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Tchaivoksky & Beethoven Violin Concertos

Tchaivoksky & Beethoven Violin Concertos


Track List/Credits
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D, OP. 35 (32:14)
1. Allegro moderato - Allegro giusto (17:19)
2. Canzonetta: Andante (5:54)
3. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (9:06)
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (40:42)
4. Allegro, ma non troppo (22:42)
5. Larghetto (8:05)
6. Rondo allegro (9:50)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Keels Bakels
Total: 73:04
Overview of Vanessa-Mae's Three Early Albums
These albums are in a different category from her work after she became a pop star. These first three records were conventional classical recordings. They were on the Trittico label not EMI/Angel/Virgin that produces her records since THE VIOLIN PLAYER. Vanessa-Mae's current manager Mel Bush was not yet involved. The proceeds of the sales were pledged to charity.
These three albums are very hard to find. However, in 1999, all three of them will be digitally remastered and re-released.
Why study this album?
This album was the last and perhaps the best of Vanessa-Mae's early conventional classical albums, before she became a pop star. She recorded the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in October 1991, which was her 13th birthday, and the Beethoven Violin Concerto a few months later in February 1992. Both concertos were recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Keels Bakels.
It is a rare album, whose very existence is known only to dedicated Vanessa-Mae fans, few of whom really appreciate classical music anyway. Today, Vanessa-Mae and her management like to mention that she made three albums at a very young age, as proof that she is an amazing prodigy, but make little effort to make those albums available to listeners or even to mention their names. The Usenet group once even had a debate about whether or not these three albums really exist. Even on the Vanessa-Mae mailing list, not a single person had bought one of the first three albums when they first came out. Large distributors such as Music Boulevard, CD Now, and Pastel Blue carry 150,000 or more CDs, but not Vanessa-Mae's first three albums. That is very strange considering that she is one of the top-selling classical solo artists.
I want to study this particular album in detail, even though it was recorded years ago, because it is very important for understanding Vanessa-Mae and for evaluating her credentials as a serious classical musician. All of her later works had beautiful cover photos and heavy marketing, and her pop image and huge audiences colored reviews of them. CHINA GIRL, my favorite Vanessa-Mae album, is also straight classical music with no gimmicks, but it is so different from any other classical album ever made that it has no comparison. But in this pure, straight classical album, the music stands by itself. And it can be easily compared to recordings of these works by other artists.
For Classical Newbies Only
A "Concerto" is a musical work composed for an instrumental soloist and an orchestra, which consists of several parts called "movements". The movements are in different tempos that are identified with Italian words such as "allegro" and "andante"; generally the movement in the middle is a slower tempo than the beginning and end. A concerto usually has three movements (as both of these do) although there are many exceptions. Usually the work has pauses between movements although in both of these the 3rd movement continues immediately after the 2nd and is distinguished only by a change in the music. Violin and piano concertos are the most common because these two instruments have the greatest range and versatility, but concertos have been written for almost every instrument of the orchestra including percussion. A concerto is differentiated from a "symphony", which is a work for an orchestra that is usually in four movements, and which you won't hear on albums of classical solo artists.
"Cadenza" is another word which we see a lot of in these albums. That means a passage in a concerto for a solo virtuoso to show off her technique, often near the end of a movement. In the days of Mozart, it was often composed by the performer rather than by the original composer of the work, or improvised during the performance as jazz musicians do today. However, in later times and today they were written by the original composer; and that is true of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto which was written in the 1880s.
"Youngest Ever" Record
With this album, Vanessa-Mae became the youngest violinist to record both the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a fact often mentioned in her biographies. Note the "both" in that statement: other violinists have recorded the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto at a younger age and probably others have recorded the Beethoven Violin Concerto at a younger age, but no one person has done both at a younger age. Sarah Chang recorded the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto at a younger age, and her management didn't claim her to be the youngest-ever for that work either.
