My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book would make a wonderful gift for your violin teacher or orchestra stand partner. It’s like a box of fine chocolates: varied, rich, each one delicious in its own way. The author is a thoughtful interviewer who seems to be able to relate well to the famous violinists she talks to and to get them to open up to her about a myriad of topics. Her subjects are all violinists at the top of their game, and the author deserves kudos for choosing a diverse group of interviewees in terms of musical interests, age, gender, and background. Each interview is reasonably short, too, so it’s easy to dip in and out.
What violinists and fans of the author’s violinist.com site (I am both) would see as the book’s strengths–its depth, its attention to detail, and its reverence for its subject matter–may also limit its appeal, however. Like rich chocolates, only so many of these pieces can be consumed in one sitting. It took me a year to finish the book, and I am a member of the target audience. One issue is that although the book was published in late 2014, it collects interviews from much further back. Some of them refer to happenings that were current at the time, and which worked well on the website: an album release, a series of concerts, an award, a new project that the subject is excited about, a comeback from an injury or illness. But it’s not “news” 6 or 7 years after the fact and those types of comments can feel a little stale.
I also found that a book about only incredibly successful violinists, mostly competition winners with solo performing careers and recording contracts, was less inspiring than one might expect. It was interesting, for sure: the amount of work put in by these artists to achieve what they did, the different paths they followed made for educational and entertaining reading. And there were a handful of stories about artists with non-traditional backgrounds overcoming the adversity of financial insecurity, accidents, or illnesses. But in aggregate I came away with the sense that they are a breed apart, almost another species entirely from the rank and file musicians I know in community orchestras and schools, playing Christmas gigs and giving violin lessons to kids. This book’s approach gives dreamers something to dream about, but these days I find that I dream about different things.