Violinist Daniel Hope makes Aspen Music Fest debut
July 15, 2011
ASPEN – Daniel Hope did not come from a musical family. In fact, when the celebrated violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin asked Hope’s mother if she could tell the difference between Bach and Beethoven, her response was, “Yeah, I think so.”
Menuhin wasn’t idly quizzing the woman on her knowledge of classical music; this was a job interview. She gave the answer with enough confidence that she got the job, as Menuhin’s secretary. “And before we could blink, we were thrust into the world of music,” Daniel Hope said.
Out of that world of music, Hope has created another world of music, a mini-empire that spans continents and books, festivals and collaborations. Hope makes his debut at the Aspen Music Festival Friday, in a concert with the Aspen Chamber Symphony and conductor Robert Spano, the festival’s music director-designate. Hope, a 37-year-old violinist, will be featured in two pieces: Ravel’s “Tzigane,” and the American premiere of “Unfinished Journey,” a 2009 piece for violin and strings that Hope commissioned from Lebanese composer Bechara El Khoury, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Menuhin’s death.
Hope moves over to the Harris Hall on Tuesday, July 19, for “A Baroque Evening with Daniel Hope,” a concert featuring works by the best-known figures of the Baroque period – Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann – and also spotlights the work of Westhoff, a largely forgotten composer who, according to Hope, was considered superior to his colleague Bach early in their careers. “He was one of the great violinists of his day. And a great discovery for me,” said Hope, who featured Westhoff on his 2009 album “Air: A Baroque Journey.”
It is a bit of a wonder that Hope is in Aspen at all. While he is in Colorado, the Mecklenburg Festival, which Hope serves as music director, carries on without him. Hope, however, already did his bit in Mecklenburg this summer, premiering El Khoury’s War Concerto last month. And there will be time for Hope to return to his festival this summer; Mecklenburg, the third largest festival in Germany, spans three months, 80 venues and 125 performances. Under Hope, who took over in Mecklenburg last year, the festival began a young musicians exchange program with Carnegie Hall and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Hope is also the associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival, in Georgia, an early-spring gathering that covers jazz, country, bluegrass, gospel, Portuguese fado, and Indian styles, as well as classical.
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And there are the projects. Over the last 15 years, Hope has been researching composers murdered by the Nazis; the interest has been manifested in a 2008 concert at the Berlin airport to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and a series of events with mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, including a concert tour and the 2007 recording, “Terezin.” Hope’s latest recording, “The Romantic Violinist,” is designed to cast a light on Joseph Joachim, a 19th century musician whom Hope says was instrumental in the creation of violin concerto repertoire.
Hope is also an author, with three books to his credit. The first was a family history, tracing how the Nazis took over his ancestral villa, in Berlin, and made it into a center for Nazi cryptology. The second, “When Do I Applaud?” is a guide to concertgoing etiquette and customs. “Toi Toi Toi,” which translates as “good luck,” catalogues classical music catastrophes, from onstage deaths to the story that Sting, a friend of Hope’s, told him, about a vocalist who collapsed on the Royal Albert Hall stage during the Proms concerts, and was promptly replaced by a member of the audience.
Hope has his own music tragedy to tell. As a 7-year-old in his first performance, at London’s South Bank Center, with his teacher and several other young players, Hope leaned back against a swinging door and disappeared, to the laughter of the audience.
“I came back in, more laughter. I was incredibly embarrassed – and hadn’t even played a note yet. My career was over before it began,” he recalled. Hope adds that the experience has had a happy ending: “I realized, it’s not about the mishap, but about how you recover, how you make it not a disaster. Whenever I get nervous, I think about that moment and it relaxes me.”
Hope’s entry into the music realm was less of a mixed experience. After Menuhin hired his mother, Hope practically became a fixture at the Menuhin house.
“I was soaking up the music – not only Menuhin, but Stephane Grappelli, Ravi Shankar, people who came on a daily basis. I remember pulling the spike out from Rostropovich’s cello,” he said. “It wasn’t even a question of wanting to become a musician; music was implanted in my brain.”
One issue loomed over his career – a potential conflict of interest with his mother’s employer. Menuhin intentionally kept his distance from the young Hope, until, when Hope was 16, he heard Hope play – and immediately brought him on a concert tour, with Menuhin conducting and Hope as soloist.
“It was the best possible way of learning those pieces,” Hope, who toured with Menuhin for 10 years and performed at the conductor’s final concert, said. “It’s one thing learning them with your teacher; it’s another to play them in concert for an audience with someone who knows those pieces better than anyone in the world.”