I already had Sarah Chang's recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. This recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto invites comparison to Vanessa-Mae's because it was recorded only 12 months later, by a violinist who is 25 months younger; i.e. at almost the same young age. Sarah Chang recorded this album in October 1992 when she was still 11 years old and attending sixth grade at the Friends' School in Philadelphia, even younger than Vanessa-Mae who was barely 13. Furthermore, it was recorded with the same orchestra: the London Symphony, although with Sir Clive Davis conducting not Keels Bakels. (Sir Clive Davis is the regular conductor of that orchestra; Keels Bakels was a guest conductor.) Both were recorded in London. Sarah Chang's album is filled out with Brahm's Hungarian Dances, accompanied by Jonathan Feldman on piano. Overall the album is only 48:39, much shorter than the 73:04 of Vanessa-Mae's album because the Hungarian Dances are much shorter than the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Both albums had release dates much later than respective recording dates.
My review method
I'm not a qualified music critic, only an ordinary amateur classical music listener without formal education or expert knowledge. However, I'm going to do a review anyway. I am probably one of the few people on the Internet who has listened to both of them carefully and doesn't have a bias towards either violinist. Isn't the Internet great, letting anybody publish whatever he or she like?
I have been studying the two performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto carefully to compare the similarities and differences. I made tapes of both of them to listen to at the same time, switching between the two every 30 seconds or so, and as well as listening carefully to the full works of both of them many times to get the feel and emotions of them. Also, I read the two inlay notes carefully to try to understand this work and looked up whatever words I wasn't clear about.
Also, for good measure, I've also compared both of them to a third recording that I have. It is on the Excelsior (budget-classical) label, of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto performed by Liudmila Malian on violin with the Orchestra of the State Radio and TV Company conducted by Stanislav Gorkovenko. I've never heard of this violinist and the inlay notes state only the name and nothing else; presumably Liudmila Malian is an adult Russian violinist. Much later, I've listened carefully to Midori's recent recording; see below.
Some people dislike comparisons between musicians, but in this case it is important and useful. We can see if Vanessa-Mae is the prodigy that her marketing claims her to be, or the mediocre talent that some critics claim her to be. This piece is the best one to make such a comparison on, because it is a difficult piece that allows a range of creative expression from the solo violinist. Also, both Vanessa-Mae and another highly acclaimed child prodigy recorded it at a similar time and a similar age with the same orchestra. What better test could there be?
Quality of album production
Sarah Chang's album is on EMI Classics and is professional in every way. Vanessa-Mae's album, on the other hand, was produced on a small label that had heavy involvement of her parents. The music is good but the sound engineering, cover photo, album design, and inlay notes are not. (Probably that is why it is to be re-mastered and re-released in 1999.)
A big advantage of Sarah Chang's EMI recording is that the inlay notes are well written. Ates Orga who wrote the notes for VM's recording tries to use technical terms to impress us rather than explaining the music to ordinary listeners who don't have degrees in music: exactly the kind of thing that Vanessa-Mae always rails against. "It annoys me", wrote Vanessa-Mae for the CLASSICAL ALBUM 1 inlay notes, "when people use their specialized knowledge to alienate and keep out others who may not have the time, the opportunity, the interest, or the need to acquire the same knowledge." But in her previous classical album, we read things like ".. a Development divided into three sections, the first (gravitating towards C major, pace the Beethoven Concerto at the same structural juncture) concerned with aspects of the first subject virtuosified, the second with another grand orchestral Ritornello (initially in F) and the third with a retransition imagined in the form of an elaborate Cadenza in situ.." Huh? This is over the heads of even ordinary classical music listeners, and much more so for today's typical Vanessa-Mae fans who tend to be younger and less into classical music. Anybody who can understand these notes probably knows the music already anyway. At other places the notes are ridiculously poetic: "..the vision is no more, but, like a dream, it seems to have been with us for a tangible eternity". Of course Vanessa-Mae didn't write these notes herself, and maybe she wasn't even consulted since she was only 13 years old.
David Foil's explanation of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in Sarah Chang's EMI recording of this music is much better. Here it is:
Inlay Notes from Sarah Chang's TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO
(written by David Foil, copyright EMI Classics. Used without permission and will be deleted upon request.)
It makes perfect sense that the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has become, in this age, a virtual calling card for brilliant young violinists.
