Violinist Augustin Hadelich uses technical mastery to achieve human connection.
Augustin Hadelich is a celebrated violinist, admired for his wide-ranging repertoire of traditional and contemporary classical works.
Born in 1984 in Cenina, Italy, to German parents, Hadelich began studying violin at age 5 and gained a reputation as a child prodigy. Injured in a fire at age 15, he was unable to play his instrument for over a year, but recovered to study at the Istituto Mascagni and the Juilliard School. He debuted at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2008 and the New York Philharmonic in 2010, and has since performed with the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, and most of the other major orchestras in the world.
Hadelich has recorded over 15 albums, playing work by a variety of composers. His recording of Henri Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. He teaches violin at Yale University.
Augustin Hadelich is among the most gifted violinists of his generation. He showed these gifts early, but it took time for him to get out of his own way.
Augustin Hadelich: I did tend to think I knew everything when I was a teenager.
AJC: But you did.
Hadelich: I was terribly arrogant.
AJC: We all did.
Today, he is constantly taking on the most difficult, the some times near unplayable, such as György Ligeti’s violin concerto. The Caprices of Niccolò Paganini. Hadelich has a special gift for making the near-impossible look easy, but he says this often hides a real conflict between him and his instrument.
Hadelich: On the violin, because you use your two hands so differently, the sound production is very complex and the bow is always creating phrases that you don’t want. You have to sort of work against your instrument often.
Working against his violin in pursuit of that most organic of musical instruments, the human voice.
Hadelich: It’s about communication, and one aspect that’s been always extremely important to me is the sounds that I produce and that it sounds like a voice, like a singing voice, that’s something I used to focus on very, very much. And I think it was more as an adult that I also thought more about the speaking aspect and sort of the sentence structure, but all of those components that can make it feel as though the music wasn’t written before and it’s not just being played but it’s actually happening in the moment.
Born to German parents, Augustin Hadelich grew up on a vineyard in Tuscany. His father, an amateur cellist, introduced Augustin to the violin and gave him his first lessons at age five, so he could join his two older brothers who played cello and piano. He gave his first concert at age seven and quickly became a local sensation. The sleepy countryside of rural Tuscany was not exactly a hotbed of classical music. Yet it liberated the young Augustin to search for his own sound, his own perspective.
Hadelich: There was a lot of time spent working by myself, and it had a good side and a bad side. I couldn’t really see often how other people were playing. I think it did lead to maybe a slightly more personal way of playing.
He went on to study at the Istituto Mascagni, a conservatory in Livorno, Italy, then onto the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin to study composition. Soon, America was calling.
Hadelich: When I was 20, I came to New York to study at Juilliard. And at that point I think there were certain aspects of my playing that were really developed and others that I kind of needed to be around other people to develop. Certain technical aspects that, I changed a lot how I use my bow for example, but also chamber music was something I suddenly discovered that I absolutely loved it. I loved playing with other people in that setting.
In America Hadelich quickly distinguished himself as a violinist who was both technically exceptional and emotionally profound, executing the most complex works with an effect of quality, among them those highly challenging Paganini Caprices so troublesome for many other violinists.
Hadelich: I always found it to be very beautiful and charming music. And maybe because I did grow up in Italy where Paganini is seen that way and often also played, I think, in a way that’s less focused on technical perfection. Some performances that I saw when I was growing up by Italian violinists were not necessarily the most technically perfect, but they somehow sung and danced and were really, really fun.
Audiences and critics alike were and continue to be spellbound by this extraordinary Italian-raised, German-bred, and now American musician. Today, Augustin Hadelich calls New York City home. There, he continues to be one of the most in-demand soloists and recitalists around. Isolated no more, he is now deeply connected with his peers.
Hadelich: You do have to listen so much to everything else. And I find that’s probably become one of the favorite things about my work is that I almost always play with other people. That it’s almost always a collaboration, there’s this social aspect. So in a way my life now is the opposite of how I grew up because I’m always with other musicians, somehow making music.
And though he is now far from his boyhood home, Hadelich doesn’t feel unmoored. Instead, he has found a new site of belonging.
Hadelich: Sometimes I step on stage now and I feel like this is home. You know, this is kind of feels like, I feel like I’m where I’m happiest. And I actually love that feeling.
And his constant motivation, the reason for his pursuit of virtuosity and excellence was to achieve his real goal: connection.
Hadelich: And I try to feel the emotion that I’m trying to communicate to the audience. I try to feel that myself in the moment which isn’t always easy, or sometimes it’s not even possible. But when that does happen, when I kind of experience the piece very intensely as I’m playing it, then I do find I am able to get it across also, ’cause I think if I’m not feeling it, then they also don’t feel it even if I play all the right notes.