Ready to take a break from all the clamorous issues swirling around in the news? If so, I’d like to share with you an artist whose work is worthy of more superlatives than I can muster. “Beautiful,” “inspiring,” (“awe-inspiring,” too) certainly apply. I recommend you check out the phenomenal musical genius of María Dueñas.
Ms. Dueñas is Spanish. She is all of 20 years old. And while I don’t know how anyone—renowned expert or rank amateur like yours truly—can say “one of the best in the world,” it’s hard for me to imagine how any human being can play the violin with greater virtuosity, expressiveness, and feeling than María Dueñas.
Before I share with you my personal introduction to this young lady’s talent, let me explain why my recommending her is so unique. I'm tempted to write that I'm a cultural philistine, but that isn't really accurate—at least, if you want to give me some credit for reading Shakespeare at Oxford as part of my post-graduate academic work.
When it comes to music, though, I'm a primitive. Growing up, Pop’s musical tastes ranged from Offenbach to Guy Lombardo. Then The Beatles came along, and my musical taste, which you may or may not regard as “lowbrow,” settled on the decidedly unclassical (although I do enjoy hearing the music of the superstars of orchestral music—Haydn, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven—occasionally). In particular, though, I simply have never really cared for the musical voice of the violin. It was too whiny and just left me cold.
In high school, my very close friend Rick lived five doors down to the right. A casual acquaintance, Glenn, lived four doors down to the left. Rick practiced violin. Glenn practiced piano and later picked up guitar. Rick had a long, successful career playing violin in one of North America’s leading symphony orchestras. Glenn went out west and started a band, The Eagles. Despite my personal closeness to Rick, I would have chosen to listen to Glenn over Rick 10 times out of 10. You could make the case that the musical proficiency of Rick’s orchestra was technically superior to that of The Eagles, but for me, that violin sound was a deal-breaker. It was something I could barely tolerate, but not like.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard María Dueñas play and was alternatively spellbound, amazed, thrilled, and enthralled. “Mastery” is too weak a word to adequately describe her command of her instrument. The passionate sounds she summoned forth from that violin were stunning in their freshness and originality. Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton would have been impressed!
The occasion for my serendipitous encounter with Ms. Dueñas was that my daughter was involved behind the scenes with the annual “Young” concert produced at the Royal Concertgebouw concert hall in The Netherlands. It is called “Young,” because the Concertgebouworkest foundation gives full scholarships to top teenage musicians from across the European Union to practice and perform together every August.
There's something about excellence (and the entire “Young 2023” concert was nothing, if not excellent) that nourishes and uplifts the human spirit. We all know that there's more mediocrity today than we wish—whether we witness in some of the most powerful political leaders or in things far more mundane, such as the new vanity tops recently installed in our master bathroom that—oops—were a quarter of an inch too short. Great music is as popular as great athletic achievements. One or the other may be your strong preference, but in either case, we exult and celebrate when we're privileged to witness greatness.
The bottom line is that, in our imperfect world, forever a field populated by both tares and wheat, it's refreshing and rewarding to be treated to gifts as sublime as the musicianship of María Dueñas. The whole world is going to know about her before much longer. To you, I say: Why wait? Enjoy now!