Arguably the most popular of all violin concertos, it has never quite maintained the academic respect or the profound admiration reserved for the concertos of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, [Vanessa-Mae's recording also has the Beethoven Violin Concerto -Ed.], Mendelssohn [Sarah Chang's latest CD, released in March 1998 -Ed.], Brahms, Stravinsky, Bartok, or even Berg. There's an air of sheer excitement about the Tchaikovsky concerto that has always raised suspicions -- the exhilarating swing of its mood, its blistering intensity, its voluptuous beauty, its dancing abandon -- and it has suffered the somewhat patronizing attitude accorded much of the composer's work. This was true in a sense from the beginning, when Tchaikovsky couldn't even convince the concerto's original dedicate to perform it. Here is the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick, responding with cold fury to the premiere performance in 1881:
"The violin is no longer played. It is yanked about, it is torn asunder, it is beaten black and blue ... it has an audibly, odorously Russian stench.. a rare mix of originality and crudity, of inspiration and wretched refinement.. Tchaikovsky's violin concerto brings us for the first time to the horrid idea that there may be music that stinks to the ear." [Sounds like some critics of Vanessa-Mae's music today! -- Ed.]
The youthful Adolf Brodsky used the concerto as the vehicle for his Vienna debut that evening, discovering it after the great virtuoso Leopold Auer -- to whom Tchaikovsky wanted to dedicate it -- stalled, then finally refused to accept et work because of its extreme difficulty. "Unviolinistic", Auer called it. Since that time, the concerto has become a cornerstone of the violin repertory. Auer's frustration over the scores considerable technical demands has given way to the sheer relish with which violinists, especially young ones, address this magnificent musical steeplechase.
As the violinist Sarah Chang brings her phenomenal gifts to this recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, she ennobles the line of youthful champions of the work that began in Vienna in 1881 with Adolf Brodsky. [and immediately preceded in London in 1992 with Vanessa-Mae; maybe the Sarah Chang album emphasizes the "youthful champions" because of that reason - Ed.]
Dorothy DeLay of the Julliard School of Music is Ms. Chang's teacher, and she agrees that the Tchaikovsky concerto is a landmark in the careers of many young violinists. "I think they like it very much," DeLay says simply. An imaginative violinist always finds something pure and liberating in a work as familiar even as this one. And Ms. Chang, DeLay adds, possesses an unusual measure of creativity and imagination.
"Of course, she doesn't have technical problems, so one goes about immediately to what she has to say about the music,' DeLay says of her performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto, pausing to consider the young violinist's rare perception. "It's very individual. She has a beautiful sense of pacing, and she responds very strongly rhythmically, in a way which is unusual."
Tchaikovsky was 38 when he began work on his violin concerto. His disastrous marriage had collapsed the year before, leading to his most profound fit of despair yet and an attempt at suicide. On his doctor'' advice, he left Russia to travel abroad. Setting with his brother Anatol in a Swiss retreat at Clarens on Lake Geneva, Tchaikovsky quickly regained his equilibrium, finishing he Fourth Symphony and the score for the opera Eugen Oegin there and on a visit to Italy. It was on his return from Italy, in high spirits, then he welcomed a visit from a young violinist named Joseph Kotek, a student of Brahms' friend Joseph Joaquim and a friend of Mme. Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky's new patroness. Together, they played through a number of new works, and the composer was particularly taken with the colorful, concerto-like Symphonie Espagnole of the French composer Edouard Lalo. So energized was Tchaikovsky - by the Lalo, by Kotek's visit, by Switzerland and Italy, by the fresh promise of spring itself - that he set out to write his own violin concerto.
He worked with breathtaking speed, completing the entire work in a matter of weeks in March and April of 1878. Kotek then assisted him with the violin part, leading the composer to challenge the very limits of virtuosity. A first draft of the concerto left Kotek and the composer's brother Modeste "enraptured", especially with the extroverted first and third movements. The original slow movement was ultimately rejected (it exists as the "Meditation" from the Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42), and - in one day - Tchaikovsky came up with an alternative, the wistful canzonetta that leads without pause into the final movement. The orchestration was finished on April 11. In a letter to Mme. Von Meck on April 29, Tchaikovsky said that he was satisfied with the new Andante and he declared the work finished.
In the wake of Auer's rejection of the work and its dedication, Tchaikovsky was boldly promised by Kotek that he would premiere the concerto in St. Petersburg. Gossip quickly reminded Kotek what a bad career move this would be, and he recanted his promise, damaging forever his relationship with the composer. Tchaikovsky had all but given up on the piece and was full of gratitude when he learned that the 31-year-old Brodsky had taken it up and would play it in Vienna.
The concerto opens with an arresting melody that is never heard again. The orchestra then sketches the first theme, which is richly taken up by the solo violin and elaborated on at some length. The second, contrasting theme is broad and soulful, returning in the development to contrast the feistiness of the first theme, heard in the full orchestra virtually as a vibrant polonaise. [A polonaise is a Polish dance - Ed.] The cadenza appears before the recapitulation and a brief coda.
The mood changes dramatically in the Andante, with a gentle 12-bar introduction to a melancholy principal melody sung by the solo violin. A slight shift in the atmosphere comes with an almost affectionate contrasting theme but, as the principal theme is recalled, the repose is shattered as the final movement vigorously announces itself without pause. After an introduction and a brief cadenza from the solo violin, the dominant dance-like theme -- modeled on the Russian trepak -- is unleashed. The second theme, announced by the violin over a drone-like bass, provides a moment of relative, still pulsating calm bathed in the Russian-gypsy style fashionable in Europe when Tchaikovsky was at work. But the principal theme returns, evolving with even greater intensity and it hurls the concerto to an explosive, breathtaking conclusion.
Comparisons of VM and SC versions of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
(Abbreviating Vanessa-Mae as VM and Sarah Chang as SC)
Times refer to the SC version because that is the one more easily available
The two versions of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto are NOT the same, and have significant differences from each other, as well as from other performances of this concerto. This is what we would expect due to the nature of this work.
Length and speed of performances
SC's version is longer than VM's for all three movements. SC's is 19:06 (19' 6") for the first movement "Allegro moderato" while VM's is 17:19; SC's is 6:37 for the second movement "Canzonetta (Andante)" while VM's is 5:45; and SCs is 9:55 for the third movement "Allegro vivacissimo" while VM's is 9:06. For comparison, the Excelsior recording of the work is longer still: 19:37 for the first movement, 6:48 for the second movement, and 11:08 for the third movement. Midori's recent recording is 19'27 for the 1st movement, 7'12 for the second, and 10'19 for the third. All three are playing the same music, except that Sarah Chang's cadenza in the middle of the first movement is a little different, so the different lengths are because of style differences. Of course it depends on the conductors of the orchestras also, maybe more than the violinists.
The longer times in SC's version than in VM's are mostly because of different timing; SC inserts long pauses into the music at some points where VM charges ahead, for example at the beginning of the long cadenza at the end of the Development portion, about 10:18 into the first movement. The longer time of SC's performance does not mean that VM simply plays faster than SC. To the contrary Sarah Chang plays some passages such as 12:45 in the first movement with blinding speed, as does VM in others. Sarah Chang not only plays the notes fast when called for but she puts little flourishes between the notes, to make you wonder "How can she make her hands do that!?" But at the end of the third movement, Vanessa-Mae really does play faster.
The Russian recording of the concerto is much longer than either VM or SC, simply because that violinist plays the "allegro" (lively tempo) parts much slower. After getting used to SC and VM versions (or Midori's), the fast parts of the concerto on the Excelsior album sound strange, as if the violinist is stuck in molasses or the sound equipment is broken. On the other hand, the first movement is titled "Allegro Moderato" (quick and lively but moderate), so one could argue that Tchaikovsky didn't intend for the hyperkinetic speed that SC and especially VM have, and the Russian violinist is playing it "correctly". ("Moderate" just was never Vanessa-Mae's style!) The third movement "Allegro vivacissmo" is supposed to be played very fast, and it is in this movement that the time difference is the greatest.
First Movement "Allegro Moderato"
The first movement overall is played very fast. It has many parts for the solo violin to "show off" (cadenzas), which seem less unstructured and sound very difficult to play. The overall spirit of the first movement is a spring morning and rebirth; in some places a mood of uplifting. Overall, Vanessa-Mae's version is more energetic, in places furious; while Sarah Chang's rendition is more soft, sweet, and soaring. For example, this difference is clear at the end of the Exposition section, about 4:30 into the first movement. Each listener will have his own tastes about which approach is better.
Another difference in the first movement is that Sarah Chang inserts some pauses into the music, in places where Vanessa-Mae does not; especially you can hear this between 10' 15 and 10' 50.
