Violinist David Garrett
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Review: A Gala Night With David Garrett | AT&T Performing Arts Center

Hair Violin

Fast-fingered rock violinist David Garrett mixes Beethoven and the Beatles, Mozart and Metallica in a show at AT&T Performing Arts Center.

published Friday, January 17, 2014

Photo: Courtesy AT&T Performing Arts Center
Violinist David Garrett

Dallas — What do Metallica and Beethoven have in common? (Well, aside from the fact that the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra has played and recorded the music of Metallica?) Both of them get the full treatment by David Garrett. He is a virtuoso violinist who gave up a classical concert career to launch another one, far more lucrative you can safely presume, as a rock violinist. He brought his eclectic electric concert to the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House on Tuesday. He called it a “show,” which is a better term for what went on. He played, to a house packed with his adoring fans, with a back-up band made up of three guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard/synthesizer player.

Underneath the glitz, Garrett is an amazing violinist with a mastery of technique that puts him on a level with any violinist touring today. Yet even here, on so basic a level, he is the consummate showman. He held the record for the fastest violinist in the world until recently. To land in the Guinness record book, he played “The Flight of the Bumblebee” in 65.24 seconds at a rate of just over 13 notes per second. Just recently, British violinist Ben Lee played the piece at 58.515, or about 15 notes per second, to take the title away from Garrett. However, a slow motion viewing revealed that Garrett played all of the difficult chromatic passages with the correct fingering while Lee did a lot of sliding around. I suppose that did not come into the judging since that is another, easier, way to play it, so Garrett's accomplishment should have remained.

We didn't hear the Bumblebee flying around. Actually, we didn't hear a lot of anything because it was over-amplified to the max. There were many places where you could see Garrett's piston-like fingers flashing and his bow delivering a very clean and Guinness fast off-the-string spicatto (bouncing bow), but you didn't hear a note of what he was playing. The sonic soup was so loud and so thick that his line was buried beneath the general din.

The concert, oops, show, didn't have a program so many of us were adrift and many of his announcements were hard to understand. The show opened with an accordionist, whose name I later found out was Martynas Levickis. He is a Lithuanian virtuoso with a big following in Europe. His playing borrowed a number of techniques from the bandoneon, but his accordion has the full keyboard which his nimble fingers transversed. He opened with his own version of “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

The music, no matter it source, was transformed into full-out rock. Some of the classical selections were recognizable, such as his rendition of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 by Brahms, while others were more opaque, such as his take on the Scherzo from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. The theme from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake was treated with more respect, maybe because it was played as a tribute to Garrett's mother, who was a ballet dancer.

As to the other music, a Piazzolla tango rubbed shoulders with “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Chopin's simple and lovely C minor Nocturne, published after the composer's death, was followed by “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. Mozart’s Turkish Rondo led to the Beatles’  “Hey, Jude.” We even heard “Over the Rainbow” and “Hava Nagila.” This great variety merged into a stream of very loud and similar music in the blender of Garrett's arrangements. You could certainly recognize the tune buried in different selections, if you knew them ahead of time, but his style of playing only varied into the two biggest categories—up-tempo and down-tempo.

Garrett's playing was quite impressive as he flashed through the show. There were lots of violin “tricks” that the showiest pieces, by the likes of Paganini, all use: double stops, octaves, runs in double stops, very fast arpeggios and the use of the very top range of the instrument. It is difficult to asses the tone he produces because the electrified violin lacks all the resonance of the instrument. It sounds a little whiney and treble, with a sharp edge. Stylistically, Garrett plays in a manner that throws back to an earlier era with lots of slides and vibrato. He added a few tricks of his own, some borrowed from electric guitars, like looping and overlaying his phrases to build up a one person orchestra. At one point, he sat down, turned the violin and played it like an ukelele. He was occasionally just barely under the pitch, but who knows what he was hearing on the stage.

His press and PR photos show his waist length platinum hair blowing in artificial wind, reminiscent of the covers of drugstore romance novels. He wore a stocking cap over his Rapunzel-ish locks for most of the show. At one point, it came off but his mane was tamed in a bun. The audience kept yelling “hair, hair, hair.” But the flying blond streamers remained in captivity. Since I didn't stay for the encores, I can't say for certain, but you can bet that he freed his tresses at the last possible moment for maximum impact.

