Violist Atar Arad’s advice on the Importance of Versatility of a Performer in Different Styles

It is one thing to identify a performer with his or her unique style and another thing for a performer who is versatile in many styles. Is it essential for a performer to be versatile in many styles? This question was thrown to Mr. Atar Arad, a faculty member of Jacobs School of Music in the Indiana University. Arad is an Israeli-born American violist and composer who was formerly a 1st prize winner at the Geneva International Music Competition. This is how he answered it.

According to Mr. Arad, he could recall several times that he had pull over while on the side of the road not just to avoid an accident but to listen to a hazardously captivating musical performance on the radio. He said there was one instance when he was fascinated, taken, mesmerized and engrossed by the performance Heifetz when he heard him over the radio performing partita in E Major by Bach. While he was listening, advice from his music teachers suddenly flashed to his mind. His teachers told him that Heifetz was indeed the greatest among all violinists. However, listening to Bach is not a good idea; they said that it was wrong because it lacks a sense of style. Over the years he believed and accepted it.

Arad said it was vital for today’s performer to be versatile in various styles. Because composers have their unique style and language in their work, it is safe to say that it is necessary for every piece of music and movement to have a distinctive style of approach. He noted that performers should immerse themselves in the style and expression of the composers as they prepare themselves and attempt to dialogue with them. This can be possible by listening to the music that they and their contemporaries have created, carefully studying their art, literature, history, and life during their time and by analyzing their work musically.

Arad advised that listening to some authentic gypsy music when they prepare for the last movement like the Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto – of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 is highly inspiring. They can also look at the painting of the pillars of German expressionism movement artists such as Kokoschka, Nolde, and Kandinsky when they work on Hindemith’s work. It is also essential to read the life of Beethoven as they plunge into his late quartets. However, he reminds performers that they should have different conversations with Bach and even with Heifetz.

Arad emphasized that style is not be thought as a tradition to be respected or a set of rules. It’s a mistake to think that way; instead think of style is an experience, a guess or a fancy. We cannot judge the performance if it is right or wrong, Arad said. Instead, it is beautiful or less beautiful, interesting or less interesting, communicative or less communicative. He said the purpose of a performance is not to impress the musicologist or to satisfy those say they know the right way. Performers should pour out the best of their ability to touch the beauty as they perform in the way they understand and feel it. To be extremely versatile is necessary for striving to connect on every piece and movement with style.

Arad also answers the question of whether one should work towards becoming more versatile or to specialize in one genre or style only such as contemporary or baroque music. His answer was simple. He said that young or even younger performers should be more open to everything that they can absorb or learn. The benefit is that you would develop and exercise your ability to learn as much as becoming richer in later choices. Maybe today you feel that your dream is chamber music, but we don’t know. Somewhere down the line you may discover and fall in love playing jazz music. But while you are still not settled, it is best to follow your heart, always explore and practice always.

Arad is a graduate of the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth, the Samuel Rubin Israeli Academy of Music, and the Brussels Conservatory. He had previous teaching positions held as a faculty of Carnegie Mellon University, Eastman School of Music, the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth, Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.