Music and the arts do not flourish solely on the basis of hard work and dedication; while that is a large part of the formula, one also needs to find inspiration in the work of other musicians and artists. There are a multitude of stellar and intriguing music makers, but it can be hard to know where to start finding them (especially if you're looking into new genres).
As a violinist, I'm primarily inspired by the work of string players, but am constantly discovering new artists and groups from which to draw inspiration. Young musicians often ask me during outreach programs who my favorite violinists, fiddlers, and musicians are, which is a difficult question to answer adequately in a classroom setting. So, here's my attempt at doing so more thoroughly!
While the following is by no means a comprehensive list of all the great, innovative musicians out there today, I'd like to think of it as a platform for discovering just a few of them. Whether you are a young string player, an established professional, or just a music lover, I hope that you, too, will find the work of some of these people to be exciting!
Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas - An amazing Celtic duo. Their virtuosic arrangements for violin and cello are unbelievably exciting.
Alex Hargreaves - The youngest fiddler, at age 15, to win the Grand Champion division at the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest. His musical sensibility resembles that of someone three times his age.
Ben Sollee - A fantastic cellist putting a new twist on the classic singer/songwriter idiom.
Casey Driessen - Easily one of the grooviest violinists alive, Casey Driessen routinely pushes the limits of violin with his ridiculous chopping skills and his 5-string violin.
Darol Anger - Arguably has done more for alternative string playing than any other musician. A co-founder of the Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet, any project of his is a project into which you should look.
Hanneke Cassel - A charismatic fiddler drawing on Celtic and Oldtime traditions, Hanneke Cassel's fiddling will bring a smile to your face.
Janine Jansen - The very definition of audacious, and hands down my favorite classical violinist. Her unconventional interpretations of the classical repertoire are refreshing, and her performances defy any stereotypes about the boring nature of classical music.
Jeremy Kittel - With solid backgrounds in both Celtic and Jazz, Jeremy Kittel's fiddling is sheer genius. I don't believe I've been more excited by a live performance than when I saw Jeremy Kittel in person (with the same band as in the video below). [His album "Chasing Sparks" is currently one of my favorite albums, across any genre.]
Julia Fischer - Just as technically flawless as any concert musician, but more musical than nearly all of them. As epitomized by her performances of solo Bach, Julia Fischer's playing is, quite simply, refined beyond belief.
Mark O'Connor - One of the greatest, most innovative, and most important violinists alive, and arguably shaping the aesthetic of American music more than anyone since Aaron Copland. Mark O'Connor does for fiddling what Paganini did for classical violin, and with jaw-dropping ease.
Nathaniel Smith - Musically pure and rhythmically ingenious. Nathaniel Smith's cello playing breaks any notions you've previously had about the limitations of the instrument. [Nathaniel Smith is the cellist in the Jeremy Kittel video above.]
Sarah Jarosz - Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz has the type of talent people dream of possessing. There is a wisdom and maturity about her music that will leave you wondering how she can be so young. [Her incredible album "Song Up in her Head" also features fiddler Alex Hargreaves.]
St. Lawrence String Quartet - Gives the most evocative, live performances I've ever seen. Easily one of the most exciting string quartets in the world.
Time for Three - Each a concert musician of incredible caliber in his own right, these three Curtis Institute grads bring an exciting drive and virtuosic flair to their arrangements of fiddle tunes and pop songs. While Mark O'Connor is the fiddler's classical violinist, TF3 are the classical violinists' fiddlers. [This rendition of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," below, may just be more beautiful than the original.]
Tetra String Quartet - All current and former students of ASU (as well as friends and colleagues of mine), the TSQ has to be one of the most exciting classical music and educational endeavors in the Phoenix/Metropolitan area; it is exciting to watch them on their way to becoming an unstoppable force. If you live in the Valley, make sure to see them when they perform near you.