Saturday, June 30, 2018

Musicians and Jealousy

I was watching a video of Hilary Hahn playing an encore, the Presto to the Violin Sonata No. 1 by Bach, and I was shocked to see a whole bunch of comments to the effect that the violinists in the orchestra behind her were all bitter and jealous of her success and skill! Here is the clip:


And here is a sampling of the comments:
"If you look closely, you can see the jealous mofos in the background."
"Yep, and it's a little bit sad.. I don't even see a face with positive vibes in beteween the other musicians. :/ Just jelous little bastards."
"yup so obvious, their careers have gone nowhere and they are bitter"
"The envy in the faces of the violinists behind her....."
"The orchestra violinists may look jealous.. but none of them will ever reach Hilary's technical level."
Mind you, most of the comments are very positive. But these ones struck me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is astonishing how adept the commentators are at reading minds! This "mind-reading" ability is something that a couple of online commentators have been talking about lately: Ann Althouse and Scott Adams for example. Once you notice you start seeing it everywhere. Political writers are notorious for inferring the inner thoughts of both the people they oppose and those they agree with and this without a shred of evidence. This all falls apart when they are confronted with unidentified quotes that they often misattribute.

But back to the musicians. Non-musicians or non-professional musicians often mistake the expressions, or lack thereof, of orchestral musicians. The reasons for this are manifold. Orchestral musicians spend their working lives in front of the public, but not as exposed as the conductor or soloist. So sometimes you catch an unguarded or spontaneous expression. But most of the time they cultivate a neutral demeanor as being more professional. If you see a musician yawn onstage, it is more likely that they are relieving stress than that they are bored. Similarly, if they have a neutral expression this does not indicate that they are filled with burning jealousy. They usually have a neutral expression!

Also, in general, it is likely that most professional orchestral musicians are not jealous of Hilary Hahn, but rather respectful of her musicianship and technical accomplishment. I say this because this has been the typical attitude of orchestral string players I have discussed her with. A lot of them are fans. But at the same time, they are also highly accomplished musicians who likely spend more hours a week playing concerts than Hilary does. They are also very fine musicians and technicians. It would not surprise me in the least if a significant percentage of the seated violinists in the clip could stand up and give an excellent performance of either this or similar movements from the solo Bach repertoire. They all spend their formative years playing this stuff after all. Perhaps the performance might not be quite as perfect or as enthralling as Hilary's but most listeners might not even discern a difference in quality.

Are there jealousies in the musical world? Yes, certainly. But while there are all sorts of stories and anecdotes about what this soprano did or said about the other soprano (applies to pianists and guitarists and other soloists as well) instead of tarring all musicians or soloists with the same sin, it is probably better to assume that people with poor emotional control are more likely to be susceptible to jealous fits than more emotionally mature people. Musicians or not.

Now let's listen to that same movement played by a non-celebrity violinist. This is one of my favorite violinists, Kristóf Baráti, who is hardly known at all outside Hungary and eastern Europe:


This is Anna Savkina who just graduated from the Moscow Conservatory:


I could probably put up a dozen others if I looked! And this is not to diminish in any way Hilary's accomplishment, just to point out that, by objective evidence, there are lots of violinists that don't need to be too jealous!

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