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At the top of his game, violinist talks Harry Potter, Prokofiev, playing by memory

Augustin Hadelich is justly regarded as a phenom in the music world, a brilliant violinist who channels his mastery of the instrument and material through a penetrating mind.

Sometimes music schools can turn out rubber stamp performers, but the 37-year-old virtuoso – who was born in Italy to German parents – isn’t one of them. His appearance in this weekend’s TFO Masterworks program should more than prove the point, and the orchestra was lucky to get him, says Music Director Michael Francis.

“This is another example of the amazing soloists we have this year,’’ he says. “Augustin is at the very top of his game. This will be an incredible performance.’’

Traditional listeners might prefer one of the “big five’’ violin concertos by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Bruch, but the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor merits being among them, Hadelich says.

“It’s one of the most exciting and beloved violin works of the 20th century,’’ says the Grammy Award winner. “Prokofiev was a storyteller, and this piece contains just about every character, from the lyrical and pastoral to the manic, and it’s hard to resist imagining stories when hearing it.’’

The concerto opens with a somber five-note theme played in the low register of the violin, a motif that dominates the entire movement. One Hollywood film composer had no problem borrowing it.

“It’s not a coincidence that John Williams, when composing music for (the movie) Harry Potter, chose exactly the same pitches as the beginning of the Prokofiev,’’ Hadelich says.

The andante is the heart of the work, one of Prokofiev’s most romantic creations, which Francis calls “a favorite’’ movement in music. The violinist agrees.

“The opening of the second movement is one of the most beautiful moments in the violin repertoire,’’ he adds. “A sweet singing theme slowly unfolds in the solo violin, over a plucked pattern. It feels weightless, floating. It goes straight to the heart, and is definitely the moment of the piece I most look forward to in every performance.’’

The finale is an energetic dance, spiced by Spanish castanets that Prokofiev thought would appease the audience at the work’s premiere in Madrid. The music is full of sarcasm and wit, and the soloist wraps up in a flurry of notes that Hadelich calls “one of the most exciting endings of any concerto.’’

Hadelich – who plays a 1744 Guarneri instrument – keeps the Prokofiev and a handful of other concertos in his back pocket when on tour. All are played from memory, which requires constant study and a rigorous practice routine.

“I play a lot of different repertoire each season, often a dozen concertos, and to manage switching from piece to piece I find it essential to be very organized in my practice,’’ he says. “When you play a piece for years, it’s usually easier to remember older ideas, and older fingerings and bowings, than it is to remember the newer ideas and insights. It’s how the human brain seems to work, to favor older memories over newer ones.’’

To avoid falling into this trap, he keeps a musical diary.

“Part of my process is that after every week of performances I write some notes to my future self – about how it went, any new insights I arrived at, new fingerings or bowings I developed, perhaps something the conductor said. If I do this, then the next time I pick up the same piece, whether it’s a month or five years later, it will be easier to resume right where I left off.’’

Hadelich has plenty of time to add to his diary when on planes or in hotels, which can seem endless on a long tour. But with the violin back in his hands, and the orchestra warming up, the rigors of concert life seem less daunting.

“I travel a lot, but I don’t enjoy the traveling itself, which is a real drag,’’ he says. “I’m happy as soon as I have arrived and start rehearsing and performing.’’

This weekend’s program includes the tone poem Icarus by Lera Auerbach, and Modest Mussorgsky’s grand Pictures at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.


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