Questions for Augustin Hadelich

I’m fascinated to have recently discovered the brilliant, busy young violinist Augustin Hadelich.

click for CD on Amazon

Augustin Hadelich’s first major orchestral recording featuring the violin concertos of Jean Sibelius and Thomas Adès (Concentric Paths) with Hannu Lintu conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, was released in March 2014 on the AVIE label. The disc has been nominated for a Gramophone Award, and was listed by NPR on their Top 10 Classical CDs of 2014. He has recorded three previous albums for AVIE: Flying Solo, a CD of masterworks for solo violin; Echoes of Paris, featuring French and Russian repertoire influenced by Parisian culture in the early 20th century; and Histoire du Tango, a program of violin-guitar works in collaboration with Pablo Villegas. A new recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Bartók’s Concerto No. 2 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya is scheduled for release on AVIE this summer (I’ll have to see about getting it!).

The son of German parents, Augustin Hadelich was born and raised in Italy. A resident of New York City since 2004, he holds an artist diploma from The Juilliard School, where he was a student of Joel Smirnoff. He plays on the 1723 “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivari violin, on loan from Clement and Karen Arrison through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Augustin Hadelich is playing all over. I had already heard about the upcoming tour of the Toronto Symphony (who are playing a fascinating Kevin Lau piece), and then I discovered Augustin Hadelich was coming to play the Mendelssohn concerto in E, one of my absolute favourite compositions since I was a small child.  A first movement as soulful as any ever written, a second movement that you may recognize as the song “I don’t know how to love him” (once it was lifted from the concerto that is) and a last movement like faerie processionals for Midsummernight’s Dream. I can’t wait to hear it again, especially from such a special soloist. The tour takes them to Montreal, Ottawa, after the first concert here in Toronto, this week at Roy Thomson Hall. That’s why I had to ask Augustin some questions.

1) Are you more like your father or your mother?

I grew up in Italy, on a farm. My parents, who are both German, moved there before I was born, and grew grapes and olives. I inherited from my father the passion for music, and a kind of ‘puzzle-solving’ mindset. My father taught himself the cello and piano, how to repair cars, build a house and many other things. Each step is just a problem that he’ll think about for a while, until he knows what to do next. With an instrument as complex as the violin, there are many details no teacher can tell you, where you have to discover the solution yourself. Improving your technique is really mostly about finding solutions to one little problem after another.

And growing up in a rather isolated place, and getting lessons only every few weeks, also forced me to experiment on my own.

My personality, however, is more like that of my mother. She has a more optimistic disposition and believes in the best in people. She’s also passed on her love for languages–it was she who taught me English when I was around eleven years old.

2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being a violinist?

I started playing the violin when I was five years old, and started playing the piano at seven. The violin was always my favorite – its sound is so much like the human voice, so expressive and beautiful. I loved the piano mostly because of the amazing music written for it. While the piano is more of a solitary instrument — pianists spend most of their time practicing by themselves — as a violinist one plays mostly with other people.

Traveling the world as a violinist is what I always wanted to do, and while the constant traveling and work can be stressful sometimes, I really enjoy performing and being on stage. I’ve been enjoying the past couple of years immensely and feel very lucky that I get to do this.

3) What do you like to listen to or watch? When you’re just relaxing and not working what’s your favourite thing to do?

Nowadays it is so easy to watch great movies and great TV series online wherever you are traveling. This definitely makes it easier to be on the road all the time!
I have been really enjoying the Canadian show “Orphan Black”, shot in Toronto actually! I ran across it by chance last year and quickly watched it all.

When I am on a plane, I read the New Yorker magazine on my tablet. I read the whole issue every week and have learnt so much from reading the New Yorker in the past few years. It’s so in-depth, informative, intelligent and beautifully written. I wish there was a magazine of this journalistic quality in German or Italian.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich (photo: Luca Valenta)

Violinist Augustin Hadelich (photo: Luca Valenta)


A few more about the upcoming Canadian tour with the Toronto Symphony beginning at Roy Thomson Hall May 6th.

1) Please talk about the Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor.

