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Classical musicians can become famous in more ways than ever in the modern age – many even grace YouTube videos as well as concert halls.
In this guide, we run down 20 of the most famous violin players, both current and from the annals of history.
Joshua Bell is undoubtedly one of the most famous violinists today, and is known for his decades-long career, but also for some of his more modern pursuits. As well as working as a soloist and a chamber musician, he is the Music Director at the Academy of St. Martin.
Bell has performed with orchestras around the world, and became even more famous during the COVID-19 outbreak, as he sought new and exciting ways to reach fans. He has performed virtual concerts and even created a VR experience along with pianist Sam Haywood. You can watch him in VR through a PS4 VR.
Bell has recorded over 40 albums, and been nominated for Grammy and OPUS KLASSIK awards among others. His 2019 Chopin Nocturne arrangement was an Amazon exclusive, and one of the first released exclusively on the platform. Joshua Bell’s desire to continually push the boundaries sets him apart as a modern and famous violinist.
Nicola Benedetti is a Scottish-Italian musician with an incredible heritage as a musician. Her influence within the music industry is undisputed, and she is incredibly active in the industry. Her incredible stage presence and talent are combined with her passion for the instrument.
Nicola had violin lessons aged just five with Brenda Smith, and went on to attend the Yehudi Menuhin school before studying with Pavel Vernikov.
Nicola is arguably the best violin player in the world but she is a role model to young people. She is Vice President of the National Children’s Orchestras and a patron of many organizations.
Her talents have been recognized with her Decca recording contract, and winning Classical BRIT Awards as well as Grammys.
Sarah Chang is a Korean-American virtuoso musician, who has been one of the most famous violin performers since she was just 8 years old. At this tender age, she first played with the New York Philharmonic!
She attended Temple University’s Center for Gifted Children where her music teacher described her as “the most phenomenal talent I have seen in 19 years of teaching.” Chang would quickly get an EMI recording contract and become a sensation.
Not just a child prodigy, she has now built an impressive career over multiple decades. Her recent seasons have seen Chang travel the world, performing with London Orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in amazing venues all over the world, from Australia to New York. Chang has traveled with some established musicians including Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma.
If we were to describe Julia Fischer in one word, it would be “prolific”. As well as being an amazing violinist, she’s a violin teacher, chamber musician and plays piano to an incredibly high standard. Some people seem to be able to do anything. Her violin lessons started in her home in Munich when she was just 3.
By 9 years of age, she was studying with Ana Chumachenco, herself a renowned violin professor. Fischer won the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 1995 before going on to perform with huge names including Yuri Temirkanov and Franz Welser-Möst.
Over the last decade, Fischer has founded and toured with her own quartet, to a huge level of critical acclaim. She releases music under the Decca label and has even founded JF Club, a bespoke music platform. Her awards include Federal Cross of Merit, and the much sought after Gramophone Award.
Midori started learning violin in the 1970s with her mother, Setsu Goto. From their home in Osaka, Midori then travelled to work with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in their New Year’s Eve concert. She was another child prodigy, but one who has gone on to carve out an incredible career.
Midori’s own bio describes her as a “visionary artist, activist and educator”. Her focus has shifted to pushing the boundaries, and this has made her a globally recognized talent.
Midori has performed at the London, Chicago, and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras and worked with such, Christoph Eschenbach, Daniel Harding, Paavo Järvi, Mariss Jansons, Yo-Yo Ma, and many more.
It has been announced that at the 43rd annual Kennedy Center Honors she will be awarded the lifetime artistic achievement award.
Midori has founded multiple charities and music programs such as Midori & Friends, which provides music education for youth in New York. She also does a huge amount for Japanese musicians and has even been awarded the UN’s Messenger of Peace position. Truly one of the most famous and impressive violinists in the world.
Hilary Hahn is one of those musicians who is always keen to work with new and exciting mediums. As well as three Grammy Awards for her work as a soloist and recitalist, she has released over 20 albums of recordings, and won a number of international awards. She has also featured on projects besides classical music, including film soundtracks.
Hahn is Artist-in-Residence with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and performs three new programs each year.
Besides being one of the most famous violin players, she has become well-known for her writing and visual art. This has led her to levels of fame outside of just being a classical musician. She has honorary degrees for her work with Middlebury College, where she spent multiple summers working on language programs.
Hahn was named as “America’s Best Young Classical Musician” by Time back in the early 2000s, and has achieved mainstream success, appearing on TV shows including The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.
Nigel Kennedy is an English violinist, who is known for bringing classical music to the masses. An important cultural figure, his Vivaldi’s Four Seasons recording entered the Guinness Book of Records. It was the highest-selling classical recording ever.
Kennedy is known for his improvising, something that many classical musicians shy away from. He has pushed the boundaries, and was tutored by Yehudi Menuhin at his school, as so many of the world’s most famous musicians were.
