New Horizons - a chat with Madeline Adkins

August 1, 2016, 3:50 PM · “When you say ‘yes’ to your destiny path, inner and outer meet in the peaceful integrity of your heart." - Yogi Bhajan

Madeline Adkins
Madeline Adkins

In 1997 I attended the National Orchestral Institute, a three-week orchestral intensive held annually at the University of Maryland-College Park, and it was during that summer that I met violinist Madeline Adkins. That summer, it became very clear that Madeline was in store for a beautiful musical future: the final concert of that three-week intensive featured Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Madeline played the scordatura concertmaster solos in the second movement with the technical assurance and musical maturity found in the performances given by truly seasoned concertmasters and musicians.

Since then, Madeline has forged a bright, impressive and inspiring path. In 2000 she joined the Baltimore Symphony as assistant concertmaster and became the orchestra’s associate concertmaster in 2005. In tandem with her duties with the Baltimore Symphony, Madeline became the concertmaster of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in 2008, and has appeared as guest concertmaster with orchestras including the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony, Oregon Symphony and Grant Park Symphony Orchestra (Chicago) in addition to having performed as soloist and recitalist throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa.

With all of this, Madeline has currently reached another great moment of the stars aligning. In September 2016 she begins a new chapter in her life as the concertmaster of the Utah Symphony, and this comes in tandem with the release of her first commercial CD on South Africa’s TwoPianists label featuring the complete Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas with pianist Luis Magalhães.

“Mendelssohn is one of my favorite composers,” Madeline said, “and I find so much joy in playing his music.” This love of Mendelssohn was evident in Ms. Adkins’ October 2011 performance of the composer’s violin concerto with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, one of the clearest, excellently paced, thoughtful and effortlessly executed performances of the work that I have heard in quite some time. “I played Mendelssohn’s 1838 F Major Sonata during my time at the New England Conservatory and subsequently became interested in exploring all of them. I found it odd that a work of such strength was for a time unpublished, as it stands quite nicely on its own.”

The 1838 sonata remained unpublished until 1953 (Mendelssohn, in a bout of self-criticism, referred to the sonata as “wretched”), when violinist Yehudi Menuhin revived the work and arranged for its publication. Keenly aware of many of the reactions to Mendelssohn’s music, including criticisms based on the lack of anguish and torture both in his life and his musical output, Ms. Adkins felt that this project was an opportunity to bring more attention to the 1838 sonata as well as the three previously published sonatas in addition to increasing her personal understanding of the composer and his music.
“The F Minor sonata (1820) is so fascinating: there were no dynamics or articulations written in the score. This gave a tremendous opportunity to be creative as well as to ‘find a place’ on the spectrum between being true to the composer’s intentions and bringing something new.”

Ms. Adkins’ partner in this recording is pianist Luis Magalhães, a Portuguese born musician currently living in Stellenbosch, South Africa. In addition to being one of the founders of TwoPianists Records, Mr. Magalhães is also one of the founders of the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. Madeline and Mr. Magalhães met at Stellenbosch in 2013, though their paths did somewhat cross earlier in life. “Luis also went to the University of North Texas, but got there the semester after I left. During my time at UNT I actually played concerts with Nina Schumann, who is the co-founder of both the TwoPianists label and the Stellenbosch Festival.”

“Luis is an incredible musician and a very creative pianist, and this allowed us to improvise dynamics and other aspects during the recording sessions. We DID of course rehearse a lot, but we were able to find the balance of presenting both the best playing – what one could call ‘striving for perfection’ – and a real sense of being in the moment.” The Adkins/Magalhães partnership has expanded to include a recent performance of Nikolay Kapustin’s 2002 Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, Op. 105 with the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie which they performed in 2014 at the Stellenbosch Festival, and in August the duo embarks on a five-city concert tour across South Africa with a program featuring works by Mendelssohn and Prokofieff.

In addition to exploring both established and unfamiliar works, Madeline feels very strongly that both traveling and festival experiences are vital for musicians. “Festivals are great opportunities to get people from across the world together. Our education is never complete – when one is younger, the importance is on learning the repertoire and gaining understanding from those who came before you. If we are to keep growing as artists, it’s necessary for us to keep expanding.”

Shortly after finishing her South African tour, Madeline returns to the United States to assume her new position as concertmaster of the Utah Symphony Orchestra. Fully embracing every facet of this transition, Madeline expressed great excitement at joining the Utah Symphony, partially due to the orchestra’s “renaissance” since the appointment of music director Thierry Fischer in 2009.

Since Fischer’s appointment as music director, the Utah Symphony has embarked on both critically-acclaimed and ambitious projects, including a two-year period that featured performances of the complete Mahler symphonies (in addition to a 2015 recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1) and the premieres and recording of commissioned works by Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly and Andrew Norman during the 2015-16 season. This continuance of Maurice Abravanel’s adventurous legacy of programming, recording and touring is something that Madeline is proud to become a part of. “The 2016-17 season with the Utah Symphony includes cycles of both the Brahms and Ives symphonies,” Madeline shared. “These projects – exploration of the standard as well as embracing the new – are really exciting as they allow everyone to gain a deeper understanding of the works being presented.”

In addition to her duties as concertmaster, Madeline’s first season in Salt Lake City will be one as a full and present member of the city’s musical community as she appears both as soloist with the orchestra in a performance of Prokofieff’s Second Violin Concerto and in recital on the NOVA Chamber Music Series with Utah Symphony pianist Jason Hardink. Fortunately for audiences in Baltimore, Madeline will return during the 2016-17 season for two performances with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

“I’m incredibly grateful that the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra was open to this, and my schedule with the Utah Symphony this season does allow me to maintain a presence in Baltimore.”

In addition to enjoying the fruition of following her inner imperatives musically and continuously exploring, Madeline also finds a deep feeling of satisfaction with returning to a part of the country with which she is both familiar with and fascinated by. “Being from Texas, there has always been something appealing about the west, and my husband has always wanted to live in the western United States - particularly in the Rockies - so I feel incredibly fortunate.”

For more information on Madeline Adkins, please visit www.madelineadkins.net. For more information on her recording of the complete Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas, please visit www.twopianists.com.

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