A Trill By Any Other Name

I learned something new at the Pittsburgh Symphony concert the other night.

The 1732 Bergonzi violinI’d been using the term “Tremolo,” when perhaps I should have been using “Trill.” I’m still not quite clear the exact difference and which term is best used. I was intrigued by its use all throughout Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. Noah Bendix-Balgley created amazing sounds with his recently acquired 1732 Bergonzi violin. Yet I find his technique, and indeed that used by many violinists, somewhat excessive in the use of “trill” especially in the slower passages. It was used extensively throughout.

At first I didn’t notice because it provided interest through the slight harmonic cross of tone and dissonance. But eventually I did begin to notice. I began to notice because I could actually see the technique being employed by the soloist. That seeing translated into understanding and focus, and to realization that to me, it is used to excess to such an extent that it began to gnaw on my sensibilities. Perhaps it is the purpose of the composer to include so much of this trill. The final movement was the only place where the trill wasn’t so frequently used, but I think that is because the score was strewn with so many notes played in rapid succession, that it would have been impossible to do so.

As a contrast, Noah Bendix-Balgley played Bach’s Gavotte from the E-major Partita. Here the trill was used, but only sprinkled in sparingly. It was only used at the end of a measure or set of measures. Throughout you could hear the pure tones of this beautiful instrument, performed so well by the soloist. This is the sound that I prefer.

Throughout both performances, Mr. Bendix-Balgley composure and posture added great measure to his actual performance.

After intermission came the Robert Schumann Symphony No. 4. Blunt and bold, it hits you with its melodic lines that repeat frequently, yet I don’t mind the repetition because it is developed into abundant variations and flavors, and if you listen intently, there are subtleties that augment the power and rhythm, especially in my favorite movement, the scherzo.

Nikolaj Znaider does a great job conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony with seemingly little movement, he doesn’t steal the limelight from the orchestra, yet he directs their flowing out-pour of lush sounds with zest and a great smile on his face throughout. And all this without a score to read, his knowledge of the measures, the bars and the movements of this symphony is superb. I remember when Maestro Znaider played solo violin a few years ago at Heinz Hall, and now conducting, he is also at the top of his form.

I don’t want to forget the Fingal’s Cave or Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn which the Pittsburgh Symphony used to start off the evening. It was simply superb. I hope they play it again soon, its worth every moment and well worth a listen!

1 thought on “A Trill By Any Other Name”

  • Not sure what effect you are meaning. Vibrato (a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music); tremolo (raining/lowering of volume); or trill (rapid alternation between two adjacent notes)? Trills are often indicated in the score. Vibrato and tremolo are applied according to artistic judgment. Some artists use less vibrato when playing Baroque pieces (e.g., Bach), but there is murky historical evidence for such a practice. I have heard Mr. Bendix-Balgley play and have not heard excessive vibrato (if that is what you are referring to).

  • I’m only singling out Mr. Bendix-Balgley because he was the soloist for this piece, where I happened to notice the effect specifically, and wanted to discuss it. I’ve noticed it before with others. Indeed the entire orchestra does the trill all the time, but as a group it blends quite nicely. The solo parts, I’m not sure why, started to become noticeable because I was watching him do this with his left hand. With so many of the notes he would make the fingers of his left hand go up and down on the strings in rapid succession. So is that ‘Trill’? I was told it was trill by a violinist who happened to be sitting near me and we were discussing it in the audience at intermission.

    It’s hard to discuss something like this without sounding overtly critical, but at the same time I thought I’d take the liberty to bring it out in the blog because I did notice the effect. For better or worse, it is there, and people can make up their own subjective minds if its a good thing or not.

    Thanks for the response!

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