Kennedy has toured the world. As well as creating some of the best-selling recordings the world has seen, he has been to huge classical festivals and played at the 1977 London Royal Festival Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1980. Nigel’s successful career has spanned a number of decades now, and he won the 1985 Record of the Year, awarded by Gramophone magazine.
Gidon Kremer is a Latvian violin player who comes from impressive lineage and musical heritage. He pursued the hobby when he started studying aged just four with both his father and his grandfather. From Riga Music School, he went on to work in Moscow with classical musician David Oistrakh and then won prizes as a young man at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels and 1969, and the 1970 Tchaikovsky International Competition.
Incredibly, Gidon has created over 120 albums, winning no end of awards and acclaim in the process. Among the most impressive of these are the Unesco prize, and the Praemium Imperiale prize that so many classical musicians dream of.
He now serves as the artistic director of Kremerata Baltica. As you would expect, Gidon has traveled the world performing iconic compositions in iconic venues, and has reached the stage where he has started to earn a number of Lifetime Achievement awards in his native Latvia, and beyond.
Mullova has entered many peoples’ CD collections due to her incredible renditions of Bach. She is known as a virtuoso, and is one of the most famous violin players in the world, but has a less conventional path than many. She is not only a great classical musician, but she also journeys into other genres including world music and jazz. A recent project saw her celebrate the music of Brazil.
Mullova works with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the Venice Baroque and continues to wow audiences season after season with her unique style.
Mullova has also been heard thousands of times by people who don’t usually delve into classical music. Her inventive interpretations of pop music by The Beatles and jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington.
Anne-Sophie Mutter has over four decades experience in wowing crowds around the world with her skillful and dedicated performances, which have seen her win four Grammy awards.
In 2019, Mutter was in the headlines for her reaction to a fan recording her concert. She broke in the middle to reprimand the person who had taken out their phone to record her playing, something she has described as a “violation” since.
You will struggle to find a more decorated musician when it comes to awards, and over a long career she has decided to give plenty back to society and to the world of music. She is president of the German cancer charity “Deutsche Krebshilfe” and back in the ‘90s, she founded the “Association of Friends of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation e.V.” Mutter provides scholarships to musicians and has even gone on to perform with the fellows who she has supported. Music needs such dedicated personalities!
Itzhak Perlman is not just one of the most famous violinists, he is an inspiration to so many. Born in Israel in the 1940s, he contracted polio when he was just four years of age. He started to learn the violin and in spite of losing the use of his legs, he has gone on to be one of the world’s most influential musicians, studying at the Tel Aviv Music Academy.
Perlman auditioned for Isaac Stern when he was young, and by the late 1950s he was performing to huge audiences, and even appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. He played Mendelssohn’s Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee before beginning to tour the US.
In a career of over 50 years, he has regularly given masterclasses in New York as well as providing help and aid for people with physical handicaps. Later in his life, he has moved to conducting, and works with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Although some traditionalists may not like it, Lindsey Stirling simply can’t be ignored! She is one of the youngest famous violin players out there, and though she may not have the critical acclaim of some of the others, she is known as being an incredible performer.
As well as being a famous YouTube musician, she competed on America’s Got Talent and has combined her violin playing with a number of genres including Hip Hop and electronic music. She’s even signed to Lady Gaga’s management company. Since starting to release music in 2012, she has had multiple gold-certified albums.
How far Stirling’s career will take her remains to be seen, but the tens of millions of YouTube views she has received show a new side of the classical music scene as it becomes a more contemporary and widespread phenomenon.
Frank Peter Zimmermann
Frank Peter Zimmermann is a selfless and talented musician, known the world over for his stunning concerts. He first studied at the age of just five, and was performing at the age of 10. He went on to study under some established players such as Herman Krebbers.
Zimmermann has now been performing around the world, including in Asia, the US and his native Europe, for over three decades, and has deservedly worked with some world-renowned conductors.
In 2010 he formed the Trio Zimmermann, and has gone on to release recordings of some of the most famous musicians ever, such as Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Schoenberg and Bach. Zimmermann has won numerous awards and is respected as a contemporary artist and musician, with a flair for bringing his own unique spin to seminal works of art.
Some musicians are born to break down the boundaries, and Mark O’Connor is certainly one of those musicians. His incredible track record as a musician shows that you don’t have to stick to one genre or style, and his influence can’t be denied. In fact, O’Connor’s Fiddle Concerto, which he released on Warner, has become the most-performed violin concerto composed in the last 50 years.
This innovation led to the LA Times describing him as “one of the most talented and imaginative artists working in music — any music — today.”
O’Connor is in his 50s now, and has won multiple Grammys and CMA awards, plus national fiddle championships. He started learning with fiddle legend Benny Thomasson, but also worked with the famous Stephane Grappelli, an accomplished violinist.
As a teenager, he was invited to the White House by Ronald Reagan where he performed for the President. He’s been on an impressive journey, and branched out into many instruments and styles, becoming a well-known musician all over the world.
