Violinist Hagen: Tchaikovsky concerto is ‘as good as it gets’



An early success set William Hagen on a classical path that would eclipse his sports dreams, yet still score thrills and applause. Such as, when he tackles Tchaikovsky’s beloved violin concerto.

Hagen, 26, is the guest artist at the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s opening Bravo concert Oct. 12. Its finale, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, is a gem in this diamond anniversary season.

Hagen, a Salt Lake City native, made his debut with the Utah Symphony at age 9, after a competition at the Utah State Fair, a first prize win, and audition for the Utah Symphony’s annual Salute to Youth concert.

He hails from a family of music fans, but not music pros. “We didn’t know anything about the classical music world. So, I just considered it a hobby, in the same way that I considered baseball a hobby.” He entered the contest with low expectations and healthy high hopes and knocked it out of the park. The win, he says, “was absolutely jaw-dropping for me!”

So, picture this: There he is at age 9, white bowtie and tails, the youngest one up there and the audience is just eating it up. “I still remember that performance. It was an incredible feeling. I always loved violin before that — like, really, really loved it — but after that, I realized, OK, this is something that I might be uniquely good at and that I could really pursue.

“That really was the encouragement for me to pursue violin with everything that I had.” He studied with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, with Itzhak Perlman at the Juilliard School, at the Verbier Academy in Switzerland, at the Kronberg Academy in Germany and more.

Hagen has performed with orchestras across the country, in recitals internationally and at venues around Europe.

“Nothing affected me more than hearing classical music, and especially violin music,” Hagen says of his early and best love. “Like any other kid, I wanted to be the shortstop for the San Francisco Giants during the baseball season and then when it got to football season, I was going to be the quarterback for the 49ers. And then, during basketball season — I was growing up in Salt Lake during the Stockton and Malone years when they were playing Michael Jordan — so of course I wanted to be a 6’9” power forward for the Utah Jazz. My dad’s pushing 5’9” … and my mom’s 5’2” so I just thought that if I had a lot milk and stretched at night, I would grow into, like, 6’9” — which didn’t work out," he says, laughing.

“Those were my dreams. And then I heard Itzhak Perlman play and I was, like, ‘Oh, wow, OK, that’s what I want to do.’ And, that just stuck."

“I have always loved the absolute heck out of it.”

Hagen performs on the 1732 “Arkwright Lady Rebecca Sylvan” Antonio Stadivari, on loan from the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation — “the best violin I’ve ever played. … Yeah, it’s killer.”

It’s the perfect instrument to convey the depth and emotion fine music taps in its listeners. “When you listen to really, really great music … you’re hearing life,” Hagen says.

“You feel the kind of joy in a great piece of music that you rarely get to feel on a day-to-day basis. … It creates the best moments of your life, for you again.”

Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto holds a strong connection for him. “If you take all things into consideration — just the pure musical side of things, the entertainment value, the audience and musician interaction — I don’t think there’s a better violin concerto."

“It’s such an experience. Every time. … It has just some of the most unbelievably beautiful moments. It’s 35 minutes long, and it really runs the gamut from totally tender, vulnerable beauty to total, rip-snortin’ concert violin playing.

“So, it’s got fire, it’s got beauty, it’s got everything. And, I can’t think of a piece I’d rather play. It’s really as good as it gets.”

Shining Start Concert

10.12.19 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS

Leo Janáček, Sinfonietta

Johann Strauss, Jr., On the Beautiful Blue Danube*

Jean Sibelius, Finlandia, Op. 26*

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

William Hagen, violin

*performed at the first conert by the MSO on Thursday, October 19, 1944 in the Victory Room of the Heidelberg Hotel, Theodore Russell, Conductor

Tickets $27 & up: buy here >

Concert sponsored by:

Selby and Richard McRae Foundation