Aspen Music Festival season to close with violinist Augustin Hadelich accompanied by…himself on piano

Augustin Hadelich will close the Aspen Music Festival's virtual 2020 season on Sunday, performing with accompaniment from himself on piano.
Courtesy photo


What: A recital by Augustin Hadelich, violin and piano


When: Sunday, Aug. 23, 3 p.m. (rebroadcast Aug. 25)

How much: Free

More info: The program will include five pieces, Sarasate’s ‘Carmen’ Fantasy and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise among them.

As his concert tours were canceled this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic and his opportunities to play music in a room with others stopped due to social distancing protocols, violinist Augustin Hadelich got creative to find accompaniment.

In his Connecticut home studio, the Italian and German musician began recording piano parts that would serve as accompaniment for violin performance.

“It started with an experiment,” Hadelich explained this week in a Zoom interview with Aspen Music Festival President and CEO Alan Fletcher. “At the end of March, of course, all of the concerts were canceled. I was performing a lot of solo violin music, a lot of Bach, but I was really missing the sound of another instrument and playing with another person.”

And so Hadelich — “out of the blue,” as he put it — sat down at the electric piano and recorded the piano part to Rahmaninoff’s song “Vocalise.” He then took out his violin and bow and performed the vocal harmony over the recorded piano part.

It worked, he found. Festival producers believed it worked, as well. And on Sunday, as the Aspen Music Festival closes its virtual 2020 season, Hadelich will headline the closing concert online accompanied by himself on piano.

Though the self-accompaniment method was born out of a personal desire for musical companionship in those locked-down and fearful spring days, this process soon became a way forward for Hadelich to express himself in the emerging world of virtual performance.

Synchronizing virtually, most all musicians learned this year, is extremely challenging. Even matching up recordings to make an edited collaboration cannot replicate a live and in-person performance. These gulfs in creative possibilities during the lockdown led Hadelich to a deeper understanding of collaboration.

“It made me aware of a lot of the subtleties of timing and all the little things one would normally do without even talking about it with another musician — how we communicate subconsciously,” he explained. “There are all these little things which are so hard when the performers are socially distanced. Everyone is learning that.”

And so, though he had not pursued a career as a concert pianist, Augustin Hadelich found himself on piano accompanying the great Augustin Hadelich on pieces like the Rachmaninoff and like Sarasate’s “Carmen” Fantasy.

“I found it was easier if I did it myself, because I knew how I played the parts and where the tricky issues are in the piece in terms of synchronizing,” he explained, noting how much progress in rehearsal is unspoken and inexplicable. “It’s a lot of things that if you were in the same room with another musician, you would do it automatically the second time you played.”

The process opened up new ways of listening for the violinist, discovering new depths in the piano rhythms overshadowed by topline melodies. And he had to learn to be a good collaborator with himself.

“I had to consider both sides,” he said. “So I don’t get angry at myself doing the piano part when I’m doing the violin part. … I do like a challenge. It feels playful, occasionally it can also feel frustrating. But it’s mostly playful and discovering.”

For Sunday’s concert, Hadelich will play the Rachmaninoff and Sarasate as well as unaccompanied violin pieces from Bach and Ysaye. Also on the program is a new piece, “Filter,” by Daniel Bernanrd Roumain, which Hadelich describes as a guitar rock inspired violin piece in the style of Jimi Hendrix.

A staple of recent summers in Aspen, Hadelich, 36, has given memorable Benedict Music Tent performances with the Aspen Festival Orchestra, including Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in 2018 and Brahms Violin Concert in D major in 2017. His career has been filled with accolades, from a 2009 Avery Fisher Grant to a 2018 “Instrumentalist of the Year” honorific from Musical America. Fletcher this week called Hadelich “one of the great performing musicians in the world.”

But the future is as uncertain for Hadelich as it is for everyone navigating the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

He’s spent the summer at home in Connecticut performing virtual concerts. He is eyeing the fall concert season that may be able to happen in Europe, he said, with socially distanced audiences and orchestras. But complications like the two-week quarantine period when moving between regions and countries, and the prospect of new waves and outbreaks of the virus, have challenged planning.

Still, he noted, he is able to wake up every day and play music with a freedom he’s never had before — untethered from a concert and recording schedule that is normally set in stone two years in advance.

“It is more uncertainty than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There is a certain spontaneity. … You may be used to having our schedule set two years in advance. So maybe that is the bright side to it.”


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