His performance of “Bumblebee” on YouTube shows unmistakably that Garrett is a fine violinist with a world-class technique and charming stage presence. His website gives a surprising repertoire that covers almost every work for violin and orchestra as well as a plethora of solo and chamber music pieces. We didn't hear any of that and wonder when and where he plays it. But he surely has the ability to play any of the works he lists. If you want to hear how clean and secure his technique is, his record-breaking performance of “Bumblebee” is below. While it is not the Beethoven Violin Concerto, one of the most questionable of his many listed works, it does give an idea how he would play Paganini.


  Thanks For Reading


Becky Ray writes:
Friday, January 17 at 8:57PM

This review got many basic facts wrong: First, Garrett never gave up his classical career. Actually two thirds of his concerts every year is classical; Second, he never uses electric violin. I suggest you read his interview with to get a better understanding of his career and perspective. I personally prefer the classical Garrett. I own his "legacy" album and never get tired of playing it over and over. However I do respect his commitment to bring classical to the younger generation.

Rita Rose writes:
Saturday, January 18 at 10:47AM

David Garrett never gave up his classical concert career. On YouTube you can listen at many of his classical peformances. Beethoven, Vivaldi, Wieniawski, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Brahms etc.! 50 percent - 60 percent of his concerts are classical. recommend you get the last CD of David Garrett "Garrett vs Paganini". Enjoy!- David Garrett plays in his shows on a beautiful and very old violin, but which is amplified with a microphone. He never uses an electric violin! Regards!

Becky Ray writes:
Saturday, January 18 at 11:49AM

One more note - I would also recommend you watch his performance with Zubin Mehta and Israel Philharmonic orchestra in Israel a few weeks ago to get a glimpse of his classical playing chop. There are several videos available on Youtube now. In short, classical career is where his heart lies. The crossover stuff is his "outreach" program. I am waiting anxiously for him to have a classical tour in the U.S.A. sometime soon.

Bianchi writes:
Saturday, January 18 at 12:58PM

Only a true showman can put on a "show"! David Garrett is an incredible international musician with all the music he plays and is very lucrative, I mean accomplished, in the classical music world too. I wish he would do classical tours in the US! He would be great. We tend to only see the rock and what he does here in the states but there is so much more to him. He made his own music because he is talented and versatile and not many people have the capacity to be so and still play so beautifully. I think he is one of the best violinists of our time. All around he is an amazing person very smart, very dedicated and passionate and a great personality always smiling. Love him. And I don't know why all you other ladies are so obsessed with just the hair...he is just as handsome with or without it! Enjoyed the "show" David!

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs writes:
Saturday, January 18 at 1:19PM

You are correct that he didn't completely giver up his classical career. My comment was unclear. What I was trying to say is that he has given it up for this extensive tour, which is a more lucrative use of his time. This is something I usually mention when a fine classical artist crosses over. Like Archie Boe, they sometimes never return. It is hard to argue with - when a single performance can bring in as much as a year of concert work. Also, I never said he was playing on an electric violin. I said an "electrified violin." Probably a better term is "amplified violin." However, I stand by my comments on the sound it produces - "electrified violin lacks all the resonance of the instrument. It sounds a little whiney and treble, with a sharp edge." Here, I talk about what being "electrified" does to the sound of "the instrument." This is the same effect we heard later in the show when an acoustic guitar was electrified/amplified, which I didn't mention. I fully realize that the reality requires plugging in. Considering the very high volume level of the show, an unelectrified/unamplified violin wouldn't stand a chance. The reason I mentioned it at all was because it was impossible to asses his sound - which a critic usually mentions. I am certain that Garrett wouldn't want the sound he makes on his fine violin to be judged by what it comes out of the huge amplification system. Considering the fine acoustics in the Winspear, it would have been interesting for him to play his violin - unplugged - and bring the volume level of the other instruments down enough to allow for it. Not possible, of course, in his current context. The audience expected rock concert decibel levels. By the way, I was a violinist and violist myself for the first half of my musical life. Not a very good one, but adequate enough to get me a seat in elementary through college orchestras which, as a composer and conductor, was my goal. Another BTW - since I didn't stay for the encores, did he grant the audience their wish, shouted all through the concert, to let his hair loose? Thanks for your comments and correction. We greatly appreciate them. Please continue to comment on anything you read on Theater Jones.

ClassicalFan writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 4:28AM

Why should David let his hair down just because the audiences shouts? Are we in a Chippendales-Show? Next is, take your clothes off? Excuse me? David is a violinist and he often said, he can barely play with loose hair, it was difficult for him in his movie. So don't assume, just because he is often photographed with loose hair, he is performing a concert with this hairstyle.

Rita Rose writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 5:42AM

"...did he grant the audience their wish, shouted all through the concert, to let his hair loose?"- Mr. Isaacs,would you be better informed about David Garrett, you would know that he would never do such a thing. And please, don´t reduce his "Crossover-Concerts" on "just for money".

Jordan Blair writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 9:44AM

Once again Mr. Issacs you seem to have arrived at yet another hasty inaccurate conclusion. This US tour does not seem any more extensive to me than that of any other artist and it did not replace less lucrative dates, but was an addition to his other commitments. I think it is far more likely that his European tours are actually more lucrative than his US tours so his US fans are delighted that he is back. Hopefully the more exposure he has here in the US, the more that will change and we will have the opportunity to enjoy his classical tours in the US as well. With a bit more research you might have discovered that he is completely committed to his classical career so your conclusion that he cannot do both crossover and classical tours with equal care and commitment is a bit mystifying, especially in view of his goal to reach younger generations. You seem unable to appreciate that his level of expertise in the classical field is the very reason he can so effortlessly make the transition to crossover and reach so many young people. Although not at all as you so facetiously described it, he does have great hair. And while I have never seen him let his hair down during a concert it occurred to me that might be something you should try.

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 10:29AM

Wow. I review of hundreds of concerts and am lucky to get one occasional comment. But review someone like Garrett or Bocelli and the mail pours in. Come on guys - comment of my other stuff as well. I am not going to get into an exchange of comments here, but Ruta's message has to be refuted. A search of my review failed to find the phrase "just for money" anywhere in the text. "Just," a word I am trying to eschew, appeared three times. "Money" - not at all. Say that his current concert tour is more lucrative than appearing with orchestras or worse, classical recitals, is self-evident. Even so, I qualified that statement like this: ..."more lucrative you can safely presume," Please don't use quotes when you are NOT quoting. In my business, you can end up in lots of trouble for doing that. Where does it stop when you do? And about the hair, Garrett encourages that particular obsession himself with his romance-novel-cover PR photos. You reap what you sow. If he doesn't want the flying hair to be an issue, there is a simple solution. Don't release PR photos like that. Certainly, his PR people didn't force him to do it. Personally, I wish he had let it loose - to see it for myself in all its glory. Why not. Secretly, who wouldn't want a golden mane like that? As Tessie Tesitura, in the musical, Gypsy, advises ...ya gotta have a gimmick. Not that he needs one. He is a great violinist and that ability should be able to speak for itself. There is a lot of competition in the concert violinist world. New ones pop up all the time - all with perfection in technique and fine interpretations (whether given to them by a teacher/mentor or self-generated only turns up later and many vanish after a season or two before we can find out). Garrett certainly has the ability to win a spot in that race - if he would concentrate on it. But, I can understand why he wouldn't want to put himself through that particular grinder when he can play fun stuff in a sold-out concert tour like this one.

Teetucker writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 11:11AM

There's another definite wrong statement in this article. He's not playing with three guitarists, there are two and a bass player! As a professional musician you should have seen and heard the difference. And on another note. You somehow left a doubt that he has played all the repertoire listed on his page, you can be sure he has played everything listed there at some point of his already long career. All because you never heard him play classical, well the simple reason for that is, that a classical tour with full orchestra as he's doing in Europe would be a logistical and financial nightmare in the US. A full 50 piece orchestra plus big stage necessities all "on the road" to criscross the US? Hard to do. You first need much bigger venues (or at least those with bigger stage options, which means much more $$$) and then have to transport everyone and everything (even more $$$). You can be sure David would love to do a classical tour one day, but until there's a solution for all those problems this will not happen. If you're lucky sometime in the future he might be invited by some of the great symphony orchestras like L.A. Symphonics or such as a guest soloist, but until then I'm afraid you'll have to make a trip overseas to get the real impression live. If you had done a bit more research before attending the concert, than just taking a short look at his webpage, you'd seen lots of videomaterial of different music styles and combinations. May it be chamber music or the big violin concertos, or crossover. -just my two cents on this review

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs writes:
Sunday, January 19 at 2:14PM

