Augustin Hadelich

On the eve of his UK debut, the German violinist talks about the challenges of finding the right violin to play

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You’re making your UK debut at The Sage Gateshead this weekend. Can you tell me about your programme?

Programming is like a puzzle. This concert is just an hour long, so you can't do, say, a 45-minute piece. Also, as you do more and more recitals in a season, you have to make sure you don't programme all new pieces. I wanted to choose ones I'd played for a while. The Beethoven Sonata in G, Op. 30 No. 3 is one I last played in New York at the Frick Collection in December – it's a wonderful piece. The others – Debussy' s Sonata, Stravinsky's Suite Italienne and Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy – all provide contrast. I like to play a virtuoso piece, but I don't want that aspect to take over the programme. You reach a point when the audience is almost saturated with music and you just have some fun. That's the Carmen Fantasy in this case.

How do you like to prepare for live performances?

Well, it changes in the circumstances. In this case it’s not an evening concert so I have to come up with a different way to be ready. I’m used to playing in the evening, so usually at 11am or 12 noon I’m still waking up. For this I have to be awake already!

You play a Stradivarius – what's it like?

It’s the wonderful 'Ex-Gingold' Stradivari violin from 1683. It used to be Josef Gingold’s violin, and the Indianapolis Violin Competition offers it to its winners. They gave it to me in 2006 when I won. I have to give it back soon as the next competition is happening in September.

What will you play next?

I don’t know! I’m still searching for the right violin. It’s very difficult, and of course you get very attached to what you play. I think that also maybe changing violins is an opportunity to find something that’s different.

Are you searching for a particular sound?

When I first started playing this violin, I wasn’t immediately sure. The sound was wonderful, but I didn’t quite know how to pull it out of the violin. It turned out it sounded great once I figured out how I had to play it. It takes some time. So right now, if I tried another Stradivarius, I might feel good about it because it’d have similar means of sound production. In terms of the sound quality, this violin is very sweet and beautiful. You can get lots of different colours from it, but there’s always this sweetness left.

Who are your inspirations?

Well, when I was small – I grew up in Italy – the first good violinist I heard was called Uto Ughi. Then of course, I heard the old records of David Oistrakh. Recently I went to the Marlboro Music Festival – people there like Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode are inspiring. I’ve actually been inspired a lot by pianists. I’m not sure what it is, but the really great pianists are such well-rounded musicians somehow. Violinists often just pay attention to the top voice. It’s important, no matter what instrument you play, to study the piece the way pianists do. So when I look over a score I look at the piano part and read it from there. It sounds obvious, but it’s not how we’re often taught in conservatoires. 

This summer you're recording your second disc for Avie, with a French-Russian theme…

I'm recording Debussy and Poulenc Sonatas, Stravinsky's Suite Italienne and Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2. The Stravinsky has two versions. Most people play the later version, which I think works better in a concert setting.  I’m recording the earlier version, in Newcastle I’m playing the second version. The earlier version is more original, uncomfortable sounding, Stravinskian. In some ways the second sounds more beautiful.

Interview by Rebecca Franks

Augustin Hadelich performs at the Sage Gateshead on Sunday 23 May at 11am

Audio clip: Paganini: Caprice No. 4
Avie AV 2180