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The age of classical music has come and gone and at present, it is no

more than a slowly dying industry, one that could very easily slip from the
public eye altogether. Some groups, such as the San Francisco Symphony,
are rallying to bring it back by associating themselves with other genres of
music, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has an annual movie soundtrack
performances at the Hollywood Bowl. In this way, associating classical music
with popular music is helping increasing audiences. However, musicians
should strive not to become gimmicks; one trick ponies that use their
trademark sound to attempt to draw in more audiences and in the process,
destroy the music that they are trying to enhance and perform. If the
classical world will die out, so be it, but at least let it die with some dignity.
Anna Karkowskas attempts to make a bold first impression in the
classical music world in her debut album, Virtuosity. The album includes the
Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1, Sarasates Carmen Fantasy, Wieniawskis
Faust Fantasy, and the world premiere of the Hoffman Violin Concerto. All
four of these pieces are thoughtfully composed and require the highest level
of technical skill in order to respectfully carry out the music, ergo Virtuositys
title. Although the selected repertoire in Karkowskas Virtuosity is virtuosic,
after listening to even a brief moment of the album, it becomes extremely
apparent that her playing is at no such level.
A true violin virtuoso is well-versed in all periods of frequently played
classical music and can perform these works tastefully and with sensitivity in
respect to their corresponding time periods. He or she is a master of

technique and can perform virtually anything that is composed for violin. In
this regard, Virtuosity on paper is quite impressive in that the selected
repertoire is highly demanding for the soloist. Moreover, the pieces on the
album are all relatively well-known which presents another layer of challenge
for the soloist. Hundreds of people have tried to interpret these works,
setting a high standard for performances. Unfortunately, Anna Karkowska
fails to execute the seemingly inspiring set-list by murdering the true music
with her jarringingly sloppy and wide vibrato, which distorts the otherwise
iconic melody into something completely unrecognizable.
Pablo de Sarasates Carmen Fantasy is a staple in violin repertoire.
Sarasate borrows themes from George Bizets renowned opera, Carmen, and
elaborates with technical flourishes and ostentatious orchestration
Carmen Fantasy is a perfect piece to highlight a musicians technical and
expressive capabilities. Furthermore, it is an even more ideal piece for a
budding, young talent to showcase herself and break into the tight-knit and
ever-competitive world of classical music performance. Violin greats such as
Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Heifetz, and David Oistrakh have already set high
standards for this piece, interpreting it as a soprano and tenor would in the
actual stage-set opera. Carmen Fantasy when played to it's full potential, is
a showcase of bel canto operatic melodies and Paganini-esque pyrotechnics
retaining Bizets original intentions and style.
Anna Karkowska has all the technical capabilities of a world class
player and should in theory, be able to carry out all of said Paganini-esque

pyrotechnics, however, she does not hone any of her skills to create
authentic music. The technical passages in Carmen Fantasy require
immense knowledge of the fingerboard, with double stop scales and
intimidating big shifts. The violinist audiences cannot deny the Karkowskas
technical prowess in the precision of her performance the fast sections are
executed with clean shifts, immaculate intonation and a sultry sound yet,
the product is still heinous and catastrophic. The unforgivable mistake in her
interpretation stems from her refusal to respect George Bizets original
musical intentions. Karkowskas vibrato develops so wide that at every
significant melodic moment, she loses the pitches that the composer
originally marked. In addition, her style of playing is so melodramatic as to
lose all musical meaning. Carmen Fantasy is not an absurd, contemporary
example of performance art and has no room for gimmicks and dramatic
innovation. To disrespect a piece that is so timeless and intricately composed
is the first sign of a player with no musical sensitivity or awareness.
The sexiness of Carmen, the sultry voice and flirtatious laughs, might
as well have not have been written in, and the gorgeous dark but warm
sound of the tenor, the sound that reminds one of the dark mahogany
furniture store in a posh gentlemans lounge, had no chance to emerge due
to the vibrato. Vibrato, vibrato, vibrato; I keep on repeating it and for good
reason. Vibrato is meant to enhance the violins sound and was not even an
accepted technique until the Classical Era. It colors the sound, warms the
soul, and gives new meaning to otherwise dull melodies. It emphasizes mood

changes but also helps maintain order in otherwise chaotic sections. In Ms.
Karkowskas case, it is used to set her apart and make her interesting for all
of the 10 seconds it takes for a listener to get tired and rather annoyed.
Paganinis Violin Concerto no. 1 is another example of a piece written
specifically for a virtuoso. Niccolo Paganini was the epitome of virtuoso,
composing pieces that he considered were difficult enough because no one
prior had composed anything that compelled him technically. He was
basically the Jimi Hendrix of modern day violin playing. His Violin Concerto
No. 1 is a milestone for any young musician, a massive three movement
piece that lets teachers decide whether their students have enough to make
it or not. The piece is so feared that perhaps the greatest violinist of the
20th century, Jascha Heifetz, did not even record it. However, Anna
Karkowska had the tenacity to record the most rebelled and feared violin
concerto in standard repertoire, and she pulled off the flourishes brilliantly.
Her playing is extremely entertaining, though not in the right way. Everything
is right, but at the same time, all so wrong. Again, the technical passages are
impeccable, but every operatic Italian theme is betrayed by her vibrato. The
first and third movements were tolerable as they are such technical tour de
forces that the lack of the beautiful melodies that are present does not
detract from the technical masterclass that she gives through the recording.
On the other hand, the second movement is supposed to be a look into
Paganinis more musical side, akin to his Cantabile. Ms. Karkowska ruins it
as severely as Florence Foster Jenkins ruined the Queen of the Night aria

from Mozarts Magic Flute opera. The performance is so uninspiring as to


make me want to quit violin for fear of encountering those unpleasant
sounds in my own performances.
Unfortunately, no matter how talented she is, Anna Karkowska is
following the increasingly present trend of using gimmicks to achieve her 15
minutes of fame, that will hopefully stick and carry her through her career.
Vanessa Mae, a washed up pop violinist who, at the age of 15, release an
album with a picture of her walking through the ocean in a see-through
swimsuit, definitely did not last. She signed to Sony records, got dropped
from them, and then failed to deliver on her promise of an opera inspired
album. English violinist, David Garrett, is a little like Ms. Karkowska in that he
is extremely talented but has his quirks. Even so, it is not an alteration of the
actual playing, but more an alteration of the performance practice that he
follows. In order to become more accessible to the general public, he often
times plays with a bandana, and came out on live TV to break the violin
speed record playing Nikkoli Rimsky-Korsakovs Flight of the Bumblebee.
Although he certainly was initially despised by many members of the
classical community, his 15 minutes of fame stuck for certain and he is
considered a world-class artist that tours globally to critical acclaim.
I believe that the usage of popular materials and certain trademarks
can work to an artists advantage, and in the bigger picture, to the
advantage of the entire music world. Take, for example, the comedy duet
Igudesman and Joo. A violin and piano duet formed at the Juilliard school,

both are technically adept at their instruments, but market themselves as a


comedy improvisation troupe. They parody Rachmaninoffs prelude in C
sharp minor, with big blocks of wood that are formed in order to fit the
chords that Rachmaninoff wrote down. Rachmaninoff had big hands, they
say, as they smash the blocks down onto the piano. Even David Garrett, who
plays a multi-million dollar instrument fit for only the best of soloists,
markets himself as a crossover artist with a focus on classical. He allows
himself the room to play rock and pop violin every now and then in addition
to his successful career in the classical world. .
This begs the question: At what point does a special trademark of
ones performance become gimmicky, and sat what point does it become
gimmicky and unwanted? The Los Angeles Philharmonic regularly has movie
nights with John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl. The Metropolitan Opera has
a child-friendly version of Rossinis Barber of Seville. However, these are
specifically targeted towards more generally audiences. The world does need
to be opened up to the wonders of classical music and if it takes simplified
versions of legendary operas and film scores that are in the gray area
between classical and popular music in order to do so, then it is well worth
the brief moments of artistic sacrifice. Besides, at least the concerts sound
entertaining and relay the same feelings and sounds as what the composer
originally intended.
Innovation in performance is quite acceptable; without it, we would
never have transitioned from the Baroque era to the Classical, to the

Romantic, to the Contemporary, and then to where we are now. Even though
some modern music is off-putting, it is in the best interest of classical music
to make use of new technologies, such as electronic noises, to enliven the
classical music world. Banding together with Metallica in order to promote a
group, and collaborating with John Williams in order to draw in larger
audiences is a smart move, as it keeps the music world alive.
Anna Karkowska, on the other hand, performs sacrilege on a regular
basis, trying to use gimmicks to warm audiences to her and promote her own
self. The main crime here is that she promotes herself as a classical
musician, when she is a a gimmick at best. The music was unrecognizable
and a testament to the invalidity of gimmicky musicians, trying to attract
audiences by being different enough to be significance. Anna Karkowska has
firmly planted herself into the ranks of the scandalous Vanessa Mae, the rock
classical musician David Garrett, and the performance artist, Hanbin. While
she is still technically brilliant, she has no sense of respect for the wishes of
the composers, those same wishes that are clearly communicated on the
sheet music and through the research done on those periods of time.
Virtuosity should be renamed Ignorance. This is one of the most unfortunate
albums ever released, and hopefully, Ms. Karkowska realizes the error of her
ways and corrects herself such that the music world might enjoy her full
potential.