Sarah Chang's cadenza at the end of the Development, from 10:12 to 12:58 into the first movement, is quite different from Vanessa-Mae's and the Russian violinist. It is longer and has more notes. The end of it has very rapid shifts in the music.
Also, in the Coda just before the end of the first movement, the timing of Sarah Chang and the conductor Sir Clive Davis is very good, as the music instantly passes back and forth between the solo violinist and the orchestra, which have slight delays in other versions.
Second Movement "Canzonetta Andante"
"Canzonetta" means "simple song" and "Andante" means slow tempo. This movement is to provide contrast with the much faster and more spirited first and third movements. It ends with low, quiet bass notes, which is suddenly interrupted by the dramatic beginning of the Third Movement without a pause. The Second Movement is slightly more subdued, solemn, and sad in SC's version than in VM's, especially at the beginning. Actually, I think this is more because of the differences in the conducting of Keels Bakels and Sir Clive Davis than because of the two violinists, although the violinists also have a different style for this movement. In the VM/Keels Bakels version, the high notes including the orchestra as well as the violin are a little higher and more contrast with the general mood, and have more artistic flourishes. All versions that I have use Tchaikovsky's replacement "Canzontta" ("little song") version rather than the original which Tchaikovsky was dissatisfied with.
Third Movement "Finale: Allegro vivacissmo"
The third movement is again a fast one for the most part, with a theme of a Polish dance and background of a bass in the middle. It starts out with the orchestra breaking the stillness of the second movement, then a solo violin cadenza where the strings are plucked. In several places, Vanessa-Mae's version is faster, stronger, more forceful while Sarah Chang's is lighter and sweeter, for example at 00:53 to 1:08 and again at 2:10 to 2:23. SC's version adds a few notes of softly plucking the violin at 1:15 which is not in VM.
The finale of the third movement has the orchestra reach a thundering crescendo, alternating with the violinist is playing furiously. This is the one place where I have a definite preference for the VM version. Sir Clive Davis seems to have forgotten that his soloist is only a little girl playing a child's violin, and the thundering orchestra seems to drown her out. But Vanessa-Mae's forceful style and powerful strokes match with the orchestra much better, and she plays very, very fast.
Violins used
Sarah Chang played a 3/4-size child's violin. VM's violin was an adult instrument -- and not just any adult instrument, but a Guadagnini violin made in 1761. The tones are quite different.
General Style of VM and SC
As a very general comparison of their styles in all of their music, one could say that Sarah Chang has a lighter touch than Vanessa-Mae does although of course many exceptions exist. Also, one should notice that VM's style today is a development of her early style; she didn't just emerge out of the sea on THE VIOLIN PLAYER. The same high-energy style that you can hear on STORM is already there in her Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto six years earlier.
Conclusion of my comparative review
Both SC and VM versions of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto are very good. Which version is better? I'm not enough of a violin expert to say, and probably the answer depends on one's personal tastes. However, certainly the differences in the technical abilities of Sarah Chang and Vanessa-Mae are not great, and both of them were already much better than the adult Russian violinist on the Excelsior Classics CD of this concerto. Even "almost as good as Sarah Chang" is very good indeed! Critics who say that Vanessa-Mae is a mediocre violinist are simply wrong.
Midori's Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Some time after originally writing this page, I got another recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. This is Midori's CD of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto, on the Sony Classical label, performed with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Midori was also a child prodigy, though a few years earlier than Vanessa-Mae and Sarah Chang. She started her professional career at the age of 11. She is seven years older than Vanessa-Mae and nine years older than Sarah Chang. Today, Midori is very active with volunteer work to help inner-city children in New York City learn about music and develop their self-esteem, as well as continuing her career as a classical violinist. You can learn more about her at
Like Vanessa-Mae and Sarah Chang, Midori recorded several albums while still in her teens. However, this particular album is not one of those; it is her latest album, which Midori recently recorded as an adult in her mid-20s.
I hate to say so in a Vanessa-Mae website, but I think that Midori's performance was slightly better than either Vanessa-Mae's or Sarah Chang's. The second movement, especially, is more delicate and sensitive than those of the young girls. This doesn't necessarily prove that Midori is a better violinist or even that 25-year-olds are better than 12-year olds, because I'm not a violinist or an expert. To the contrary, it is to the credit of Vanessa-Mae and Sarah Chang that, as children, they were able to produce music even in the same league as one of world's great violinists in her prime.
