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VC Artist William Hagen — Researching a Work from a Different Country

William will perform as a festival artist at this year's North Shore Chamber Music Festival, being held from June 7 - 10, 2023

The 2023 North Shore Chamber Music Festival, in Northbrook, Illinois, will commence on June 7, 2023, with a program entitled "Fairy's Kiss."

The program will include VC Artist violinist William Hagen performing Stravinsky's "Divertimento" (after The Fairy’s Kiss) and Chausson's Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet, Op.21.

To find a full schedule of The North Shore Festival, click here. All concerts will be streamed LIVE here on The Violin Channel.

We had a chance to pick William's brain about how he prepares music written in countries other than his own upbringing, to ensure the subtle nuances and an engaging performance.

Violinist William Hagen on How He Researches Foreign Repertoire:

With most music, I do very little extra research based on where the composer is from geographically. Music is a universal language, and music without words is particularly universal. What note is on the downbeat? Is there an accent on a weak beat? Are the notes going up, or down, and what are the composer's dynamic markings?

These are the basic elements that have the most impact on how the music sounds. I could research Chausson's upbringing, the dialect spoken in the region of France where he's from, the musical priorities at the Paris Conservatoire around the time he was studying, and more, but if I put a false accent on the second beat of a 4/4 measure, all that research won't have done me much good. And further, I'd still have no real idea what his life was like because times have changed so drastically.

It's most important that I develop strong emotional reactions to the music. What is the basic adjective of the phrase? How does it make me feel? Sadness, joy, mischief, anger, gratitude...words start to seem inadequate in describing the complex, often overwhelming feelings we get from a good piece of music. I think interacting with the music on this level overcomes differences in language and culture between composer and performer.

All that being said, I think research is extremely important, and I usually regret it when I'm lazy about it. The research I do starts with what the composer might have said about the piece, unique circumstances surrounding the composition of the piece, etc. For instance, knowing that Stravinsky was purposefully channeling Tchaikovsky when he wrote "The Fairy's Kiss" is an important thing to be aware of when performing the Divertimento, and of course, programmatic music like "Verklärte Nacht" really needs to be researched so that you're aware of the specific part of the story that you're telling. If the research leads to an emotional reaction, it's useful. If not, I don't think it's particularly useful.

An international soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician, VC Artist William Hagen made his debut last season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe at the Rheingau Music Festival.

A graduate of The Juilliard School, The Colburn School, and The Kronberg Academy, he studied with Itzhak Perlman, Robert Lipsett, and Christian Tetzlaff. William is also a former major prize winner at the Fritz Kreisler and Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competitions.

His upcoming projects include recording and filming Ysaÿe Sonata for Solo Violin No. 5 at the Tippet Rise Arts Center. Additionally, he will be giving a recital and teaching at the Sounding Point Academy — which was founded by Robert Lipsett and Fabiola Kim to nurture the next generation of soloists, chamber musicians, orchestral musicians, and pedagogies.

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