The Violin Channel recently caught up with VC Artist Augustin Hadelich – on the eve of the release of his new Warner Classics debut album: ‘Paganini 24 Caprices’ – and the delightful new Paganini ‘Fantasy of the Cats’ animated short film.
In a VC-exclusive blog, the Italian-German virtuoso shares his inspiration for his musical animation clip – and the long collaborative process behind the creative undertaking.
VC ARTIST AUGUSTIN HADELICH | PAGANINI | SOLO CAPRICE NO. 17 | ‘FANTASY OF THE CATS’ | WARNER CLASSICS
“The 24 Caprices by Nicolò Paganini have been part of my life since I first started working on them as a child, growing up in rural Italy. No. 17 was always one of my favorites – it’s a humorous piece, and as an impressionable youngster I thought it sounded like meowing cats (especially the chromatic runs). This is not that far-fetched: Paganini often entertained his audiences by imitating animal sounds on the violin, and he is said to have been very good at it. While he cultivated a mystique about himself and took advantage of the outlandish rumors about himself in order to sell concert tickets (for example about having sold his soul to the devil), he actually had a great sense of humor and many of his caprices are very funny.
In 2010, I had the idea of making a music video of Caprice No. 17 involving cats. It made perfect sense to me, although it sounded pretty crazy to anyone I told the idea to. For the next few years, I mostly kept the idea to myself. I actually first explored shooting the video with live cats (and myself playing)! While trained cats (trained for filming) and their handlers are surprisingly affordable, I felt that the story wasn’t strong enough for the piece to work, and the video would end up as more of a curiosity. My second attempt was to make the video as stop-motion animation, but the work stalled again for the same reasons.
In 2013 I met Paul Glickman, a director and photographer in Chicago, who had made a film named “El Salón México” with an artist named Tamarind King, who had done all the drawings. It was a cartoon set to the Copland piece of the same name, and it blew me away!
After seeing “El Salón México”, I knew that Paul and Tam were the right people for the Caprice 17 project. Some parts of the story were already clear to me: the violinist (me) would meet the cats in an alleyway and start performing for them; the cats would somehow understand the violinist’s music because the chromatic “meows” of Caprice 17 sound close to their own language; they would start dancing, as if bewitched; and there would be more to the violinist than meets the eye. Many new ideas were added by Paul and Tam – for example the romantic subplot between the main two cats, and many of the gags. (One day, Paul exclaimed, “what if the violinist turns out to have a cat tail?”) Tam made beautiful and imaginative drawings of the cats, and I was amazed every time she sent more material she had created. She gave each cat their own character, and we soon started calling them by name (Gelato is the name of the big one!)
One thing I learnt is that animations and cartoons take forever to make! We started to work on the project in late 2013. By early 2015, we had an animated storyboard, created from Tam’s sketches. She did a lot of research into ballet – the idea was that initially the cats would dance clumsily, but after the sorcery of the middle virtuosic section, the cats are transformed and some of the most beautiful dancing occurs, including a pas-de-deux between the two main characters. When I saw her sketches for this section, I was blown away! We had known from the start that this would be the most difficult section to make, because cats don’t naturally walk on two legs, and making cat-bodies perform ballet is no easy task. In 2016, she created the backgrounds and digital puppets of all the characters (with bones and joints etc) in computer software. Then, throughout 2017, Tam worked on the animation, scene by scene. It was painstaking and time-consuming work, and luckily Tam had a lot of help from friends, including Yu Ueda, who developed the unique animation rigs for the characters, and Caitlin Cash, who did the work of coloring the backgrounds.
By 2017 I was in the middle of my recording of the 24 Caprices for Warner Classics. Up until then we’d been using a recording of Caprice 17 I’d made in 2011 for the video, but we eventually swapped t the soundtrack in order to use the Paganini 17 recording from the new album. This required some re-timing of the animation, but we knew it would improve the end result.
I was lucky to have such brilliant collaborators for this project. Video projects often run over-budget and behind schedule, but establishing a budget and a production schedule from the get-go, as they did, is essential, especially for such an elaborate project. It is also very important to have a very clear idea of what the goal of a video is, and what kind of story you want to tell, and have ways to hash out small and large disagreements when working out the details.
One of the first people to comment on the video asked “when’s the next part coming out?”… Ok — just give me 4-5 years and I’ll get back to you on that!
A graduate of the Istituto Mascagni and The Juilliard School, VC Artist Augustin Hadelich is a former 1st prize winner at the Indianapolis International Violin Competition – and a recipient of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and the inaugural 2015 Warner Music Prize
Paganini: 24 Caprices |CD|
Augustin Hadelich, Violin
Release Date: January 12, 2018