Guess some folks aren’t happy about the interpretation they might hear at the last concert of the Proms. Norrington nixed vibrato.

Norrington refuses to soften his views. ‘Here come the ouches and squirms, the fuss and hubbub,’ he said. ‘I was expecting it, I’m throwing a hand grenade at musicians who simply have to accept they must transform their way of playing if they are to play as composers intended.’ He added: ‘Vibrato can be amazingly destructive to an orchestral expression. It is acoustic central heating.’

I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t nix vibrato entirely, but I think there are times when it’s not necessary. An entire work with not a stitch of it? Hmmm. Not too sure about that one.


  1. I have two things to say about this. Firstly, the best way to see just how vibrato affects an ensemble is to look at choirs. Very young choirs sound very different from adult choirs because children haven’t developed vibrato yet and adults (in my opinion :P) tend to overuse it. Usually, I like listening to high school and college choirs, so long as the directors don’t nix vibrato. (they do sometimes, and sometimes its even appropriate) The more vibrato choir singers use, the richer and brighter the sound of the ensemble will be. Presumbably then, we’d hear the same difference in an orchestra if vibrato were taken away.

    My point is that vibrato does not only provide “expression and vocal like qualities” to music. I think as oboists that’s mostly the purpose we see for it. String players, however, have another good reason to use vibrato. Unlike with a wind intrument (forget horns for a moment. They’re just special) where the sound is sent forward either through holes or the bell, the sound they produce is sent in various directions depending on where their fingers are on the strings. Vibrato sends the sound in all directions, and this has a quite pleasing affect in an ensemble. In fact, I can’t immagine strings without vibrato. It could be… interesting.

  2. There are definitely times not to use vibrato. And there are times when it is necessary. There are even times when it depends upon what a conductor wants. But to never use it, as an oboist, would drive me nuts.

    Early music groups frequently (always?) leave vibrato out. It works.

    It really does depend upon style.