For violinist Viviane Hagner listening is the most important thing

Viviane Hagner. Photo: Koelin

The Munich-born violinist Viviane Hagner is no stranger to Ottawa. She debuted at the National Arts Centre in 2002 when she was part of the Young Artists Program and she was back in 2012. This week she joins NACO’s conductor emeritus Pinchas Zukerman, her former teacher, for a concert of music by Chausson and Mozart. She answered some questions from ARTSFILE about the music she is playing and her own artistic sensibilities.

Q. You have played in Ottawa before with NACO. Can you recall those performances for us?

A. I feel fortunate to have had a chance to perform some important violin repertoire with the NACO including the Brahms and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos. It was memorable to be part of a NACO Gala performing the Brahms Double Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma. And I remember celebrating Canada Day here for the first time. This was my first time in Ottawa when I was a participant of the Young Artists Program. I also bought my thickest winter coat ever when I came during winter once. 

Q. You have a professional relationship with Pinchas Zukerman. Can you tell me about the connection?

A. I have always found it remarkable how passionate Pinchas is about teaching and supporting younger musicians. He invited me to perform Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante when I was just finishing my first year of studies with him. In his lessons, Pinchas focuses quite a bit on some technical aspects of violin playing and sound production in particular. In short, he works on all the technical means that enable the student to express herself musically on the violin. He constantly encourages you to listen to yourself and to others. 

Q. You are playing two pieces with NACO. Can you talk about the Poème by Ernest Chausson? Is it an important piece for you?

A. I requested to play Chausson‘s Poème because I love it for its emotional intensity, whether it be during my long solo cadenza or together with orchestra. While it is much shorter than a violin concerto, it contains a huge amount of drama. It’s kind of a love story, whether with a happy ending or not. Coincidentally Poème also ends in the same key as the Mozart starts. 

Q. You are once again playing the Mozart Sinfonia with Zukerman on viola. Can you talk about the piece and the relationship between the two soloists.

A. The Sinfonia Concertante is a dialogue between the two ‘concertizing’ instruments — sometimes they are literally playing together, at other times they are reacting to each other — all of which is alongside the orchestra. Ideally it becomes a chamber music work, just on a larger scale. Whenever (one of) the soloists conducts the orchestra, it requires particularly careful listening from everyone in the orchestra as well as an excellent concertmaster. Not to mention the extra qualities required from a soloist/conductor. Of course, the NACO has had so much experience playing together with Pinchas, both as a conductor and ‘play/conducting.’ 

Q. Your professional musical career began at age 12. A year later you were performing in a famous concert featuring th Berlin Phil and Israel Phil both conducted by Zubin Mehta. Quite a coming out party. What do you remember of those days?

A. Those early opportunities to perform were quite exciting for me. At that age, there was also an ‘adventurous’ aspect to it for me. I was traveling so far for the first time and being surrounded by an overwhelming number of great musicians on stage. I hardly had time to even look at their faces once and yet somehow we managed to perform together by simply listening to each other. 

Of course, I was dreaming at that time to be able to do this for the rest of my life. 

Luckily, I had sensible parents who made sure I wouldn‘t be doing this too soon too extensively. 

Q. In an interview with the Irish Times you said this: “I hate easy-listening, anything that I’m not forced to listen 100 per cent to. I like to dive fully into music. If it stays on the surface, it’s not for me.” Can you explain what you meant by this?

A. I meant that I don’t like the idea of listening to music in the background just to enjoy a ‘chill’ atmosphere. I can’t really do that. Either I love what I hear (or if I don’t love it, something still makes me listen to it). Then I will try to focus on it otherwise I rather prefer silence. 

Q. Is your career competing with your family? How do you manage it all?

It remains a challenge trying to balance one‘s professional life with family, especially with young children. I am incredibly grateful for all the support from my family.

Q. You are a bit of a foodie judging from what I have read. When you come to a city do you do your best to explore the food scene?

A. I do try to explore the food of any place I visit, and it doesn’t have to be very fancy. I just think that food gives some interesting insights into any culture. Amongst my favourite dishes are a Korean algae soup and kimchi. But I probably couldn‘t resist a warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce either. 

Q. Are their composers you just can’t get enough of? 

A. Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Bartok. Rather boring, I guess, but true.

Q What about contemporary music?

A. Contemporary music interests me a lot, and I try to read or listen to it as much as I can. And I even like some of it. What I mean is that with some new pieces, I can tell right from the beginning that they speak to me and there is so much to discover in the score, and even more each time I re-visit them.

NAC Orchestra presents Pinchas Zukerkman
With Viviane Hagner, violin
Where: Southam Hall
When: Nov. 21 & 22 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.