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Violin Prodigy Augustin Hadelich Grows Up

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A hot, young German violinist will perform at Symphony Hall for the first time this weekend. Augustin Hadelich, who has been touring the globe since winning a prestigious competition seven years ago, opens the Boston Symphony Orchestra's new season Saturday night.

I reported on Hadelich in 2007, just as he was embarking on his storied career. His rise has been remarkable for many reasons, including the fact that he suffered a severe injury as a teen that could’ve ended everything. I had the chance to catch up with Hadelich this week at a rehearsal to find out how his dream career is going.

Augustin Hadelich (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Augustin Hadelich (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

When Hadelich plays on stage he engages his whole body, but not in a tense way. He holds his Stradivarius with casual confidence, like it’s a part of him. His nimble fingers zip along the neck and strings as he runs through Maurice Ravel’s "Tzigane" with the BSO.

“It’s supposed to sound like a crazy Gypsy improvisation,” he explained during a break. “It’s technically pretty challenging — there are a lot of extended techniques and harmonics and plucking and very, very fast sort of charger style of playing.”

It seems Hadelich can play just about anything, from Ravel to Beethoven to Stravinsky to contemporary works to Brahms. He’s performing Brahms' "Double Concerto" for violin, cello and orchestra with cellist Alban Gerhardt and the BSO Saturday night.

The 29-year-old has been incredibly busy since winning the gold medal at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2006. That victory earned him a recording contract and more than 40 concerts worldwide. These days, he plays about six shows a month, sometimes more.

“I got to play with orchestras and in halls that I’ve always wanted to play in, so it feels like a dream come true to play here with the Boston Symphony, or in Tanglewood last year, or the first time I played in Carnegie, which was five years ago,” he said, laughing. “Events like that, that before were just happening in my imagination.”

Hadelich has been imagining this life since he started playing at age 5. He grew up in Tuscany, Italy, with his German parents and brothers. As a teen, he performed with accomplished musicians including the Lucerne Festival Strings. But when the maturing prodigy was 15, a fire on his family’s farm severely burned and scarred his body.

When asked about his injuries, Hadelich hesitates. "Well, it was mainly my torso and my right hand and parts of my face,” he said.

For almost a year he couldn’t play. But after 20 operations and intensive physical therapy, Hadelich went on to study at Juilliard before sweeping that international competition in 2006. He says he doesn’t really like to talk about the fire anymore because it feels like a distant memory.

“I don’t think about it anymore,” Hadelich explained. “Less so now than six years ago when we met. That was my first busy concert season as an adult. I was very excited, but I was also still figuring out how to do it. How do you travel so much and play so many pieces? And I learned a lot about myself — what my limits are, what my strengths and weaknesses are — and I didn’t really know myself very well yet as a player.”

'A Twinkle In His Eye'

“It speaks volumes of his nature and his intellect and determination to be able to keep going and to do this,” said Malcolm Lowe, the BSO's concertmaster. Lowe was also one of the judges at the competition Hadelich dominated in 2006 and says the young player’s emotionally nuanced performance captivated all eight judges.

Hadelich in 1995. (Courtesy)
Hadelich in 1995. (Courtesy)

Lowe has been following the versatile musician’s career since and said Hadelich bridges violin performances of the past with the present.

“Stylistically he’s found a way, I think, to tap into that as well as bring it forward into a contemporary light," Lowe said. "For me, that’s what I appreciate so much about his playing.”

Lowe also appreciates the fact that Hadelich isn’t stoic like some of the older violinists.

“So it’s this mixture of the two,” he said. “There’s also a great sense of humor and excitement and a twinkle in his eye about being able to do what he’s doing.”

You can see Hadelich’s showmanship on stage. In a playful moment at rehearsal, he stopped in his tracks to look the conductor right in the eye and I swear I saw that twinkle. Moments like this reveal the passion Hadelich has for the demanding career path he’s worked so hard to pursue.

“The reason why I do it is because I love being on stage and performing,” he said, adding that he feels very lucky and grateful to get to live his life like this.

Listen to the audio version of this story below:

This program aired on September 20, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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