Historic Violin Players
Many of the most famous violin players are no longer with us, but it is worth collecting some of the icons from the history of violin to show what a rich history this instrument has. Many of the best violinists of all time are household names all over the world.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Possibly the most famous violin player ever. Vivaldi may be better known for his compositions, which have echoed through the ages and are still some of the most popular pieces of music performed today.
Italian Vivaldi was actually a priest, but with a lifelong passion for music, he was a pioneer of the Baroque style and innovated in a number of ways seen as influential for the whole history of music. He even wrote operas.
At the tender age of 25, Vivaldi was named master of violin at the Ospedale della Pietà in his home city of Venice, Italy. In the 20th Century, many of his compositions were revived by contemporary musicians. His seminal Four Seasons concerti contain some of the melodies that everyone seems to know.
As well as being an established violinist, few people ever made the profound impact on the history of music that Vivaldi boasted.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713)
Working at a similar time period to Vivaldi was Corelli. He was born in Fusignano in 1653 and studied under Leonardo Brugnol before going to the world famous Accademia Filarmonica to pursue his studies.
His instrumental style and composition became famous, and his works were unique. It’s said that his late baroque-era playing and style became the foundations for much modern music. Corelli’s studies of composing took place under the supervision of Matteo Simonelli.
Corelli was known as a master, and would perform for popes and kings. His music was written in six opera, each with 12 compositions: Opus 1 (1681), 2 (1685), 3 (1689), and 4 (1694) are trio sonatas; Opus 5 (1700), and Opus 6 (1714), concerti grossi for string orchestra. Opus 5 was perhaps his most influential and well-known work, but his unique stylings and use of modern techniques would see him become a musical legend.
Isaac Stern (1920 – 2001)
Isaac Stern was a controversial figure, and a talented violinist with a rich history and massive influence over contemporary classical music. Stern was born in Ukraine, but moved to San Francisco when he was just one. He started to study music as an infant and went to study at the San Francisco Conservatory before working under Russian violinist Naoum Blinder. In the 1930s, he would make his San Francisco Symphony debut, and go on to national, and later worldwide acclaim.
Isaac Stern performed for decades and became a global figure with TV and radio appearances and loads of recordings. He was also famous for helping to save Carnegie Hall from a planned demolition. He would go on to become president of the corporation and work on its vital community and cultural programs. He would continue to do so until his death in 2001. Stern worked with some incredible young musicians, helping to advance the fledgling careers of Yo-Yo Ma and fellow violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840)
Paganini is yet another example of the symbiotic relationship between the violin and the country of Italy. He was the greatest virtuoso of his time and one of the most famous musicians ever.
Born in Genoa, he was a Romantic, and known to advance and change the way in which the violin was seen and played. It’s fair to say he was something of a vagabond.
Paganini studied under Giacomo Costa, another influential figure in the world of violin. He would appear publicly in his teens as a musician and tour through Lombardy. As an adult, he was known to gamble and indulge himself in an extravagant lifestyle. Eventually, he would pawn his violin to pay a gambling debt.
He went on to be a prolific composer and was appointed director of music at Piombino by Élisa Bonaparte Baciocchi. If that name is familiar, it’s because she was Napoleon’s sister. Music was closely interwoven with all aspects of society and fame at the time.
Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997)
Stephane Grappelli was certainly one of the most famous violin players out there, but his playing was immensely different to a lot of the musicians on this list. He was a jazz music pioneer, and showed that violin did not just have to be a classical instrument.
Perhaps even more impressively, Grappelli started off self-taught, before he eventually went to the Paris Conservatoire to study. He would play in dance groups before he eventually met influential guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, and went on to form one of the most successful and influential jazz acts ever. The Quintette du Hot Club de France have a cult following, even to this day.
Grappelli would work with Reinhardt in the 40s and 50s, before going on to make music with the likes of Stuff Smith and Joe Venuti. Much of his career was understated and marginal, but with such longevity and a vital influence on the industry until his death in the 1990s, Grappelli is worthy of a mention on our list of violinists.
Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)
The story of this incredible musician is one that has been told time and time again, but it bears repeating. Heifetz undoubtedly reached the highest level with his violin playing. Recordings show that there was nothing this man couldn’t do, and he had an incredible career of over six decades.
When he was just 19, and played in London, it is said that George Bernard Shaw wrote him a letter: “If you provoke a jealous God by playing with such superhuman perfection, you will die young. I earnestly advise you to play something badly every night before going to bed, instead of saying your prayers. No mortal should presume to play so faultlessly.”
Heifetz was seen as superhuman for his abilities.
Jascha was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. He became known not only for his perfect technique, but for a smooth and precise tone and incredible, inventive interpretation. Before he was a teenager, he had played with the Berlin Philharmonic. He would tour Europe aged just 12.
A generational talent, and one who violin players all over the world aspire to emulate.