Will Hagen hits one out of the park in Utah Symphony return

Review • The Salt Lake-born violinist dazzles the hometown crowd in his latest Abravanel Hall appearance.

Violinist Will Hagen will return to his hometown of Salt Lake City for a recital on April 28. Courtesy photo

A decade ago, William Hagen had to choose between baseball and music. Friday’s performance with the Utah Symphony offered strong evidence that the Salt Lake City-born violinist chose wisely.

The former shortstop turned an impressive double play in his return to Abravanel Hall, soloing in two French showpieces. Hagen made his professional debut with the Utah Symphony when he was 9. Now 24 and sporting a beard, he demonstrated unimpeachable technique and keen musical sense in a stirring performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. He seemed in complete command of the impressive 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin he recently acquired on a long-term loan from the Stradivari Society. His follow-up performance of Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane (Gypsy)” likewise boasted plenty of drama and prodigious technical skill. Popular guest conductor Matthias Pintscher led the Utah Symphony in perfectly shaped accompaniment. Harpist Louise Vickerman made a particularly heroic contribution.

Pintscher and the orchestra opened the evening with another well-known piece by Ravel, the “Mother Goose” Suite. It was clear from the opening bars that this would be a remarkable performance. Pintscher drew a delicate and enchanting sound from the orchestra, using his baton like a paintbrush to evoke a wondrous palette of musical color. The closing bars of the “Sleeping Beauty” section were especially magical.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” closed the concert. The music of Rachmaninoff often promises more than it delivers, but that certainly wasn’t the case Friday night. Pintscher led the orchestra in a powerful, expertly paced performance that was elevated by his attention to the finer details, such as woodwind balance. The Utah Symphony’s principal wind players, joined by saxophonist Daron Bradford, were stellar.

The program repeats Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City. Tickets start at $15.