October 7, 2006 at 4:04 PMThe intense, charismatic violinist Augustin Hadelich is fresh from his win at the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Recently, I was privileged to chat with Hadelich by phone for more than an hour. Our conversation was wide-ranging, thought-provoking and entirely delightful.
Q.: What does winning the IVCI mean to you?
A: In my opinion, being a violinist is about playing beautiful music and sharing it in concerts, not about winning competitions. While they are great for creating interest in classical music among the local audiences, most violinists I know hate to do them, because of the stress, the controversy and many other factors. And in the end, it's a matter of taste: it's great that there are many successful violinists out there who play so differently from each other.
Now I get the opportunity through many engagements, a CD recording, Carnegie Hall debut etc. to try and win over audiences, and that is really what I wanted, to tour and play my favorite music in many different cities and with different orchestras, and to get a lot of exposure. In a way, it doesn't really get any easier from here on, since I will have to play at least as well or better in those concerts than how I played at Indy, if I want to really establish myself as a soloist.
But I feel very happy and optimistic, my success has increased my confidence, and I Iook forward to all these challenges, and now I have the wonderful Gingold Strad to help me get my sound to the back of those halls. I started playing on it already, and it sounds great.
Q.: How did you prepare for the competition?
A: In a way, I've been preparing for it for many years, since I've been playing some of the pieces, like the Bach or the Bartok solo sonata for so long. I've started preparing specifically for this competition in April. In June I went to participate at the Marlboro Festival, and that turned out to be really helpful for my preparation, because I learned so much musically playing chamber music for at least 4 hours every day, and practicing the Indy repertoire in addition to that, so I was in really good shape when the festival was finished in August.
I spent a large portion of my time during the summer on the second Bartok concerto, since this was the first time I performed it, and working on my cadenzas for the Mozart concerto. Once the competition started, I just thought about the next round I had to play, and tried to sleep a lot and eat the right things.
Q.: Have you competed in or won competitions before?
A: I have only done two competitions as an adult before Indy: the 2005 Queen Elisabeth and the 2005 Sieblius competitions. I think my playing has progressed a lot since May of 2005, and I've also become better at playing in a competition environment. I never get extremely nervous when I play concerts, so I was really shocked back then how nervous I was when I played my first round in the earlier competitions, because of the pressure. In addition, the Queen Elisabeth competition was so intimidating, and it was really unfriendly towards the competitors. It was a Kafka-esque experience.
In contrast, I can't imagine a friendlier competition than Indy, and the audiences were so enthusiastic, and so many people in the Indianapolis symphony were really into it as well. That helped, because it made me feel like the whole thing had a purpose, that even had I not gotten to the final round it would not have been a waste of my time to go there.
Of course now with the liveeaming there were also people all over the world watching the whole thing, which I think is great. I think it will be even better four years from now though. Due to the sound compression that they now use to make the files smaller, you lose so much detail. Certain things like color and beauty of sound are harder to judge from the videos.
In the Sibelius competition I got to the second round, but that's where my luck ran out. What I learned from that experience is how incredibly important it is what repertoire you choose, and that it was a really bad idea to play a Brahms sonata in the competition, because whichever way you play it, chances are it offends at least half the jury. In a way, it's much easier to be successful with the Ravel or Prokofiev sonatas at competitions.
In Indianapolis I was able to choose the Bartok solo sonata, which has been one of my strongest pieces for many years now, that I've performed at least a dozen times and recorded twice (for the first time when I was 13 years old, and then again at 20).
Q.: How much of a personal stamp were you able to put on the compulsory piece?
A: I was very surprised when I first got the music for the [specially commissioned piece by composer] Bright Sheng piece back in June, because the violin part looked so easy, and instead the piano had all those fiendishly hard passages in it. I had expected a part full of extended technique, like the comissioned pieces for other competitions I've seen (like Hannover 2006). But I soon realized how hard it was to play it in a way that makes sense, and I was still changing my interpretation just days before my second round.
Once I decided that the piece is quite humorous and doesn't really take itself too seriously, I started liking it more and more, and now I think it's a very cute piece. I don't think you can sound good playing a piece that you don't like.
Q.: How did it feel to be the only man in the finals?
A: I think people made way too big of a deal out of the fact that I was the only man in the semis. I don't think it really is that meaningful, and I didn't even think about me being the only man until I read it in the paper. In a way it was good, because it got people to talk about me (even though they kept referring to me as "the only man left in the competition" until the results were announced).Other than that, it didn't matter much, because I am as scared of female competition as I am of male competition.
I was happy though that the final round turned out to be a crowd of really nice people, even though we only really socialized for forty minutes before the results were announced. Other competitors made an effort to have more contact with each other. I’ve learned that it throws me off if I see much of the other competitors. It’s better not to think about them at all. I did know [fellow competitor and Violinist.com member] Yura [Lee] because we spent the summer together, so we talked on the phone a couple of times.
Q.: How do you keep from worrying about the judges' likes and dislikes?
A: It’s actually very useful to think about their likes and dislikes, but only before the competition. When choosing repertoire, I studied the list and thought about what I knew about each judge. For example, Igor Oistrakh was on the list, so I felt there was no way I was going to play the Tchaikovsky. But I felt good about the judges because they are all performers, unlike some competitions where the judges are all teachers or include just a handful of performers. One of my favorite moments of the competition was when the judges had to perform. It was really fun to watch—they had their turn to get nervous, just like we did.
On the other hand, it is impossible not to worry about whether they like your playing. The advice we’re given is to go in and think of the competition as a concert and play for the audience, not the judges. In the first round, that’s impossible to do because we’re all playing the same repertoire, but it got easier after that round.
Q.: Are you playing the Gingold Strad yet, or is there some red tape you have to go through first?
A: I came home with the Strad. [The use of the Gingold Strad for four years is one of the competition’s prizes.] It’s been played for four years without getting an adjustment, though it does need it, so I’ll have to get that done. It sounds very good, though, of course. For the past year, I’ve been playing a Guarneri, and it didn’t speak very easily. The Gingold Strad sounds thinner but the sound travels easily. The further you get from the instrument, the better it sounds, so I know it will sound great at the back of the hall. With one month from winning the competition to my first concert, that’s plenty of time to adjust. I don’t have to change strings as often with the Strad, either. During the competition, I changed strings every 5 days to keep them in the best possible condition. Now it’s been several weeks and I still haven’t had to change strings yet. I’m using Dominant strings now, though I may change that in the future. I used Westminster on the Guarneri. Four years with the Gingold Strad seems like a long time, but I’m sure I’ll miss it terribly when it’s time to give it back.
To be continued…..
Thank you so much for posting this interview. I've recently shared it with a friend with whom I have been speaking about competitions and the "business" and she, no stranger to the rounds of international competitions, was very thankful to read his words.
Having heard Hadelich in '02, I really look forward to hearing him again and again in the years to come.
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