Virtuosity and variety

Rossen Milanov and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra sound the final note of Tuesday evening’s performance in the Amphitheater. Photo by Megan Tan.

Conductor Chen, violinist Hadelich and CSO to perform two violin concertos tonight in Amp

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer


Ten years ago, 17-year-old violinist Augustin Hadelich made his U.S. debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. He has been back to Chautauqua almost every summer since.

“It’s one of the first places that gave me a chance, gave me a shot when I was just starting out,” he said. “The whole time I was there, I felt like people were really rooting for me and supporting me, and every time I’ve been back, as well.”

Hadelich will celebrate this anniversary tonight with two violin concertos: Joseph Haydn’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Thomas Adès’ 2005 violin concerto, “Concentric Paths.”

Guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen will lead the CSO in the performance of the concertos and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4 at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Chen made her CSO debut last year in a concert that concluded with “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber,” composed in 1943 by Paul Hindemith. This will be the first time most of the musicians, including Chen and Hadelich, have performed the Adès concerto.


“It’s going to be a stressful program for me, but I absolutely look forward to working with some of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with,” Chen said. “I have no doubt that they’re capable of pulling this impossible program off.”

This also is the first time Chen has worked with Hadelich. The two met earlier this year to discuss tonight’s program. Chen said she’s looking forward to working with fellow violinist Hadelich for this, the first of three concerts they will perform together over the next year.

“Making music is a very naked feeling, because you are expressing your inner-self through the sounds you make,” Chen said. “In some way, I feel like I already know Augustin well, from his recordings, from what I know about his playing and from other colleagues.”

Hadelich also is looking forward to working with Chen, who he said is a terrific conductor.

“(The Adès concerto) is as difficult to conduct as it is to play, but we both like the piece,” he said. “It’s very important that we’re both on the same page, completely.”

Hadelich has wanted to perform the Adès concerto since he first heard it. When looking for new works to perform, he goes with his first impression.

“A lot of music will grow on you if you see it more than once, but if you want to perform something, the audience really is just going to hear it once,” he said.

Hadelich described the piece as one of the greatest new concertos, written by one of the greatest contemporary composers.

“I’m completely convinced that 100 years from now, people will know the name Thomas Adès,” he said.

He described the concerto as intense but not inaccessible. There are particularly poignant, beautiful moments in the slow second movement.

The concerto is extremely challenging for both the soloist and the orchestra. Chen said she’d never seen a violin concerto that had so much high playing on the violin’s highest string, where it is very difficult to pick out pitches, but creates a surreal, soul-soaring feeling. She said the meter changes in the final movement rival the difficulty of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

Hadelich said orchestras often are reluctant to program new works but should not shy away from the challenge of playing this piece. He pointed out that many older works were considered near-impossible in their day but now are considered standard repertoire.

Hadelich also will perform Haydn’s first violin concerto to open tonight’s concert. He said tonight’s concertos showcase two very different sides of the violin.

The Haydn concerto is one of Hadelich’s favorites — a work he said he’s performed a thousand times before. He described it as lively and fun, with a slow movement that is “a love song and a prayer rolled into one.”

Haydn’s first violin concerto is not often performed, though Hadelich said he is not sure why. He said the concerto might be overshadowed by Mozart’s violin concertos or not considered flashy enough.

“The truth is, it’s not an easy piece,” he said. “For Haydn’s standards, it’s quite a virtuosic part.”

Hadelich will perform the concerto with his own cadenzas, which he wrote for his own style of playing. He said writing your own cadenzas is something of a trend among today’s soloists and is much closer to the way musicians used to play.

“It became so frustratingly dull to always hear the same cadenza every time you hear a piece, especially when the cadenzas are not terribly great to begin with, or the style doesn’t actually fit the piece,” he said. “It also reveals something about your own understanding about the piece and how you feel about it.”

Chen contrasted the two concertos — from the very original German composer Haydn and the very original American composer Adès — with the diversity of the German composer, Mendelssohn, trying to master another culture.

Mendelssohn wrote his fourth symphony after his two-year tour of Europe to capture the melodies and spirit of Italy. The same trip inspired his third symphony, also known as the “Scottish Symphony.” Mendelssohn spent more than a decade finishing the “Scottish Symphony” but completed his first version of the “Italian Symphony” in months. He was unhappy with the fourth symphony and revised it years later.

“What’s interesting to me is that all of this music started flowing out of him quickly, and then he started doubting himself,” Chen said. “For sure, the one we know of today is better than the one where he doubted himself and tried to re-create. It’s really interesting to me that for something so perfect, in its origin, he had trouble recognizing it from the start.”

Chen just completed her first season as the music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and is about to start her first season as the music director for the Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra.

“Orchestras are in trouble everywhere,” she said. “The reason being: The orchestra has the challenge of connecting its wonderful art form to its community. The more we can connect to the community, the more our art form has a chance to thrive in the future. One of the ways is to make the orchestra more relevant to our individual communities.”

Chen said she is living her impossible dream. She’s wanted to be a conductor since she was 10 years old and playing violin in an orchestra in Taiwan.

“It has been a very difficult journey for me to come to this point, but I am absolutely living my dream now,” she said.

Hadelich also has had a difficult journey to the stage. He was severely burned in an accident at his family’s vineyard 12 years ago. Doctors told him he might never play again, but he resumed performing almost two years later. His 2001 debut with the CSO was one of his first concerts after the accident.

“The fact that I was able to go back to the violin helped me get past that experience,” he said. “This is also one of the reasons why Chautauqua is close to my heart. When I went there, and played one of my first concerts again, what it felt like to be on stage again … that definitely played a big part in my recovery and going back to my normal life.”

Hadelich and Chen will perform again in the upcoming season. They will make their debuts with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra at the Concertgebouw in January 2012, performing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. They will perform the Brahms violin concerto with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Fla., on May 11 and 12, 2012.

Hadelich also has an upcoming appearance with the New York Philharmonic at the Caramoor International Music Festival in Katonah, N.Y., performing Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219. He will tour Brazil for three weeks in October and November with the São Paulo State Symphony, performing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto.