Talent in itself is not enough

18. January 2018

The globally recognised violinist Salvatore Accardo visited the Liszt Academy twice this year: most recently, this autumn, last as leader of the Quartetto Accardo, while some weeks earlier he was here as chair of the jury at the Bartók World Competition and Festival. As one the most celebrated violin virtuosos of our time – and someone considered to be the most authentic interpreter of Niccoló Paganini’s works – Maestro Accardo has been a professor of music for several decades. He holds the opinion that today’s young musicians are in a much more difficult position than their predecessors should they plan to pursue a career in music.

“I have been teaching for quite some time, and I can assure you that, in my own music career, it is not the concerts or the stage that is closest to my heart, but teaching. I love working with my students. Over the years, I have had hundreds of them from all over the world. I find teaching a fantastic thing, I am simply captivated by it. During the instruction process, it is not only the student who is enriched but also the teacher himself. In the education of the young generation, you must approach those different talents in different ways. The collaboration of the student and the teacher is a miracle.”

 

Photo: Liszt Academy / Zoltán Tuba

 

“There is a vast array of talented young musicians today. Indeed, there are many more fantastic young violinists presently than there were in my youth. The current number of Asian students is remarkable; they are almost all outstanding young musicians, and whichever country of the world they come from, they play their instruments wonderfully, perfectly in a technical sense. The youth of today must be instructed with a different approach and according to different criteria.

“The technical skills and aptitude of young musicians today enable them to play a repertoire at a much higher level than their predecessors of twenty or twenty-five years ago. However, these skilled musicians must learn that playing an instrument well and performing a piece with faultless technique does not necessarily mean making music; music is different, music is more: it requires a soul. I recall talking about this issue with my friend David Oistrakh. He also told me about his own conviction: ‘You know, I think technique is crucial but it is just as crucial to forget about it. In fact, if we concentrate on technique, we don’t complement nor put anything extra into the music. Clearly, technique is essential, if only for making the instrument actually sound. But this is too little. Understanding and learning this truth is one of the most essential responsibilities for the talented youth of our time.’”

Maestro Accardo, the Head of Jury at the first Bartók World Competition, agrees with those who proclaim that generations Y and Z, who we might call ‘the digital generation’, live according to a new value system; they receive external stimuli in different ways because of a completely altered, post-modern environment. He believes that this equally applies to musicians. “As I see it, the digital generation is hardly, or not at all, familiar with the culture of sound. I am convinced that that today’s youth doesn’t listen to music in the right way. Mp3, the audio coding format currently used, is a highly compressed digital format; however, this compression is not good for the sounds. Thus, if someone listens to music in mp3 format, they hear something else than what we used to hear and listen to. This digital sound is less full, so even if we talk about the same work, the same concert, we cannot possibly mean the same thing, for compression inevitably brings about a loss in sound quality. When my friends and I listened to music on vinyl records, we were part of a much warmer, fuller musical experience, which – with time and with the advent of digitalisation – has become more meagre and poorer.”

Salvatore Accardo continues: “Young people today get an utterly different, if you will, colder, much less emotional musical experience, which will then influence their own performance, and this effect is unfortunately not beneficial. Progress in technology results in the loss of expression, which they could otherwise benefit from in their own musical performances.

“The stage presence of the members of today’s young generation differs from that of their predecessors in other ways too: young people today put a much greater emphasis on the ‘show factor’ during a concert. I keep telling my students to watch and listen to the recordings of the  musicians of the past because they will learn a lot from them. In those days, musicians were gentlemen on stage – Oistrakh, Milstein, Francescatti, and Grumiaux – they never came up with a show during the concert, they didn’t need to. Today, however, violinists often consider visual effects while preparing for their recitals. I strongly believe that today’s young musicians don’t need a ‘show’ either, for they are fantastic artists as it is. In my opinion, it is all due to the negative impact of the media on the performing arts and artists. Anyway, those students who come to study with me are very much aware of the fact that I’d rather they didn’t put on a show.

“I have encountered an incredible number of highly gifted musicians thanks to my many-decade-long career dedicated to teaching. Young people today have a very hard time because they must stand out from a great number of hugely talented musicians, create their own following, and become more widely known. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is neither visual effects nor the faultlessly played repertoire performed with a perfect technique that makes a concert beautiful, but the emotions put into the music and the performance itself. Then and only then is an emotional bond established with the audience, something which is the heartfelt desire of all performing artists.”

Family background often plays a decisive role in the birth and development of talents. Whoever is born into a musical family will probably soon be given an instrument to play. These children often walk in the footsteps of their ancestors and turn into highly acclaimed musicians in their own right. “As far as I’m concerned,” Accardo adds, “I don’t intend to be a strict musician father to my daughters, someone who commands them to practise long hours every single day. I let them make music with love. My wife is also a violinist but our daughters are learning to play the piano. In fact, one of them told us that there were too many violinists in the family already, and this why they both preferred the piano. We didn’t want to interfere with this decision. It is quite natural, though, that as our life is centred around music, it is important to us that music should become an integral part of the life of our children too. But no matter what, it should be a labour of love.”

 

Ágnes Illyés