The Utah Symphony will open its Masterworks season this weekend with a favorite soloist performing a beloved concerto. German violinist Augustin Hadelich will join the orchestra and music director Thierry Fischer in performances of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
Also on the program are two takes on the Don Juan legend — Mozart’s Overture to ”Don Giovanni” and Richard Strauss’ tone poem ”Don Juan” — and Strauss’ portrait of another ill-fated antihero, ”Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.”
“It’s great to start a little bit differently than normal,” Fischer said of the two Strauss tone poems. ”Both pieces finish with the death of the hero.”
Hadelich is making his fourth appearance with the Utah Symphony, having dazzled the Abravanel Hall crowds with his performances of concertos by Bartók in 2011, Dvorák in 2013 and Mozart in 2016.
Fischer wasn’t on the podium for those first two appearances, but said his first collaboration with Hadelich was ”like a revelation. He’s more than impeccable, he’s inspirational.
“With his extreme virtuosity and clean intonation, he is the ideal soloist to play a very challenging concerto.”
In addition to the musical skills that have earned first prize at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Grammy Award, among other honors, Hadelich has a compelling personal story: A house fire left him with severe burns to his upper body and right arm when he was 15, interrupting a promising career.
“It made me realize how important music was to me,” Hadelich, now 33, told The Washington Post in a 2013 interview. “I knew I had to keep playing.”
The violinist answered emailed questions from The Salt Lake Tribune in advance of his Utah appearances.
You’re becoming a regular at Abravanel Hall. What are your impressions of the hall, the city, the orchestra and Maestro Fischer?
I still remember my first time playing with the Utah Symphony, when I played Bartók’s second concerto in 2011. I was particularly delighted by the audience — people don’t listen to concerts the same way everywhere, and the audience members in Salt Lake City were unusually attentive and just so appreciative. I’ve enjoyed every return since then and it has been exciting to see the musical growth of the orchestra over the years. I worked with Thierry Fischer last time I came, in early 2016, and can’t wait to play the Beethoven with him.
Tell us about your history with the Beethoven Violin Concerto. What makes it special?
This is a work that I’ve played since I was 8 years old — one of those rare masterpieces that I will never grow tired of, regardless of how many times I hear it and play it. Every time I play the slow movement of the Beethoven, I marvel at how perfect, how simple, intimate and human it is. Perhaps it gives us — just for a moment — an insight into some deep fundamental truth of our existence, a glimpse of what lies beyond. My feeling about Beethoven’s greatest works is that the better you know and understand them, the harder it is to imagine a person being able to write something so extraordinary.
Tell us a bit about your violin and your history with it. What are some of its unique qualities? How did you know it was the right violin for you?
I’ve been lucky to play on a 1723 Stradivari (“Ex-Kiesewetter”) for the past six years. The violin was once played by Christophe Gottfried Kiesewetter (1777–1827), which is how it got its name. Many famous old violins were treated rather roughly in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, because there was not yet this awareness of how precious they are, and because of the much more difficult travel conditions in those times. Luckily, the Ex-Kiesewetter was never played by one of the great soloists of the old guard, and this may be one reason why it is in such good shape. Only recently has the Kiesewetter Strad been touring around the world, but of course in a modern, sturdy case and in the safety of a modern airplane — not on ships or on horseback!
It was first brought to the United States in the early 20th century, and was seized in 1910 by customs authorities. The owner, Horace Havemeyer, was accused of smuggling it into the country without paying customs tariffs, but he eventually petitioned successfully for it to be returned to him, after pleading the statute of limitations. For almost 20 years now it has been loaned out by its current owners, Clement and Karen Arrison, to young violinists, through the Stradivari Society of Chicago. Recipients of this violin before me include Maxim Vengerov, Ilya Gringolts and Philippe Quint.
It is inspiring to think about the fact that the violin is almost 300 years older than me and will still be around once I’m gone. Sometimes, I hear recordings that others have made on this violin and while I instantly recognize the sound of the violin, I also notice how we sound like ourselves, as different as we all are from each other. When you really get to know an instrument, you gradually discover your personal sound on that instrument and grow to sounding more and more like yourself as the relationship deepens.
The strength of this violin is how versatile it is — I’ve played everything from solo violin to concertos with large orchestrations, from baroque to contemporary music on it. It is an ideal instrument for the Beethoven violin concerto, because of how sweet, bright and rich in overtones its sound is.
Let’s get this party started<br>The Utah Symphony will perform music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss.<br>With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and violinist Augustin Hadelich<br>When • Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15-16, 7:30 p.m.<br>Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City<br>Tickets • $23-$83; discounts for students, people under 30 and groups; utahsymphony.org