Violinist Chad Hoopes has blazed his way across international stages as a soloist and collaborator of deep artistry and supreme lyricism. His adaptability has led to faithful alliances, like the one he shares with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The two will reunite on May 3 for a concert at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morris Township.
The program will feature Hoopes on Felix Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E minor and culminate with Modest Mussorgsky’s vivid Pictures at an Exhibition, reimagined by Jannina Norpoth. The narrative arc shines a light on masterworks that were forged through deep friendships between artists and composers to reflect on the collaborative spirit of chamber music.
The Violin Concerto in E minor came about as a partnership between Mendelssohn and his close friend and violinist, Ferdinand David, whom the German composer appointed concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra after becoming principal conductor himself. Mendelsohn turned to David for technical and compositional fine-tuning during the six years it took to write the virtuoso showstopper.
“It’s a really nice piece because it’s sort of based around friendship,” Hoopes says. “As with many pieces that we have in the repertory, composers would most often write music for their friends or their classmates.”
Since its premiere in 1845, it has become a hallmark of the Romantic era, and has influenced composers and musicians alike. “It’s probably one of the most famous violin concertos in the violin repertoire,” Hoopes says. “It’s a piece very close to my heart and I’ve played it off and on in my career a lot.”
The work is a rite of passage for aspiring young violinists. Hoopes mastered it as a child, and it became the first piece he played with an orchestra when he was 10 years old. It was also the first violin concerto he recorded professionally in 2014, paired with the John Adams Violin Concerto on the French label Naïve with the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra under Kristjan Järvi.
Its three movements are in the traditional concerto structure — a darker middle section framed by two upbeat allegros — but with inventive, distinctive markings throughout. Each movement is taken attacca, meaning no pauses between them.
“It’s definitely innovative in the way there’s no break in between the movements,” Hoopes says. “It basically leaves no room for an audience to applaud between them, which is kind of nice because the first movement ends in a very virtuosic manner.”
Hoopes will handle the technically challenging themes, cadenzas and ricochet bowing, in an arrangement by David Walter that is new to him.
“I’ve never actually performed in this arrangement so it should be very interesting to do it with Orpheus,” he says. “I’ve never played a Mendelssohn concerto with Orpheus but it’s going to be an absolute blast to play it with them because they’re an incredible group. The musicians are all top-notch players. They play a lot of chamber music and some solo things, so it’s comprised of strong individuals coming together in this chamber orchestra.
“It’s a very chamber-oriented concerto. In its own right, it’s sort of like chamber music because there’s a lot of collaborating between the soloist and the orchestra where the solo violin will have the melody and sometimes it’ll take the secondary voice and do a bit of accompaniment, and there are a few moments in the first overture that are so luscious and beautiful. Then also at the end of the cadenza, the violin kind of has a ricochet and the orchestra takes on the primary tune.”
Hoopes isn’t sure which violin he will use for the piece. He plays the 1991 Samuel Zygmuntowicz, formerly owned by Isaac Stern, and another violin made by G.B. Guadagnini from 1766.
“From a listening perspective,” he says, “one might not be able to tell a dramatic difference between the two. But I think an informed listener might be able to tell some subtle differences, for sure.
“I switch back and forth quite regularly and it just depends on the tour that I’m on and the repertoire that I’m playing and the concert halls that I’m in, so I’m still deciding. Sometimes I even carry a double violin case and bring both of the instruments, and decide a little bit closer to the concert.”
He first connected with Orpheus last summer for Newport Classical’s 2022 Music Festival in an opening concert of late Baroque Era gems. “We did the Vivaldi ‘Four Seasons’ and I think it was a wildly successful sort of first collaboration,” he says. “I loved working with them and the audience was super-excited to hear that concert.”
Orpheus celebrates its 50th anniversary this season. The New York-based organization is known for its egalitarian approach to music-making. There is no conductor and all artistic leadership is sourced from within.
Members of Orpheus first played at the Morris Museum in October 2020 for the inaugural Lot of Strings Music Festival. The relationship has continued over the years with concerts featuring the full ensemble.
They will wrap up the program with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The Russian composer wrote the piano suite in 1874 as a musical tribute to his friend, the artist Viktor Hartmann, who had unexpectedly passed away the year prior. Another friend of Mussorgsky organized a memorial exhibition in Saint Petersburg of Hartmann’s work, painted from his travels abroad. Mussorgsky’s work is a musical exploration of the exhibition, its 10 movements connected by a series of harmonic “promenades” based on the individual artworks.
The expressive piece has inspired countless rearrangements and orchestrations, the most famous being French composer Maurice Ravel’s colorful 1922 adaptation for orchestra. Orpheus will play Norpoth’s imaginative arrangement, which premiered in January at Carnegie Hall.
Norpoth — a Brooklyn-based arranger, orchestrator, composer and violinist — focused on overlooked details from Mussorgsky’s original piano score. She tailored it for a chamber ensemble with plenty of extended techniques and string solos of virtuosic passagework.
In addition to the Mendelssohn-Mussorgsky program, the concert offers a VIP ticket that includes a pre-performance reception and access to an Orpheus performance of a new work by a prominent film composer.
Born in Florida in 1994, Hoopes began his violin studies at the age of 3 and continued his training at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He won first prize in the Junior division of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2008 when he was only 13. From 2013 to 2015, he studied with Ana Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy in Germany.
For years, he enjoyed free rein as a guest artist on solo performances with orchestras and ensembles around the world. Now 29, he is expanding on the skills he learned as a soloist and moving into the more personally connected environments of chamber music.
“Growing up in my teenage years and early 20s, I was primarily playing violin concertos with major symphony orchestras and it wasn’t really until my early 20s that I started playing a lot of chamber music,” he says. “That’s when I joined the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and that was kind of an education in and of itself, joining and playing with some of the foremost chamber musicians in the world. I learned so much from them and basically started to incorporate a lot more chamber work into my seasons and schedule, because I just loved the closeness of the collaboration.”
He’s got a fiercely independent head and an amicably social heart. They’re in constant flux.
“I mean, there are pros and cons of both — though mostly pros, let’s be honest!” he says with a laugh. “You know, travelling and playing concertos is sort of an isolating experience. You’re alone and you’re not on the road with other people … and I like it! I really do enjoy playing concertos, but I was very excited to incorporate more chamber music into my career, too.
“I like chamber music because it’s very collaborative and immediate. You’re with a group and a small ensemble, and things can evolve so quickly. On the other hand, being a soloist has its own sort of glory. You practice for years and years to internalize this repertoire and perfect it, in order to be able to get on a big stage in front of a world class orchestra and play, and your hard work really pays off in those moments.”
He has tried to push his boundaries and redefine what it means to be an artist in the world. “I’ve taken the approach of diversifying my interests as a violinist and trying to dabble in many different things,” he says. “And trying to explore the many different facets of what a violinist can be and what a violinist can do, and what a violinist can contribute.”
Part of that journey is passing on his artistry to the next generation of musicians and serving as a role model. In 2020, he became a professor at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “That’s a third dimension of what I do, in terms of teaching,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot by doing that as well.”
His summer is packed with guest appearances at classical music festivals. First up is a trip to Germany to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major with the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker.
“Then I’ll have three and a half weeks off,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it because it’s been a really busy period for me. Then I’ll be in Rockport (in Massachusetts) presenting a violin recital with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott. We’ll play Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, the Fauré sonata and also a Mozart sonata.”
He’ll make appearances at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina to play Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Moritzburg Festival in Germany, and the Music@Menlo Festival in California.
“It’s going to be a busy summer but a lot of fun,” he says. “I really do enjoy being on the road and exploring all different kinds of repertoire with fabulous musicians. It’s easy to complain about being worn out, but you can’t complain about being busy doing what you love, and especially making a career of it!”
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Chad Hoopes will perform at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morris Township, May 3 at 8 p.m. Visit morrismuseum.org/live-arts. For more on Hoopes, visit chadhoopes.com.
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