It seems to me that being a good soloist ultimately comes down to how you play your ensemble.
Take Augustin Hadelich, the young, Italian-born winner of the 2006 Indianapolis Violin Competition whom I heard perform Saturday. He played well, and with character, but there was a certain self-centeredness to his interpretation of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. The tempo of each phrase was seemingly chosen with regard to how Hadelcih wanted his instrument to sound -- and the tempi fluctuated wildly.
This was distracting for me, as an audience member, because it seemed random. Maybe Hadelich doesn't really believe the Tchaikovsky is a worthy concerto and that he must put his own stamp on the piece for it to be effective. Or maybe he just has to be sure that his Gingold Strad will speak optimally at all times.
Either way, it seemed that Hadelich made these changes at the expense of the orchestra. I don't mean that he didn't talk about his ideas with the conductor ahead of time, I simply mean that the accompaniment didn't figure significantly in his decisions. To my thinking, this self-centered approach is a mistake.
As an organist, a soloist with a choral ensemble, if you will, I know that I play my best when I "play the choir" and the play to the choir's needs. Now granted, in modern terms, I am a soloist, but I could be considered an accompanying "ensemble".
I know that I am still learning to play the choir, and that it's not easy, but listening to Hadelich brought this concept into focus for me. Mature players are not musically self-centered, which actually brings the focus on their playing.
Life is better when we all get along.
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