I liked Midori's Shostakovich Violin Concerto even more than her Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. This is a great album, which I highly recommend. (BTW, my favorite of Sarah Chang's recordings is her 1998 release of the Mendelssohn and Sibelius Violin Concertos.)
Beethoven Violin Concerto
To my untrained ears, the Beethoven Violin Concerto sounds easier than the Tchaikovsky does, but I've read from at least three sources that it is one of the most difficult pieces in violin repertoire, while the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is not considered so very difficult. "There was a time when the Tchaikovsky was declared unplayable, even for adults", said Sarah Chang in a recent interview with PBS. "And nowadays, everybody is doing it."
Overall, the Beethoven Violin Concerto seems less "dramatic" than the Tchaikovsky does. Also lacks such a lot of cadenzas. However, it is more structured and probably requires more coordination with the orchestra.
Like Beethoven's "Romance #2 in F" which Vanessa-Mae recorded on CLASSICAL ALBUM 1 in 1996, Beethoven wrote the music for a violinist and an orchestra. Both have that "Beethoven sound" that I can easily identify but can't explain, but the music is quite different. The Violin concerto is a much larger, grander, and more serious work than the Romance #2 is.
Like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, critics disliked it when it was first introduced, and was seldom played in Beethoven's lifetime. This shows that we should not pay undue attention to critics today who hate Vanessa-Mae's new music and have very similar comments to those which were directed against Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in an earlier age.
The first movement is most of the concerto, while the second and third movements are much shorter. The first movement has a long cadenza at the end of it. In Beethoven's time as in Mozart's, the cadenzas were not composed as part of the concerto, but rather were added by the violinist. In Mozart's time they were improvised, just as jazz musicians do today. By Beethoven's time they were usually composed not improvised, but composed by the violinist or a third party not as part of the main work. The cadenza which is played by Vanessa-Mae in this performance is by Fritz Kreisler, a famous violin virtuoso of the early 20th century.
The second movement, "Larghetto" is slow and stately. It features a key shift in the middle, which is very unusual especially for works of Beethoven's time. As in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, the second movement changes to the third movement without pause. The third movement is titled "Rondo allegro". "Rondo" means a musical work with a recurring main theme, while "allegro" means quick and lively. This movement also has a cadenza, though much shorter than that of the first movement, and this one is also by Kreisler.
My other recording of this work is an old performance by Takako Nishazaki. To be honest, I can't hear too much difference between the two.
Teenage Girls in Gymnastics, Figure Skating, and Violin
I have a prediction; you read it here first! Someday in the future, teenage girls will dominate classical violin solo performances just as they do in gymnastics and figure skating today. And for the same reasons: they have faster reflexes and greater physical agility than older people do, more energy, and yes, also they add glamour. Vanessa-Mae, Sarah Chang, and also Leila Josefowicz (a year older than Vanessa-Mae) are not good in spite of their young age -- they are good BECAUSE of it. The style of violin playing that these young women do, especially on pieces such as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, is really a form of gymnastics -- watch them on video or live and see what I mean. I think that normal adults are physically incapable of doing what these young violinists do with their hands, just as they cannot do what Michelle Kwan does on the ice. (By the way, Michelle Kwan is another famous person of the same age as Sarah Chang and Vanessa-Mae, also an Asian raised in the West.) I predict that in a few decades, violin soloists over the age of 25 will be a rarity, though for violin chairs in orchestras factors other than pure technical skill will still be relevant. Of course not all teenage girls can be violin prodigies, just as not all teenage girl can be Olympic gold-medal figure skaters, but young age can give an expert violinist a slight edge in a very competitive field. Also, I predict that Vanessa-Mae songs will be an important part of the young violinists' repertoire by then.
Another prediction, just for fun: In 2047 Hong Kong will hold ceremonies to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the handover, and "Happy Valley" will be performed again. It will be one of the most famous works in classical music. 68-year old Vanessa-Mae will be there, as a special celebrity guest of honor. But the music will be performed by a young violinist whose mother has not yet been born.


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