida Haendel, herself a child prodigy and world-class violinist, whose recording career for major labels such as EMI and Harmonia Mundi now spans nearly 70 years. She is a member of international juries and therefore in touch with the great new talents of the times. Her honours and awards include the title of Commander of the British Empire, an honorary doctorate of the Royal College of Music, and the 1982 Sibelius Prize. For years, she witnessed and supported David Garrett’s development as one of his highly esteemed mentors and so came to know his musical qualities better than most.

Ida Haendel

In her words: “Where he gets his talent from? You’d have to ask God. I believe it is something mystic … something beyond what we know. Either you have it, or you don’t. You can’t learn talent; nobody can teach you talent.” – “You should be allowed to do what your heart tells you to do. If he loves it, let him do it. There is nothing wrong with that. He can be a wonderful classical violinist and do rock music too, if it gives him joy. Why not? Rock is also art, I don’t deny it. If I had his gift, I might play rock too …”

Yehudi Menuhin, pre-eminent violinist of the 20th century, considered David Garrett “the greatest violinist of his generation.”

Yehudi Menuhin

Among his credentials is the founding of the Menuhin Festival Gstaad in Switzerland. He also established the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey and the music program at The Nueva School in California; and, in 1965, he received an honorary knighthood from the British monarchy.

Zubin Mehta is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Main Conductor for Valencia’s Opera House, Chief Conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival and former Music Director and Principal Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He too witnessed David’s development through the years, from child prodigy to established musician, and performed the Brahms Concerto in D major with him and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as recently as 2013.

Zubin Mehta

In his considered opinion, “David Garrett sacrifices his beautiful tone and his wonderful technique for the work. In the end one hears only the music and does not merely admire the talent.” – “I am really very much impressed by the truthfulness of his playing. I entertain the hope that David will bring all generations to the concert halls of classical music.” – “He plays like a soloist. You cannot hold him back. There are such individuals, sometimes. Not very often, and that is because … it is something mystic, I believe.”

Itzhak Perlman“He is a wonderful violinist with excellent technique and natural musicianship. He will always perform with artistry.”  

Itzhak Perlman 1

Perlman is not only a world-renowned violinist, but also a teacher of wide experience who held a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College from 1975. In 2003, he was named the holder of the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at the Juilliard School, and it was mainly this fact that drew David to New York, for the chance to study with him.

All you who attempt to criticize David Garrett: do your credentials match those listed above? If not, you would do well to remain silent. Who are you to know better? Has a highly regarded composer ever said of you, as Eric Ewazen, composition teacher at Juilliard since 1980, said of David: “As a violinist, his spectacular, heartfelt and expressive playing already dazzled – even when he was a student – those of us who had the great pleasure of teaching him, and we recognized his extraordinary gifts and his amazing talent.”

Probably not. For if you had earned such praise, you would not make it your business to lay into someone who did. So, if David Garrett’s playing does not thrill you; if you listened to it with an open mind and found it not to your taste, then of course you must go and seek musical delight elsewhere. But go quietly, because nobody will mistake your sneering for objectivity or your sarcasm for expertise. The double-sided mirror of your words does not make you look superior and well-informed. Quite the contrary. And don’t point out that you are from Cremona and have been playing the violin for thirty-eight years either. Because if you were any good, the world would surely have heard of you. So, for your own sake – go quietly.

***

To be continued with David Garrett’s Your Song Serenade. If you click ‘follow blog via email’ you won’t miss it.
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