Artist Interview: Augustin Hadelich

By Patrick Burke on November 28, 2013

With his poetic style and dazzling technique, violinist Augustin Hadelich has established himself as a rising star. The Washington Post raves that "the essence of Hadelich's playing is beauty:  reveling in the myriad ways of making a phrase come alive on the violin." Fresh off his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Augustin returns to Philadelphia with pianist Charles Owen for a recital at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, December 15. We caught up with Augustin earlier this month to discuss his current tour, future projects and, of course, his PCMS program.

Patrick Burke:  Earlier this year, you made your Philadelphia Orchestra debut, and recently you have been playing extensively with orchestras. With this schedule, how do you prepare yourself for a recital, and how are the two experiences different for you as an artist?

Augustin Hadelich:  Playing a recital and playing a concerto are different in several ways:  the setting of a recital is more intimate, the hall smaller, and you create the program, so you can really show different sides of your playing and musical personality. However, I think this difference is not as big as is often assumed. Many of the great concertos (like Brahms) are like chamber music on a much larger scale, and you have to listen and react the same way you would in a chamber setting.

I have noticed that many soloists do not play a lot of recitals (compared to the great violinists 50 years ago). It is certainly more exhausting to fill a whole program, and somewhat less glamorous than being the soloist. I absolutely love playing recitals! The connection between the player and the audience can develop into something very special during the course of a recital and people will often tell stories of unforgettable recitals that they once heard from great artists.

PB:  Your PCMS program features a diverse range of emotions and styles. How did you come to choose these pieces, and what are the underlying connections between the works?

AH:  The first half of the program is framed by Beethoven’s and Schumann’s first sonatas. The Beethoven is energetic and joyous, and the Schumann is passionate and dark. The stormy minor variation in the second movement of the Beethoven foreshadows the Schumann, while Schumann’s fairy tale-like second movement brings back memories of the Beethoven. Bridging these two pieces is “Tre Pezzi” by Kurtág:  a short, three-movement work exploring the extremes of dark and light. It's a seldom-played piece with very few notes. Kurtág himself once said, ‘I keep coming back to the realization that one note is almost enough.’ Each of his notes is extremely beautiful, interspersed with many spaces and silences, leaving much room for interpretation to the performer.

The second half opens with Ysaí¿e's single-movement sixth sonata, which was dedicated to Spanish violin virtuoso Manuel Quiroga. It is highly dramatic and contains many echoes of Spanish music. The program reaches a boiling point with Janáček's short, intense, and heart-wrenching sonata. Previn's Tango, Song and Dance is a release, a dynamic piece that will take us full circle.

PB:  In April you will be joining pianist Joyce Yang and guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas at the Kennedy Center for a multimedia performance with the same name as Previn’s work. Could you tell us more about this project, and can we look forward to hearing it outside of the Kennedy Center?

AH:  In the Kennedy Center program, I split up the three movements of the Previn, so that they frame the program, which is made up of works of Piazzolla, de Falla, Ginastera, Rodrigo, and the sixth Ysaí¿e sonata (which is also part of my PCMS recital program). I don't want to reveal too much, but the idea is that we start out with a conflict, a kind of triangle between me, Joyce and Pablo, but we eventually work things out!

PB:  Later in April you will premiere a work written for you by David Lang as part of a Carnegie Hall commission. Could you tell us what it was like working with David Lang, and what can we look forward to in the work?

AH:  It's part of a week-long festival named "Collected Stories". The final concert, which includes the new work written for me, is called "Memoir". I'm a huge fan of David's music, so when he first mentioned the idea of writing a large solo violin work called "Mystery Sonatas", inspired by the Rosary Sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), I knew I had to be a part of it! I can't wait to see what he'll cook up for me.

PB:  Our audience members are always asking about artists’ instruments. I believe that you are now playing on your second Stradivari. Could you tell us about your current instrument and how it compares to your previous one?

AH:  I'm very lucky to play on the Ex-Kiesewetter Stradivari from 1723, which I've had since summer 2010. It's from what is called Stradivari's 'Golden Period'. It has a very beautiful and focused sound and an unusually large dynamic range. It is definitely the best violin I've performed on! I think that in this recital program you can really appreciate the range of sounds and colors it can produce. It belongs to Clement and Karen Arrison, private owners in Buffalo who decided to loan it to me after hearing me in concert in 2010, and it is loaned through the Stradivari Society.

My previous Stradivari was the "Ex-Gingold" from 1683, which is owned by the Indianapolis Competition and given every 4 years to the first prize winner. It has a beautiful, round sound, very warm and sweet, but it is better suited as a chamber music instrument. I was often struggling when I played concertos with big orchestrations on that violin, whereas the Ex-Kiesewetter is a more powerful instrument.

Augustin Hadelich appears with PCMS on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on Augustin Hadelich, please visit his website.