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Violinist on the Rise

Augustin Hadelich is bringing his virtuoso violin to Boston. The 23-year-old has been generating buzz in the classical music world after sweeping a top international competition in the fall.

Tomorrow, Hadelich is playing with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, which is composed of medical professionals. He begins his US tour next week.

The German-born Hadelich started playing at age seven in Italy, where he grew up. But at 15, he suffered severe burns that almost killed him. WBUR's Andrea Shea has more on Hadelich's recovery and his rise to the top.

TEXT OF STORY

ANDREA SHEA: Reuning and Sons is a respected violin shop in Boston. Some of the world's top violinists come here for strings, bows, instruments or repairs. Owner Chris Reuning collects their autographs on two violins. Now, with his recent win at the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis, Augustin Hadelich joins the ranks.

AUGUSTIN HADELICH AND CHRIS REUNING: It's fun to write on wood. Why don't you sign right next to Josh Bell?

SHEA: Some say Hadelich is poised to be the next Joshua Bell. In September he swept nine awards at the prestigious, grueling seventeen-day event where fifty-one young participants from twenty-two countries went head to head...round after round...playing pieces by Bach, Paganini, Beethoven, and others. Even with years of performing, Hadelich admits the competition was a big deal.

HADELICH: It's incredibly intimidating at first because there's so many people. if you think about it it's unbelievably scary to play in that setting.

SHEA: But, he says, scary can be good.

HADELICH: I think the audience can sense to a certain extent if the soloist is nervous it means that he cares.

MALCOLM LOWE: I'm sure he was very keyed up to play, it was evident, but instead of detracting from the performance it actually made it more exciting.

SHEA: Malcolm Lowe is the concertmaster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and has been for twenty-two years. In Indianapolis he was one of eight judges.

LOWE: The prizes in a competition like this are many concerts and recording engagements and we need to find someone who we think can sustain that kind of career and be able to go on the concert stage and move people.

SHEA: Lowe says Hadelich moved everyone from the moment he touched bow to strings.

LOWE: There are moments as a violinist that you expect certain things, a slide or a portamento, at a certain place or a certain dynamic change. He didn't necessarily do those things so that you were always expecting something that was going to take you down a slightly different path than you had heard before and you knew that that was his path that he was choosing.

SHEA: Hadelich chose his path as a violinist early in life, at age five. He was born in Gemany, but grew up on a farm in Tuscany, Italy. His father was his first teacher, and after his debut at a village church Hadelich toured Europe as a child prodigy. At age twelve he played and recorded with the Lucerne Festival Strings.

But when Hadelich was fifteen a fire on his family's farm severely burned much of his upper body, including his head and bow arm.

HADELICH: I really didn't know if I would be able to play ever again and so it was a very tough time. But then at one point I tried to play again and I realized that my fingers were still doing fine and it was just that I was very weak that my body had other problems to deal with so I realized that once I got over those problems then that would be able to come back to the way I was before.

SHEA: After two years of operations Hadelich emerged as a young adult violinist. He began studying at Julliard in New York. That's how Massachusetts-based Conductor Jonathan MacPhee first heard of him, on a CD. Two years ago MacPhee invited the soloist to play with Symphony by the Sea in Marblehead. McPhee says Hadelich connected immediately with a live audience.

JONATHAN MACPHEE: First of all you could hear a pin drop, that's the first thing that happens. And then secondly you just feel the whole audience lean into you. It's that real, it's that palpable, you can feel it.

SHEA: This weekend Hadelich is playing in Boston with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra before his national tour. The group is mostly made up of medical professionals: doctors, surgeons, and researchers. At a recent rehearsal a few players came straight from work still wearing scrubs. Conductor MacPhee says he feels like he 'discovered' Hadelich, in a way, having recognized his talent years before the competition in Indianapolis.

MACPHEE: I fully expect that it's going to be a while before I get him again because the buzz is already out there, everybody is curious and they want to hear him play.

SHEA: And play he will because after the U.S. tour Hadelich has an international tour ahead of him. And while the competition in Indianapolis was a major proving ground, the soloist says the real challenges still lie ahead.

HADELICH: There's a danger if you play too many concerts that after a while it becomes a routine and then you stop caring. But I'm not playing that much right now. I feel some pressure but I like the pressure, it would have to be a lot more to get a nervous breakdown I would have to play 100 concerts a year.

SHEA: For now he's got a few dozen engagements booked, and in January 2008 Augustin Hadelich will make his debut at Carnegie Hall.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on April 13, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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