On his first studio effort, 19-year-old Chad Hoopes shows a command of his violin that is well beyond his years
Violinist Chad Hoopes may be precocious, but he’s also patient. Since taking first prize at the Young Artists Division of the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition at the age of 13, Hoopes has been a much sought-after performer, appearing with the Cleveland Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Utah Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Houston Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Brussels Chamber Orchestra, among others. But Hoopes, 19, turned down several offers to record, citing the need to take time to develop his voice as an instrumentalist, and, well, to finish high school.
Now, with his release of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 64, and John Adams’ Violin Concerto, on Naïve Records, there’s little doubt that Hoopes’ patience has paid off. The album not only captures Hoopes’ markedly mature voice, but finds him equally at home on a romantic masterpiece as in a post-modern work.
Indeed, Hoopes’ life these days is a testament to finding balance in his new career as a concert violinist. When I caught up with him by phone from New York City, he was enjoying some down time from a busy touring schedule and preparing for his new record’s American release.
What was the thinking behind pairing Mendelssohn with Adams?
Mendelssohn was a concerto that I’ve played since I was eight. It was one of the first I’d performed, and it’s a piece that I love so much. It’s special for me. I thought, for my first recording, that I would put something out there that I connect with so well and I hope can help other people connect with me and with music. It’s one of the great violin concertos and was kind of a given [for the album].
Then I was thinking about what I could pair it with, and I wanted to do something American and relatively contemporary.
Originally, I thought of the Barber concerto, because it’s new and exciting, but people have already explored this piece. I did a bit of listening, and talked with a bunch of people and learned about the Adams concerto. I bought the score, studied it, and played it a little bit and first thought, “No, this is not possible—it’s too hard.” I called my manager and said, “We’ll have to find something else,” and she said, “Stick with it. Keep on looking at it. It’s such a fantastic piece.”
She’s the one who insisted that I fight through it and spend a few more months on it. I’m so grateful for that because in those two months I fell in love with the piece and I really began to put my own stamp on it. Once you incorporate your own character into a piece, it kind of becomes yours. I’m really proud of it. You don’t see so many young artists these days putting out new music. I’m happy to be able to say that I did that and pushed myself.
Have you gone back and listened to the full album since you recorded it?
I have. A few weeks ago, a friend wanted to listen to it. There are definite similarities between the two concertos. Both of them are very singing, melodic pieces. I can easily express myself through their singing nature.
Are you currently studying violin with anyone?
A little bit. I have lessons once a month with Ana Chumachenco, who teaches in Munich, Germany. She taught Julia Fischer and Arabella Steinbacher and many of the fantastic violinists playing now. I've been studying with her for six or seven months, and went to Germany because I wanted to experience the culture. America is amazing, and all the music schools here have a lot to offer, but I wanted to challenge myself and live in another culture and breathe it.
Another thing that shines through is how you handle the upper registers on both compositions. Was there anything special you did to prepare for that?
It’s not something I really think about. With the Adams, it’s incredibly difficult because you’re so high up and all over the place—it’s almost jazzy in a way.
You can’t just play how it looks on the page. I feel like when I was first learning it, I was just playing the notes on the page. It was more like an exercise for me rather than feeling the music and making it come alive. Finally, after I had this “a-ha” moment, it began to take life. With this music especially, you have to do something with it.
In terms of time commitment, what did it entail on your part before you felt the Adams piece come alive?
I played it so much. I spent most of my summer leading up to the recording with the concerto—everyday at least three or four hours. At first, I’d play it slowly, using a metronome to figure out the rhythmic structure and the different character and phrasing. Once you've discovered that structure, you figure out the music inside of that, you learn why he wrote certain things the way he did.
Since winning the Menuhin Competition, your career has followed a steep trajectory. What’s your feeling on the importance of competitions for young players?
You know, I wouldn't be where I am today without the Menuhin Competition, so I’m grateful for that opportunity. Competitions, you love them and you hate them as an artist. Anybody, whether you’re ten years old or 25, you have something to say, and sometimes competitions give you the stage to express yourself. In other instances, you wonder, why is what you have to say more important than someone else? I was 13 and I didn’t understand this concept. I loved playing and being on stage and living the music. I was very naive. I went in not expecting much. I just played, and I think I was lucky. It didn’t freak me out—I just did my thing.
I’m lucky because some people win competitions and then they have a full concert schedule or maybe they don’t have much happening and people lose interest. My career has been gradual. It’s because I have a fantastic manager and a team that is cautious about how I want my career to be. I want a healthy, long career.
I want to be playing when I’m 60, and I don’t want to be playing every important venue in the next five years, because I have my whole lifetime to do that.
I waited to record. Right after winning the competition, I could have recorded, but when you’re that age, I don’t know, I might have had my voice, and had something to say.
Do you see yourself continuing to study for a long time?
I think I’m going to be learning for the rest of my life, and anyone who decides that they’re done studying or discovering new things should stop [playing]. For me, having lessons with Ana Chumachenco, I feel like I’ll always want to play for a mentor whether it’s Chumachenco or [Cleveland Institute of Music president] David Cerone, who is also a very important influence. I’ll always play for the people I trust the most.
How old were you when you first started playing violin?
I was three and a half. People think it’s crazy, but I grew up with my two older sisters who had already started playing at five and seven, and, of course, when you’re younger, you look to your older siblings to do what they’re doing. I begged my parents for a violin and they kept on saying no, you’re too young. Finally, I threw temper tantrums on a daily basis for a violin, and I used to try and grab my sisters’ violins. I got a Highland from Santa Claus for Christmas and I started.
How soon after that did you identify yourself as a violin player?
I think I always thought of myself as a violinist. From the time I was young and went to see superstars that I looked up to, like Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn. I always thought, that’s what I want to do. I always had that dream.
When I was about 12, we moved to Cleveland and I started studying with David Cerone, and he asked if I wanted to do a competition, and I said, why not? So I started preparing and this is the point when I felt, I could do this, I love this feeling of being on the stage and making music. Winning the competition solidified the fact that that’s what I wanted with my life.
Do you listen to other kinds of music besides classical?
I love pop music, actually. Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, and the Black Eyed Peas.
Do those sounds ever find their way into your playing, or is it a totally separate world?
It is a separate world, but there are some connections. One of my favorite pop artists was Michael Jackson, and when I watch YouTube videos of him, it’s not only the fact that he had an incredible voice, he was an amazing performer.
The time he spent on the stage was profound, and he had an aura around him that was spectacular. To see that is inspiring to me.
Classical music needs the same kind of passion. When I’m on stage it’s not about being Michael Jackson, but you have to connect with the audience. If they feel something, then you've done your job.
You want an immediate connection.
Exactly, and with the Adams concerto, it’s so jazzy and you connect with the audience because of the way it feels.
You get into this groove and the audience joins you. That’s why I love it so much.
What do you do when you’re not playing the violin?
When I’m not playing a concert, or have a week off, I fly to New York, where my sisters are, and where I have lots of friends.
I’m such a social person, I need that. Sometimes, when I’m alone, traveling for weeks at a time, or in Germany for a period of study, I crave being with my friends and family.
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