Hallmark creates a musical career all his own

Stewart Oksenhorn

Julian Hallmark had an idea of what he wanted out of his professional life: satisfaction, a sense that he wasn’t trudging off to a job. Choosing music as his career was a first step down the right path, but it was no guarantee that Hallmark wouldn’t find himself burned out, soured on music itself, a ways down the road.

So Hallmark opted not to pursue the intensely demanding and competitive job of a soloist. He also declined to enter the realm of the orchestra job, which locks musicians into a routine and schedule not of their choosing. Instead, Hallmark is a freelancing violinist, one who finds himself touring with Sheryl Crow one week and playing chamber music in Massachusetts the next, followed by a film soundtrack session with a gig as concertmaster.”It’s good for my personality to do a lot of things, wear a lot of hats,” said the effervescent 41-year-old, from his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Culver City. “You get a more interesting life, and more control over your life.”In this day and age, you have to diversify as a violinist. Unless you’re Gil Shaham, or Nadja [Salerno-Sonnenberg], you have to juggle. It means you have to be able to play a Tchaikovsky symphony in the morning and a Jessica Simpson concert at night.”One of the balls Hallmark has kept in the air for a decade is his position as concertmaster of the Aspen Choral Society Orchestra. He will appear with the Choral Society when it plays an all-Bach program, Friday and Saturday, March 30-31, in Glenwood Springs and Aspen.The Aspen gig, which brings Hallmark to town for the Christmastime performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” and for the annual spring concerts, goes a long way toward giving the violinist the fulfillment he has made a priority. It affords the opportunity to spend time in a place that has an almost mystical place in Hallmark’s past. When he was a student at the Aspen Music Festival in the mid-1980s and then an assistant to the late, legendary violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay, Hallmark would get so excited about his summer in Aspen he would have trouble sleeping for weeks in advance.Just as satisfying is reconnecting with people in Aspen, especially Ray Adams, director and conductor of the Choral Society. The two met in 1986, Hallmark’s first year at the Music Festival, when Adams was handling housing for the organization. The two hit it off, and the semiannual reunions are an ideal way to catch up on the friendship.

Such a partnership excludes a certain musical perfectionism, but it’s a trade-off Hallmark is happy to make. “You get a very refined, very polished music, which is great,” he said of full-time orchestras (which he has never been part of). “But when you get a group of people who love playing together, but only get together once a year, there’s an excitement. Things have happened in your life since you last saw them, and you don’t have time to talk about it all, so you communicate it through the music. How you relate to each other comes out in the playing. There’s jokes; there’s deep sentiment. “There are moments when Ray and I will look at each other and smile, because we played a similar passage a few years ago. People who love playing together, they get that, that being together and sharing.”Hallmark has developed those ties all over the country. He plays chamber music with a steady group of musicians at the Buzzards Bay Music Festival in Cape Cod, and the Sunflower Music Festival in Topeka. He regularly brings three or four friends to join him in the Aspen concerts. The paychecks may be intermittent, but it makes for an interesting life and keeps artistic staleness at bay.”So many people go to work and it’s drudgery for them,” said Hallmark. “This is the essence of life for me.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is


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