Following up from yesterday’s post about the top five historical violinists, today we have the top five modern violinists. These are the violinists that if they come to do a concert in your town, you should do everything you can to get to see them. These are the ones that you should be watching and listening to for the best quality recordings of today. And these are the ones that I just prefer to listen to. Let’s get into it.
Modern Violinists Number 5. Lara St. John
First in our list of Modern Violinists is Lara St. John. Lara St. John is a Canadian, iguana loving violinist who has studied and played all over the world. Initially studying with Richard Lawrence, she gave her first performance as an orchestral soloist at age four. She then started travelling to Cleveland, Ohio where she received lessons from Linda Cerone. St John spent a year studying with Gérard Jarry in Paris. During this time, she won the grand prize at the Canadian Music Competition at age nine.
At age 10, St John made her European debut in Lisbon. After her debut, she spent three years touring through Spain, France and Hungary. At 13, she entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, studying under Felix Galimir and Arnold Steinhardt. After her graduation at 16, she moved on her own to become the youngest post-graduate student at the Moscow Conservatory. St John has also studied at prestigious schools in London, New York, and Boston.
Curtis Sexual Abuse claims
While at the Curtis Institute of Music, St. John was sexually abused by one of her instructors, Jascha Brodsky. Initially, her claims were dismissed at the time by the Curtis board. An investigation by law firm Cozen O’Connor into her claims found them to be credible. After this investigation, the Curtis board unanimously accepted the firm’s findings. St. John’s campaign to be heard shone a light into the dark world of institutional abuse. Afterwards, many more cases were brought to light, and it started to move classical music in a better direction.
In 1999, following her personal dissatisfaction with the marketing and production approach of larger recording companies, St. John founded an artist-owned record company called Ancalagon LLC, named after her pet iguana. Since then, she has released a number of albums. These included a recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. My personal favourite is her recording of the Hindson Violin Concerto.
St John also edits a lot of her own videos. Therefore, I’ve chosen this really interesting one of John Corigliano’s STOMP. This piece was written for Lara St John. She filmed the video around New York in many places that were special to Corigliano himself. Later, St John presented it to him as an 81st birthday present.
Modern Violinists Number 4. Janine Jansen
Next in our list of Modern Violinists is Janine Jansen. Born into a musical family, Dutch violinist and violist Janine Jansen began to play the violin at age 6. She started studying with Coosje Wijzenbeek, Philippe Hirschhorn and Boris Belkin. Jansen debuted at the Concertgebouw in 1997, and since then has been a huge star in Holland. She has appeared with orchestras in London, Berlin, New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland. Jansen opened the BBC proms in 2005 with a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. She later performed as a featured artist of the 2014 BBC Proms.
Jansen received the Dutch Music Prize in September 2003. She has also won the Edison Classic Public Award four times, three Echo Awards, the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist award, and many others. She currently plays on a 1727 ‘Baron Deurbroucq’ Stradivarius on loan from Beare’s International Violin Society.
Jansen has a number of recordings, but the one I really recommend is her recording of The Four Seasons. For this album, Jansen moved away from the traditional baroque orchestra accompanying a soloist, and instead chose to have only one player per part. As such, this recording feels much more like a chamber music performance, as opposed to a soloist with orchestra. The inner parts and the interplay between the instruments is much more of a conversation and it is a recording worth having in your collection.
There are a number of videos on YouTube, but I’ve selected a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto performed with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2017.
Modern Violinists Number 3. Ray Chen
The third in our list of modern violinists is Taiwanese-Australian Violinist Ray Chen. Chen is described as being one of the brightest shining lights in the classical music world. He has won both the International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition and the Queen Elisabeth Competition. In addition to winning the Queen Elisabeth Competition, Chen was the youngest participant, and was granted a three-year loan of the “Huggins” Stradivarius by the Nippon Music Foundation. Chen currently plays on a 1735 “Samazeuilh” Stradivarius, also on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.
Chen was signed by Sony Classics in 2010. However, Chen recently has performed Ravel’s Tzigane on a complete orchestral works box set released by Deutsche Grammaphon. Another of Chen’s albums, “The Golden Age“, contains virtuosic works form the late 19th and early 20th centuries, recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Finally, His latest album, Solace, features his selections of movements from the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin which he recorded completely during quarantine, which you can watch his progress in a vlog he recorded.
For a bit more of his playing, here is an encore he performed after performing with the Chigago Symphony Orchestra, his solo violin arrangement of Waltzing Matilda.
Runner Up Violinist number 2. Joshua Bell
Our penultimate entry in the list of modern violinists is Josha Bell. Born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1967, Joshua Bell is considered one of the greatest violinists of our age. He started learning violin at age four under Donna Bricht, before progressing through Mimi Zweig to Josef Gingold. By Age 12, Bell was serious about the violin, thanks to Gingold’s inspiration. He appeared as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccado Muti, before continuing his studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Bell performed at Carnegie Hall with the St Louis Symphony in 1985 for his Carnegie Hall Debut. Since then, Bell has been a performing regularly. He performs standard works and new repertoire, such as Nicholas Maw’s violin concerto which was dedicated to Bell. Bell also performs on the soundtrack to the films The Red Violin and Ladies in Lavender.
In 2007, Joshua Bell took part in an experiment initiated by The Washington Post. Performing as an incognito busker, Bell busked for 45 minutes at the Metro subway station L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC, playing the same repertoire he had performed at a sold out concert just three days earlier. 1097 people passed him by, seven stopped to listen to him and only one recognised him. He earned $32.17 from 27 passersby, and $20 from the one person who recognised him. The documentary, “Find Your Way: A Busker’s Documentary“, includes footage and interview about this experiment.
In July 2020, Bell partnered with a number of helthcare workers who also play violin to create this moving performance of the Bach Double Violin Concerto.
1. Hilary Hahn
Taking out the top gong in our top five list of modern violinists is Hilary Hahn. Hilary Hahn started learning through the Suzuki Program just before she was four, before starting lessons with Klara Berkovich. Hahn joined the Curtis Institute of Music at age 10, studying under Jascha Brodsky. She had completed the undergraduate requirements by age 16, but remained to study electives until her graduation in May 1999, studying violin with Jaime Laredo and chamber music with Felix Galimir and Gary Graffman.
Hahn has been a noted champion of new music, commissioning Edgar Meyer to write a concerto in 1999, and Jennifer Higdon for another concerto in 2010. Hahn commissioned 26 composers to write short encore pieces for a new album. She also held a composition competition for the 27th piece that was included in her album In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores. Later, Hahn released the works in a sheet music album for all violinists to be able to include in their repertoire.
As proved by TwoSet Violin, she is incredibly talented – being able to play a range of pieces in all sorts of different manners – even playing while spinning a hula hoop.
There are of course many performances on YouTube that I could have chosen, however, one of the clearest ways to hear a player is through their performance of Bach.
So they are my top five modern violinists – and there are so many more that I could have included as well, but these are the five that I would see no matter what. Who are your favourite violinists?