Daniel Hope’s Lands of Glory
Being declared stateless at just six months old did not predict greatness for the celebrated musician Daniel Hope, but the course of his life was changed when his mother began working for the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
Daniel Hope is a world-renowned violinist. He has recorded 25 award-winning albums, including a wildly successful interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and played as a soloist at the world’s major concert halls, including Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.
Hope’s maternal grandparents fled Nazi Germany for South Africa and his parents were forced to leave the apartheid-era country when Hope just six months old. His mother secured a position in London with virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who inspired and fostered Hope’s career as a violinist.
From 2002 to 2008, Hope played in the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio; he has since performed with most of the world’s leading orchestras. Winner of the 2015 European Cultural Prize for Music, he is associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival, music director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and San Francisco’s New Century Chamber Orchestra, and artistic director of the Dresden Frauenkirche. In 2020, his house concerts filmed at his home in Berlin, were broadcast throughout Europe during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Welcome to Articulate, the show that explores the big ideas behind great creative endeavors. I’m Jim Cotter, and on this episode, “Daniel Hope’s Lands of Glory.”
Being declared stateless at just six months old did predict greatness for the celebrated musician, Daniel Hope. But the course of his life was changed when his mother began working for the legendary violinist, Yehudi Menuhin.
Daniel Hope: It was amazing for us and it surrounded me and our whole family, not just with a wonderful human being, but with music and the musicians that came to the house and the extraordinary meeting point of cultural worlds that was Menuhin’s life.
That’s Daniel Hope in concert and conversation on this Articulate.
Kurt Weill, the German composer, and songwriter, not Kurt Vile the Philadelphia indie-rock darling, wrote “September Song” as a meditation on his life. Recently, Daniel Hope has been contemplating his own journey.
Daniel Hope: I announced to my parents at the age of three-and-a-half that I wanted to be a violinist. You know, it’s probably not so normal for a small child to be absolutely fixed on it. Most kids, like my own ones, will say they wanna be an astronaut or a football player. And for me I was unwavering.
Hope is a South African born, Irish violinist and activist, who grew up in England, and who today divides his time between Germany and Switzerland and, under more normal circumstances, would be spending a great deal of time traveling the world to give recitals and to perform with the world’s great symphony orchestras in places like London, Paris, Chicago, and Tokyo. That’s a lot of national identities for one who started out with almost none at all. When he was just six months old, his family was effectively deported from their native South Africa, for his parents, Eleanor and Christopher’s anti-apartheid activism. Landing in London, their South African citizenships revoked, they found themselves stateless, but mom had a plan.
Hope: There was a finite amount of time, we were allowed to stay in the country until they would have kicked us out. So, she needed to find employment and she speaks six languages, she trained as a secretary and she met somebody that had an agency that supplied part-time jobs. And there were two jobs going, Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Yehudi Menuhin.
Yehudi Menuhin was one of the greatest violinists of the 20th, or maybe any, century. And Hope’s mother becoming his assistant irrevocably changed the course of the Hope family’s life, and especially young Danny’s.
Hope: It was amazing for us and it surrounded me and our whole family, not just with a wonderful human being, but with music and the musicians that came to the house and the extraordinary meeting point of cultural worlds that was Menuhin’s life.
AJC: The piece you’re gonna play for us, “The Cottage”, is an extraordinary meeting point, both for your relationship with him, he described himself as your musical grandfather, but there’s another thread to this as well. Your great grandfather, who was forced out of his home by the Nazis, they paid a pittance for his home and that was it, he was Jewish. So there’s the meeting of two of your ancestors, so to speak, both bloodlines and musical bloodlines in this piece. Can you speak to that a little bit? Because you’re now back living in Germany for some time and very integrated there, but you’re always very conscious of what’s happened in the past.
Hope: Very much so, you know, I discovered the maternal side of my family much later. You know, I knew that it existed, but I didn’t really know much about it. And it was really when I went back to Germany and I started to research, that I found all these ghosts there and the fact that there’s still a house there that belonged to my grandparents and great grandparents, the Nazis confiscated it. They turned it into the center for Nazi Cryptology, kind of a Bletchley Park where codes were deciphered and sent to Hitler. And this all happened in the rooms in which my grandma grew up. So all of this was a kind of a realization of where I came from and I started to research and I found out that the link even goes back to the first rabbi of Potsdam.
Hope documented his Jewish heritage in Familienstücke and in Spurensuche, but that was only the half of it. A long-deceased Irish ancestor would also come to play an important part in shaping his story.
Hope: My Irish great grandfather, after whom I’m named Daniel, is called Daniel McKenna. He ran away from Ireland at the turn of the century, jumped on a boat and went to South Africa to fight for the British against the Boers. And so, you know there’s been so much conflict in our family as there has been in the world in those 120 odd years. But the Irish thing is deeply installed in me somehow, even though, you know, of course I’ve been there, I’ve played there, but I don’t know enough about it. And it’s on my list of things to do is to go deeper into the past in Ireland.
AJC: Happy to help if you need any stories, we’re full of stories. The piece you’re gonna play is “Danny Boy,” which you know, for some people who don’t know the story of it. It has many levels, one it’s sort of the neutral Anthem of Ireland, whenever there’s an all-Irish rugby team or, you know, any kind of sports representation, “Danny Boy” is the all-Ireland Anthem. But it’s also interesting, in reference to your grandfather, in that it’s either about a mother praying as her son goes off to fight in the world war or it’s about a parent, let’s say, you know an ode to a child or to an offspring who’s becoming part of the diaspora. And those things happen to be both true for your grandfather. So the levels of it are extraordinary, again a very, very apt piece of music for your connection to Ireland.
Hope: And a piece that my grandmother would sing to me and I remember that you know, there’s something very special, as a child, being sung to. You remember that voice, you remember the words, you remember the feeling of what that meant to you. And, so every time I hear “Danny Boy,” it transports me back there, to that time. And we’re gonna play a gorgeous arrangement, which has all of the Irish soul to it, but it’s also a tribute to Fritz Kreisler, who was one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. Somebody who also escaped Germany went to the United States and loved this piece as well. And it’s based a little bit on his arrangement of the piece and amalgamates both of those worlds.
Now in his mid-40s, Daniel hope has led an extraordinary life in music. He was the youngest ever member of the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio with whom he performed over 400 times. His albums have won numerous prestigious international awards and his recording of Max Richter’s reworking of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which reached number one in over 20 countries, is one of the most successful classical recordings of recent times. In addition, he’s written four bestselling books, has a weekly radio show on German Public Radio, is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and has written scripts for collaborative performances with the actors Klaus Maria Brandauer and Mia Farrow. And in his spare time, he can be found jamming with other world-renowned musicians from beyond the classical world. Hope was also the first musician to seriously begin producing at-home concerts after COVID-19 forced most of the world into lockdown in the spring of 2020. But unlike many other worthy living room performances for social media, his were televised throughout Europe on the Arte Network. At the heart of Daniel Hope’s musical life, today is Switzerland’s internationally renowned Zurich Chamber Orchestra, where he is music director, an ensemble that is as much a part of his past as his present.
AJC: Let’s talk a little bit about Edvard Grieg. The piece we’re gonna hear you play with the orchestra is the first movement from the Holberg Suite. This is a piece of music that’s been with you for as long as you can remember, correct?
Hope: It has, and in fact, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra has been with me as long as I could remember. You know, I discovered them when I was a baby. My mother worked for the music festival in Gstaad in Switzerland and she worked for the violinist, Yehudi Menuhin and we went to Gstaad every single summer. And the first thing she did was to take me to the rehearsals and to the concerts that were taking place there. And the orchestra in residence was the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. So my very, very first memories of sound, of concerts, of orchestral sound, was from the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. And they had many pieces that were, in a sense, their signature tunes. And the one that I always remember is the Holberg Suite of Grieg because it has everything in it. It has the romanticism, it has beautiful melodies, it’s got that gorgeous sound, it’s very emotional, there’s lots of movement in the first movement and I can remember the way even that they played it. I never dreamed that 40 years later, I would be the music director of that orchestra playing this very piece.
In parallel with his rich musical life, Daniel hope is a man of remembrance and an advocate for change. He’s worked to honor victims of the Holocaust through the music of composers who were killed by the Nazis. He’s a champion of new music and has commissioned over 30 works from contemporary composers. And with Live Music Now, a charity co-founded by Yehudi Menuhin in 1977, he’s helped bring music to a diverse range of communities who rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to experience live music. Hope sees this work as both a privilege and an obligation to his family.
Hope: I have two sons and they’re both pretty headstrong, I have to say. And I do see, of course, I see elements, you know of both myself and my wife, of course in our children. But I also see, I see the grandparents there. And you know, I was really bad as a young child, if I was told you can’t do that, that’s not gonna happen. It was kind of like a red rag to a bull somehow. I never liked that and what I never liked was rudeness, if people were rude or if they were deliberately confrontational, that kind of always got my back up and that stayed, that’s here with me and it’s with my kids as well. You know, we’re very active in that sense and we just try and be good people, I think that’s all you can do.
If we just, as Kurt Weill did, can imagine the span of a lifetime in terms of the months of the year, then Daniel Hope is enjoying the sunniest of summer times. Who knows what joys he may share with us in his September, his October, and beyond.