If you’re learning a stringed orchestra instrument — like the violin, viola, cello, or bass — you have some pretty big shoes to fill. Some of the most famous musicians of all time have made names for themselves by expertly making magic with strings. From the time of Mozart to today, the vitality of talented string masters in orchestras is apparent.
Take a look at some of the most important and widely-known string musicians of all time.
Nobuko Imai, violist
One of the most recognizable names in contemporary strings, Imai has headlined over 30 albums. A native of Tokyo, she has traveled far and wide outside of her home region, appearing in world-class orchestras across the globe. She’s known for creating impressive viola adaptations of classical compositions originally designed for cello. Her compositions, performances, and collaborations in the world of contemporary music have brought her worldwide fame, awards, and praise across cultures.
Konstantin Boyarsky, violist
From the age of 6, this Russian-born performer had an affinity for strings. He started off playing the violin, and then mastered the viola during his college years at Yehudi Menuhin School (his mother was his teacher). Boyarsky was named the U.K.’s “Best Young Classical Composer” in 2010. Currently, Boyarsky is a principal violist at the Royal Opera House – Covent Garden in the U.K.
David Popper, cellist
Imagine playing your favorite classical music alongside Johannes Brahms — renowned cellist David Popper had the honor of doing just that, thanks to his skills and passion for the cello. The Prague native traveled Europe, sharing his gift for cello with the world from the mid-19th through the early 20th century. His wife, who played the piano, toured with him.
Beatrice Harrison, cellist
Born in India in 1892, young Beatrice learned the cello as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, performing her first solo with an orchestra at the age of 14. Throughout her life she traveled the world, visiting the United States in 1913 and again in 1932; she was globally renowned for her mastery of the cello. Her sister May Harrison was also a highly regarded cellist, and the two were asked by composers like Hamilton Harty and Eugene Goossens to play their original works.
William Pleeth, cellist
When he died in 1999, Pleeth was one of the most recognizable cellists in the world. By the age of 7, he was showing talent for strings and by the age of 15, he had memorized and could play 24 concertos. He was also a great teacher of the cello — he wrote books on learning the instrument that are widely taught today. If you currently play the cello, or are just starting to learn, you may come across one of his books in your studies!
Niccolo Paganini, violinist
During his lifetime, audiences often remarked that Paganini had made a pact with the devil; because his fiddling seemed almost supernatural. He was committed to his instrument, practicing 10 hours a day. His own favorite violin still sits in the town hall in his hometown of Genoa, Italy. Paganini made a lasting impact on violin music at the turn of the 18th century — he wrote pieces that are considered, even today, the most difficult violin compositions in the world.
Carl Flesch, violinist
Born in Hungary in the late 19th century, Flesch was invited to study at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 17. He was best known for his wide-ranging ability to play a variety of music, including contemporary and Baroque pieces. His “Scale System” is one of the most widely-taught pieces of violin method in the world — if you’re a violinist, you’ve probably come across his system hundreds of times in your lessons.
Fernando Grillo, bassist
Known for his over-the-top performance style — and appearance — Italian double bass player Fernando Grillo not only played the bass: he innovated new ways to produce sound with the instrument. In addition to performing at festivals and touring with world renowned orchestras, he also taught music courses in Europe, Asia, and Latin America; and even starred in a movie once. He died in 2003, but his legacy lives on in the many musical schools he helped found and fund worldwide during his lifetime.
Jorma Kalevi Katrama, violinist and bassist
This Finnish double threat was born in 1936, and is still making a mark on the stringed musical world. He debuted with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, where he served as principal bassist from 1967 to 1999. Katrama has given concerts all across the globe – from the United State to South Korea – and gives master classes on his craft at the most renowned music schools in the world.
There is much inspiration to glean from the great string performers and composers of the past. The world needs more stringed musicians who push the envelope with their mastery and love of the music. With the right string lessons and hard work, perhaps you can add your name to this list one day.