Augustin Hadelich—My Strad and Me
July 30, 2009
Gold medalist of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and recipient of the competition’s special awards for best performance of a Romantic concerto, Classical concerto, Beethoven sonata, violin sonata other than Beethoven, Bach work, commissioned work, encore piece and Paganini Caprice, Augustin Hadelich has established himself as an eloquent and unique voice among the new generation of violinists. He speaks with Stephen Schafer.
STEPHEN: Your repertoire is very wide. Could you tell us why you chose to record Haydn violin concertos and Telemann’s Fantasias for Naxos?
AUGUSTIN: I also absolutely love those works and they had not been recorded on Naxos before. The Haydn concertos are often neglected, even though they are so beautiful and witty. And the Telemann Fantasias are really delightful short pieces that I have played for years in recitals, often coupled with Ysaÿe or Paganini. They are very inventive and innocent sounding, but also quite difficult!
STEPHEN: I suppose that every violinist sometimes needs to provide cadenzas for concertos that don’t already have them. But I notice that on your website (click on ‘About’ then on ‘Cadenzas’) you actually provide the scores for several that you have written yourself.
AUGUSTIN: I love composing my own cadenzas—I actually find that I learn a lot about a piece that way! It’s very difficult to write cadenzas for Mozart concertos—each time I perform them I make huge changes. Ideally, a cadenza should be interesting and funny, but also fit into the piece in a natural way, without putting the whole movement off-balance.
STEPHEN: Certainly, your recordings show a nice balance between discipline (ie. respect for/understanding of the score) and creative freedom (ie. expressing your individual artistic personality) and this balance will, of course, vary depending on what music you are performing.
AUGUSTIN: I don’t consciously try to play differently from other violinists just for the sake of it. I strongly believe in studying the score and trying to figure out what the composer felt and wanted to hear—and there is no detail small enough to not be worth thinking about. However, everyone has their tendencies and taste and sound, and that’s why I will always sound like me playing.
STEPHEN: To become a respected and successful violinist must be one of the hardest things to achieve—after all, there are so many violinists that it is a very competitive field. When and why did you decide to take up the violin?
AUGUSTIN: I started playing when I was five years old—I have two older brothers who were already playing cello and piano at the time, and that was what made me want to make music too.
STEPHEN: Who are your role models?
AUGUSTIN: Growing up, I listened to Oistrakh’s recordings and wanted to be like him—I still love his playing today.
STEPHEN: Related to this is the importance, or otherwise, of competitions. Some musicians just hate them, others seem to thrive in that high-pressure environment. What’s your opinion?
AUGUSTIN: Playing at competitions was always difficult for me, because the pressure is so much higher than playing in concert—plus I only get to play for a few minutes in the first round. Doing a lot of competitions isn’t great for your music-making, and I am quite happy that I will never have to enter one again.
However, I think competitions are wonderful for the audiences in the cities where they are held, and they give the winners many great opportunities—it’s also good that there are so many competitions now that are very different from each other in terms of repertoire requirements, et cetera, so that it’s more possible for unusual and eccentric violinists to win. After all, those often tend to be the most interesting performers!
But the real test is what happens after the competition, whether you get re-invited by the orchestras you play with and whether the audiences like your playing.
STEPHEN: And recordings vs concerts: which do you prefer?
AUGUSTIN: I prefer playing in concerts, because the presence of so many people in the audience creates a special atmosphere and electricity—however, when a recording is finished and I am happy with my playing, it’s the most satisfying feeling.
STEPHEN: Can you tell us about your Stradivarius violin and Tourte bow?
AUGUSTIN: The violin I play on right now—it’s the 1683 Stradivarius “Ex-Gingold” on loan to me from the Indianapolis competition—is definitely a source of inspiration for me. It is 300 years older than I am!
STEPHEN: Alongside your activities as a concerto soloist you’re also involved with chamber music-making. Many musicians say that chamber music is more demanding than any other form of music. How do you find it? What are its challenges and rewards for you?
AUGUSTIN: It’s a different ball-game; concerto parts are usually more difficult, but there is so much chamber music repertoire, and you have less time to prepare. I love doing both, because I learn so much from people I play with, and because there is such beautiful chamber repertoire.
STEPHEN: You’re 25, so just starting out on a life’s journey through music. Have you any ‘sign posts’ or ‘milestones’ that you want to achieve in your career?
AUGUSTIN: My dream is to continue what I’m doing: to travel to great places, playing the pieces I love with great orchestras in great halls for great audiences—it’s an exciting and rewarding life and I feel very lucky. But most importantly I hope to keep improving, and that I will never get tired of music.
STEPHEN: Outside music (is there such a place for a professional musician?) what do you like to do?
AUGUSTIN: I spend a lot of my time surfing the internet—I’m a big fan of puzzles, and used to be very serious about the Rubik’s Cube!
STEPHEN: As a violinist, playing that instrument on your shoulder, do you feel that the music comes from ‘within’ or from ‘outside’? I’m thinking of the very intimate relationship between player and instrument, of course, which critics have commented on regarding your playing, but wondering whether that Strad might also have a ‘temperament’ of its own that needs to be carefully managed?
AUGUSTIN: It’s tempting to think of the violin as being anthropomorphic and having a personality and mood swings, and I often think of my violin as a friend. But of course what that really is is the wood reacting (shrinking and expanding) to humidity changes. Sometimes, when it sounds really unhappy, it just needs repair!
You have to be very sensitive to the state of your instrument. If you know an instrument really well, you can feel (from the humidity in the air and temperature etc) what the violin will sound like that day and what the limits are—and if you know before-hand, you can adjust your playing accordingly.
STEPHEN: Paganini’s music is the byword for virtuosity; yet Haydn also poses tremendous technical challenges, though these remain less obvious to the listener. Everyone knows the Bach sonatas and partitas; fewer know the Telemann fantasias. Audiences can wallow in the Romanticism of Brahms, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, yet Bartók, John Adams and Kancheli, for instance, also have their charms…who are your favourite composers and why?
AUGUSTIN: I think it would be difficult to pick a favourite. I have different favourites at different times, but Bartók was always one of them—in addition to the obvious choices (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, etc).
STEPHEN: Have you plans for further Naxos recordings?
AUGUSTIN: Not at the moment—but I have a disc of solo violin music (including the Bartók solo sonata) coming out in September on the AVIE label.
STEPHEN: Augustin, thanks very much.
AUGUSTIN: Thank you, it was very interesting speaking with you!
Augustin Hadelich Biography & Discography
See Augustin Hadelich play on YouTube