classical soloists

classical soloists
   Certain soloists famous before 1960 endure in their popularity, inspiring reverence for the quality of their performances from fellow performers in particular; for example, violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Ida Haendel and cellist and conductor Msitslav Rostropovich attained legendary status worldwide. Similarly, Jean-Paul Tortelier (cello) and Glenn Gould (piano) inspired many players, while the early deaths of Dennis Brain (French horn) and Jacqueline du Pré (cello) were viewed as tragic losses to music. Du Pré’s recordings continue to be popular long after her death in 1987.
   A soloist’s debut continues to be seen as a, if not the, crucial point in their career. Prestige is attached to a debut recital at London’s Wigmore Hall, or a first appearance at the BBC’s Proms, while successful performances and good reviews in the press generate interest and give performers useful publicity material.
   Certain players gain a higher profile in the USA than Europe, and vice versa. Marketing has much to do with this, linking into record sales, though publicity varies between artists. While players such as Nigel Kennedy have been strongly advertised in Britain, more established figures such as pianists Murray Perahia and Maurizio Pollini continue to maintain their popularity and sell many recordings while keeping out of the limelight.
   The amount of repertoire available for an instrument generally dictates how much solo exposure it receives, with violinists and pianists in the strongest positions. Certain players have expanded their instrument’s repertoire by commissioning composers to write for them; for example, the flautist James Galway commissioned Rodrigo’s Flute Concerto and orchestrated Poulenc’s Flute Sonata. Performers playing instruments not generally regarded as soloistic have to be more enterprising, and many have consequently raised their instrument’s profile. Evelyn Glennie has been a particular champion of new music for percussion, hitherto relatively unknown in a solo capacity, while Christian Lindberg, who became the world’s first full-time classical trombonist in the 1980s, has premiered many new pieces including Jan San-ström’s Motorbike Concerto (performed wearing full leathers) and created much interest in the instrument’s solo potential. Pianist Joanna McGregor and saxophonist John Harle exemplify a growing movement towards embracing elements of music away from classical traditions, both performers also working with jazz musicians. Projects such as theirs, along with the Brodsky Quartet’s collaboration with Elvis Costello, The Juliet Letters, have been given a much-resisted ‘crossover’ tag.
   ANDREA MARTIN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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