Felix Mendelssohn composed his violin concerto between 1838 and 1844 for his friend and concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ferdinand David. Apparently David asked Mendelssohn to write a brilliant, virtuosic piece, jokingly using the phrase “stilo moltissimo concertantissimo”. Mendelssohn joked back that the soloist’s entire first entrance would consist of a high E. I think the exchange shows that they were great friends.

The work is really well written for the violin, using the instrument to its fullest potential. Even though the Mendelssohn Concerto is one of the most performed and most popular, it is also one of the least appreciated for what a groundbreaking masterpiece it is. Perhaps it is precisely because it lies so well on the instrument, and is often played very early on by young children and students, that it has gained the reputation of being a “student piece”. It’s actually incredibly challenging musically, and I find it one of the most consistently tricky and difficult works to perform in the repertoire. Many later composers (such as Tchaikovsky and Sibelius) were very much influenced by the Mendelssohn concerto and its innovations of the violin concerto form.

2) What’s next for you after the TSO tour?

Later in May, I head to Lausanne, Switzerland to perform the Dvorak concerto there, and after that I play in New York – where I’ve been living for the past 10 years – with the New York Philharmonic! I’ll get a bit of a break in June, before heading off to a busy summer: Performances in Tokyo, Seattle, Aspen, Vail, San Diego, Mexico City, Ravinia Festival, Frankfurt, Oslo… it definitely won’t get boring!
I am also releasing two new CDs this summer: the Mendelssohn and Bartók concertos with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Miguel Harth-Bedoya on AVIE in July, and the Dutilleux concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot in August.

3) Please talk about the joys of working with Peter Oundjian, and what he brings to music-making.

Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian

I first worked with Peter in 2011, in Denver, with the Colorado Symphony (we played the Beethoven concerto). Prior to that I knew him from his violin recordings (when he was playing in the Tokyo String Quartet). The great thing about playing with conductors who are also violinists is that they know the violin repertoire so well. Some violinist-conductors can be very intimidating to play with, and what I love about Peter is that he is very kind and supportive, and has a lot of empathy. I think is also what made him such a good quartet musician–he knows what I’m going to do next, before even I know it. It’s like finishing another person’s sentences, but with musical phrases. And his ego never gets in the way – it is all about the music for him.

We’ve since played together in Seattle (Dvorak concerto), Toronto (Mozart concerto no. 4), and with his orchestra in Scotland (Thomas Adès and Haydn concertos). Each experience was immensely satisfying!

4) Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?

Growing up in Italy, the Italian violinist Uto Ughi was a huge presence there when I was growing up. He was the first soloist I saw perform live, and his lyrical style of playing and beautiful sound was a great influence. I also listened to a lot of David Oistrakh records growing up–he was my other hero.

Some of the best teachers I had were chamber musicians: Norbert Brainin (from the Amadeus Quartet), whom my parents tracked down in Italy when I was around 12 and convinced to give me lessons, and later Joel Smirnoff (from the Juilliard Quartet) whom I studied with at Juilliard. Both of them, perhaps partially due to their chamber music background, taught the whole score, beyond just the violin part. It is amazing how many teachers, even the famous ones, do not really study and teach the orchestral scores of the great violin concertos beyond just the violin part. If you look at the violin part by itself, it seems like you have a huge amount of choices and so many different ways you could play it. But the better you know and understand the whole score, the clearer it becomes how you should play. You’ll be able to see how the composer put the piece together, what the other players are doing, and what it all means. A great composer like Mendelssohn would never write the violin melody first and separate from the ‘accompaniment’– rather, the overall harmonic processes and the expression of the violin are interconnected. Even though the violin is leading the concerto, the violinist has to listen and react to–and often also accompany–the orchestra. In the end, the way the soloist, orchestra and conductor interact in a concerto is really not that different from chamber music.


Augustin Hadelich tours with the Toronto Symphony beginning at Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday May 6th. For tickets and info click here.

This entry was posted in Interviews, Music and musicology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Questions for Augustin Hadelich

  1. Pingback: TSO on the road with Lau, Mendelssohn and Bruckner | barczablog

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