I promised I wouldn't comment anymore - and I won't. But I do have to answer one criticism. He did, indeed, play with three guitars. One was a bass guitar - but still a guitar. He did NOT have a bass player (which is someone who plays a stand-up double bass). I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at all of these comments. I love a good argument about artistic matters. Usually, my reviews get zero comments - even the more controversial ones. I do regret that these were written with such a schoolmarmish "you idiot" tone of voice, which neuters their effectiveness. My comments are, as always, just an opinion and, since I am a human, I get things wrong on occasion. I welcome corrections. Yes, even when they are proffered as a barb to belittle instead of a fact furnished to be facilitative. I have a question for all of you. Are you my regular readers or did you just tune in to the Garrett piece? Either way, please continue to go to classical music concerts, read my reviews (I write as many as 5 a week), and please send comments. BTW, I was warned ahead of time by my colleagues that if I said anything negative about Garrett, our comment box would be filled with outrage from dedicated fans and any misstatement would be turned into a "Dewey defeats Truman" - monumental-sized press faux pas. Perhaps they were also correct, in that it is better to give these popular idols, like Garrett and Bocelli, a pass. There is little to be gained by reviewing and vitriol as a reward. What do they want with another review anyway? And, since there was only a single "show," informing the public about what to see (one of the reasons for a review), didn't apply anyway. BTW, does anyone know what was "gala" about this event? Gala usually implies something more than just a concert. Was their a dinner and silent auction, before or after, to which I wasn't invited? Let's move on. OK? Any comments on my DSO, Voce or FWSO reviews? Recent interviews and previews? Please send them in. Anyway, this is my sign-off on this subject. It's been fun (mean it), but it's been. I'm sure that I will see you all at the upcoming series of orchestral and chamber music concerts, opera opening and big name recitals. Some amazing ones on the horizon. Please come up and introduce yourselves.

Donna writes:
Tuesday, January 28 at 7:21AM

I attended David Garrett’s show at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on January 10, which I believe was Opening Night of the tour. Although I love classical music, I am far from an expert. Mr. Garrett did attend Julliard and has performed in some very prestigious arenas and with very impressive musicians, so his talent should be a given. I just wish he would search out management advice from a group not focused on pleasing young women swooning over his hair. He could be so much more if he didn’t model himself after Fabio. David Garrett first came to my attention from his PBS special. After watching a few YouTube videos of his performances and interviews, I’ve decided there are three Mr. Garretts. There is the very proficient, charismatic performer. Then there is the somewhat nerdy, impulsive, “no-filter” David Garrett who is likely to say anything to reporters—for good or bad effect. Finally, there is the completely ridiculous, wind-blown sex-symbol on the covers of his CDs. It’s difficult to meld all three of these personas into one man. He’s well into his thirties now, so I think he’s overdue for a more mature image. And, yes, his concerts are LOUD. When he began playing a piece softly, I would feel twinges of hope, before he would abruptly ramp up to an ear-splitting cacophony of noise identical, for all intents and purposes, to the song preceding it. He keeps his talent hidden under over-produced, over-amplified clutter. He did fill the theatre, and the crowd was enthusiastic. Except for my ringing ears, it was difficult not to get swept up in the sheer showmanship of his performances. His rapport with his band seemed genuine, and the drummer was worth the price of the ticket all by himself. Besides the young women dressed to impress, the audience was surprisingly older than I expected. The concert was promoted heavily as part of a PBS fund drive back in August timed to coincide with the release of his latest CD, Music, and St. Louis is a strong PBS town. I wondered what many of the senior citizens, especially the men, thought, and how many turned down their hearing aids. Quite frankly, there were times when I wished I had one. David Garrett is talented and charismatic—a perfect combination of skills for success. One day I hope he grows up, gets his hair trimmed, turns down his amplifier, and shows the skeptical world how talented he truly is. He’s certainly financially successful with a very protective fan base, but he is capable of so much more. In my non-professional, humble opinion, of course. Just thought you might like to hear from someone over the age of 25 who shares your opinion.

wendy writes:
Thursday, January 30 at 7:21PM

You are missing the point Mr. isaacs. You don't need to give Mr. Garrett a pass in terms of review. Just remember do your homework!

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Hair Violin
Fast-fingered rock violinist David Garrett mixes Beethoven and the Beatles, Mozart and Metallica in a show at AT&T Performing Arts Center.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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