Augustin Hadelich: Spending your life with music
Augustin Hadelich is one of the violinists I most enjoy watching and listening. I find his playing to be so wholeheartedly beautiful. There is no "fake" machismo in it – he seems to have the utmost artistic integrity. His music is always so beautifully interesting and very entertaining, if I may say so. His body language is simple and natural while being efficiently communicative. It is striking how quickly and accurately the young man can switch from one piece to another, or from one style or composer to another. “I like to play all kinds of repertoire but even more, I love playing a piece in context with other works. To begin with, you have to spend a lot of time with each of the composers. The more you play of a certain composer, the more you understand his or her personality and style.” Hadelich believes he learned this from chamber musicians. In fact, he realizes that the teachers he liked and learned from the most were chamber musicians. They approach music from the score as a whole and are aware of everything happening around the violin line. “They would never be too opinionated about how a piece should be played, but rather they focus more on the composer’s style”, he explains.
Hadelich was born in Italy and lived in Tuscany until the age of 19. He was born to German parents, and while growing up, he would often travel to Germany for lessons and concerts. His very first teacher was his father – who although not a musician, was always very involved with music. According to Hadelich he had good musical taste and perception, and guided him in the right direction. “He cared very much about beauty of sound and encouraged a lyrical way of playing the violin”, says Hadelich. “He would also choose teachers for me in that direction.”
Hadelich had a lot of different violin teachers, but never had weekly lessons until he went to Juilliard. He learned from musicians vacationing in Tuscany, or musicians he visited in Germany with his father. The violinist believes that switching from one teacher to another can be good, as one can get different points of view rather than settling on a single way of thinking. We all know how long it can take to get rid of bad habits. The truth is that studying a long time with the same teacher can bring both good and bad things.
At age 19, Hadelich came to New York to study with Joel Smirnoff at Juilliard. It turned out to be a wise decision; the whole experience gave him new confidence. Since he had worked a lot by himself before, the violinist tended to be very self-conscious and focused on what he was doing, which had led him to become very introverted. Studying in New York was a fresh start and a life changing experience. At Juilliard, surrounded by so many good players, he found new motivation to work harder and improve. Back in Italy, he hadn’t had a clear idea of what the level of violin playing was internationally. As an adult, he was now compared to every living or dead person who ever played the violin, and not just to other kids his age. Moreover, studying in New York allowed him to make a good transition to adulthood and gave him a new start after his accident. At age 15, the young man was burned in an accident on the family farm. On a psychological level, moving to New York made it much easier for Hadelich to get back on his feet. He explains, “I didn’t have to explain so much where I was from or why I was here. I think it’s because the city has such a diverse society and everyone arrives here with strange stories. I felt accepted and welcomed”. In New York he learned to open up and to let more of himself out. He learned to move further in the direction he had already taken.
Leaving Italy also made Hadelich more independent, which is especially important for any young adult whose parents are so intensely involved. Eventually, you must realize that the reason why you do it – why you play the violin – is not because someone else says you must, but because you love it. “Music is really great; it’s wonderful to spend your life playing it. You have to find your own reason, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it”, Hadelich explains. That said, it is certainly true that one still needs a certain amount of pressure from the outside as a child. You need to be pushed a little, as the road to success takes many hours of practice and discipline. Moreover, to develop as a violinist, you need time. Not only does it take a lot of time to practice and improve, but you also need time to internalize things and to think about what you are learning.
Besides playing the violin, Hadelich enjoys composing. Although he doesn’t find the time to write music these days, he often composes his own cadenzas. In order to write a cadenza, the performer must analyze the piece and know how it’s put together so that the cadenza fits. Composing makes one very aware of how composers write, and of their idiosyncrasies. “Writing music made a lot of things easier for me”, says Hadelich. A violinist who has studied composition and piano listens to music in a slightly different way than one who plays only the violin. Often a violinist’s ears are typically drawn to the top voice, yet most tonal music is written from the bottom line. Hadelich explains, “It’s an advantage that cellists have over violinists, for example. Cellists intuitively listen the right way because they are hearing the music from the bottom up. I am very grateful I learned composition and piano – it helps me listen to what really matters.”
For Hadelich, it is definitely worthwhile to be a musician and to spend his time and life with music. “Regardless of how much success you have, I don’t think you can look back on your life as a musician thinking that it wasn’t all worth it. Why? Because you spent it with great art. It’s never been harder for musicians to find jobs, and that’s something to consider. But even if you end up not being a professional violinist, you should always keep on playing and enjoying the music. Even if it ends up not being your profession, music can still be a lifelong friend”.
Published on Violinist.com on May 2014: