26 Mar 2022

Worlds Collide in Utah 

by Kathleen Sykes 

In Spanish they say, “el mundo es un pañuelo.” The world is a handkerchief. This is to say, that often the world feels so small, you can wrap it and all of its people up in a napkin. It especially feels this way in the world of classical music—many musicians in different orchestras around the world have performed together; are friends with various soloists; are connected through students or classmates; or have worked under the baton of different conductors. The six degrees of separation becomes closer to three when you work in this industry. 

The same is true for violinist and Augustin Hadelich and conductor Tito Muñoz who have worked together once before in 2020 and are now coming together again for a fabulous program on our 2021-22 season. While they have had different backgrounds and experiences in music, they have remarkably similar philosophies when it comes to their craft. 

How it all began 

Muñoz began studying the violin rather late when he was in middle school, but he knew early on he wanted to pursue music professionally. He had the great opportunity to observe and work with professional musicians from an early age. He recalls, “During high school, I was also studying at the Music Advancement Program at the Juilliard School on Saturdays. All my teachers there were professional working musicians in New York City; performing on Broadway, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall. Sometimes they would invite us to their rehearsals and performances, I think it was those experiences that inspired me to pursue music professionally.” 

Hadelich on the other hand began his musical journey quite early. “When I was five years old, my two older brothers were already playing cello and piano. As I was listening to them playing, I really wanted to make music too. I didn’t know what a violin was!” He remembers, “Starting the violin is always pretty rough, everyone sounds bad when they first start. But then when I heard some great violinists play, I realized how beautiful it can sound, how it is like a voice!” citing David Oistrakh and the Italian violinist Uto Ughi as two of his greatest inspirations. 

Keeping things fresh 

When you are playing the pieces everyone knows, how do you present a point of view that keeps your audience’s attention? Hadelich and Muñoz have spent a great deal of time thinking about the works on this program and challenging themselves to bring greater depth to the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale.” 

Like many young violinists, Hadelich learned the Sibelius Violin concerto when he was very young. He focused intently on the solo violin part until he had it practiced and perfected. But with that comfort of knowing the part so well comes extra bandwidth to explore the piece—he says, “Over the years, I’ve deepened my understanding of the orchestral score. I love the colors of the orchestration, which are so evocative and inspiring. This is a piece I can never get enough of, even after performing it many times over the years!” 

Muñoz has also spent a great deal of time deepening his understanding of the score and trying to see it from a new perspective. “As many people might have, I had my first experience with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony watching the original 1940 film Fantasia,” he said about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. It’s a familiar image to many people, as is the Sibelius—with only the Buxtehude work being the most unique on the program. However, he is able to set that aside to look at it from a new perspective. 

“It’s always an enjoyable challenge for me to imagine that the ink is wet, that the piece was just written and we’re discovering something new. It takes a lot of study to get into the composer’s mind as best as we can and create an interpretation that is personally meaningful and genuine, and that will speak to the audience in the same way.” 

A killer collaboration 

What is the secret to a perfect partnership? Muñoz and Hadelich worked together once with Muñoz’s orchestra in Phoenix where he is music director. According to Muñoz, “He’s a fabulous musician and a joy to make music with. The relationship with a soloist can be very special. You usually don’t have a lot of time to ‘figure things out’ before you start a rehearsal with someone new.”  

Often, guest soloists have what is called a “tempi meeting” beforehand to discuss what the conductor has in mind for the speed and interpretation of the work, and then they hit the ground running, trusting the orchestra to get them up to speed. He says, “I personally think that having the orchestra involved in most of the process is crucial since they are the ones that are really doing the accompanying. I lead them, but they make the sound!” 

Muñoz underscores what he feels is the most important part of a partnership, “It’s so important that the relationship is fostered with respect and empathy. You achieve the best results when everyone is working together positively toward the same goals.” 

In fact, Hadelich and Muñoz share an important philosophy in common: empathy. He says, “For me, the best musical partnerships feel like playing chamber music. It’s about empathy, actually — in chamber music, when you know a musician well and “click” with them, you can predict the timing of their phrase, and it feels easy to play exactly together. It’s a bit like knowing how someone you know very well will finish their sentence after they’ve only said the first few words of it!” 

Touchdown in Utah 

It’s always exciting for an artist to meet new collaborators, and Muñoz is no exception. “The Utah Symphony has a reputation of being one of our country’s truly great orchestras,” he said. “I’m very much looking forward to our collaboration this week with such an interesting and satisfying program.” 

And Hadelich, as a fan favorite, feels likewise. “I have enjoyed all my previous visits to Utah immensely, and it has been exciting to see how the orchestra has developed under Thierry Fischer’s leadership over the years,” he said. “What a great feeling to finally make music together again.” 

Experience this match made in heaven at Tito Muñoz Conducts Beethoven 6, Sibelius & Buxtehude