The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The New Yorker critic Alex Ross profiles and praises violinist Augustin Hadelich, who performs Dvorak with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend | April 11, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

The timing could not be more perfect.

Alex Ross, the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer who writes for The New Yorker and is considered by many to be the best classical music critic today, recently went to Detroit to report about the dramatic the rebirth of the Detroit Symphony.

He ended up devoting half the story to a great profile of the Italian-German violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who was there as a guest soloist to play the rarely programmed Violin Concerto by the British composer Benjamin Britten.

Now it just so happens that the Grammy Award-winning Hadelich returns to Madison for the third time this weekend to perform another rarely heard violin concerto – the Violin Concerto by Antonin Dvorak – with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

The “String Fever” program includes the rarely performed Sinfonia da Requiem by Benjamin Britten and the “Spring” Symphony by Robert Schumann, which is surprisingly the MSO’s first performance of this well-known work.

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10-$90.

For more information about the artists and the program as well as how to obtain tickets, go to:

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, go to:

And as usual there will be a Prelude Discussion – this time by John DeMain — one hour before each performance.

In addition, the MSO encourages audiences to arrive early because of security check-ins at the Overture Center.

But let’s go back to the profile by Alex Ross (below) of Augustin Hadelich.

In it you will read that:

Hadelich is focusing more on unusual repertoire by Britten, Henry Dutilleux, Gygorgy Ligeti and Thomas Adès than on the well-known violin concertos by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Bartok.

(An impressive virtuoso, whom Ross praises for both technical brilliance and musicality, Hadelich can be heard performing the famously difficult and familiar Caprice No. 24 by Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hadelich has high praise for regional symphony orchestras that gave his career a boost, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which he mentions by name along with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He also points out how underappreciated many such regional orchestras are.

Hadelich is a methodical performing artist. The interview has fascinating background about how he works, including taking notes about each performance, and how he prepares for performances, including what kind of food he eats and when he eats it.

And there is more about Hadlelich’s compelling personal story as a recovered burn victim, about his outstanding playing, and about the life of an up-and-coming concert artist on the road.

The Ear found it fascinating on its own and excellent preparation for hearing Hadelich live. He hopes you do too. Here is a link:


  1. The Ross article also completely misses the tie-ins between a strong economy and support for the arts: the real problem not only with the Detroit Symphony but countless other cities which suffered during the most recent economic decline (which began about 2007). One could write almost exactly the same story about the Minnesota Orchestra.

    Plus, the well of creativity in classical music is in the Far West NOT in Detroit: Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But a New York City-based critic would have missed that.

    I’m sure that Augustin Hadelich is a gifted musician but let’s face it: there are lots of them out there! This was an effort to build a super musician for which the writer/critic, of course, would have taken more than just a bow.

    Comment by fflambeau — April 12, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

  2. Sorry, there’s a lot of nonsense in the Ross article. Like this:

    1. “The program followed a familiar template: an opener (Sibelius’s “Pohjola’s Daughter”), a concerto (Britten’s Violin Concerto), and a symphony (Beethoven’s Seventh). Music critics, myself included, often object to this business-as-usual approach.” Dead wrong. Most music critics, including the one used most here, would hail this as creative programming! Most music critics are in favor of the business-as-usual approach, they do not object to it.

    2. Questionable and WAY to early to tell: “Detroit is no ordinary city; it is recovering from a grim past and undergoing a startling transformation. The orchestra, likewise, is rebounding: a bitter strike in 2010 and 2011 had many observers wondering whether it could survive.”

    3. Bad comparison: “The 2018-19 season includes twelve living composers, five of them women; two major symphonic pieces, John Luther Adams’s “Become Ocean” and Andrew Norman’s “Play,” are featured. There is no lack of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler, but Detroit’s commitment to new music places it in the vanguard, well ahead of its wealthier counterparts in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Philadelphia.” San Francisco and Los Angeles are also wealthier and at least as creative.

    4. Overly inflated view of self and the role of a music critic: “…I was the only critic in attendance at these concerts. Mark Stryker, the longtime classical and jazz critic of the Detroit Free Press, took a buyout last year, and no one else regularly reviews classical events. This is a sad state of affairs, since the orchestra’s work deserves to be chronicled.” It is questionable whether the role of music critic is to be chronicler of an orchestra’s work. It is a completely different role.

    5. Hilarious: “Dressed in black with an upturned collar, the violinist looked a bit like a young officer in a period film, about to go off to war.” I’ve seen lots of “period films” but do not recall such an image.

    6. Pure nonsense and condescending too: “The solo part (in the Britten concerto) is ferociously demanding, but not necessarily in a way that conveys fireworks to the audience.” What the hell does that mean?

    7. Humorous drivel: “At the morning show, Saraste kept to a fairly strict tempo, limiting Hadelich’s ability to tug at Britten’s free-floating lines; yet the second movement had an anxious, sweaty force.” Like a young officer going off to war?

    8. So what? Isn’t this what the composer called for: “Hadelich eventually lands on F-sharp, the clinching note of the D-major triad, but, by the time the orchestra has joined him there, he seems to have lost faith in that note, and keeps falling back to F-natural. Ultimately, he trills between the two notes while winds and brass hold the bare fifth D-A.”

    Sorry again, but I find Ross’s writing to be overrought drivel. He’s simply trying to build a superstar (for which he will take due credit).

    Comment by fflambeau — April 12, 2018 @ 9:22 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,263 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,328,434 hits
%d bloggers like this: