He remembers the day he touched it again. He was scared that he wouldn’t remember how to play, or worse, that it wouldn’t feel the same. But when the bow reached the strings again, that’s when he knew.
“I knew I had to go back to it. I knew I had to keep playing,” he said.
In another random, or rather, miraculous act of chance, the fire had spared Hadelich’s left hand, leaving four crucial fingers untouched. It helped him bounce back and reach Juilliard at age 20, turning the page on the accident that almost derailed his success. On Thursday, Hadelich will make his National Symphony Orchestra debut at the Kennedy Center, another in a string of celebrated firsts for a 29-year-old whom critics praise for his “golden age” sound.
“That experience, people always wonder, ‘How did it change you?’ ” Hadelich said of the fire. “I can’t quite say what it would have been like had it not happened. But it made me realize how important music was to me. It made me reflect.”
‘His great gift’
Hadelich confesses he didn’t think much about the violin after the fire. His priority was survival, learning to move again.
If anything, that taught him that he could live without the instrument, that he could have “found some other way to live a life with music,” he said.
And that’s the maturity he exudes when playing his 1723 Ex-Kiesewetter Stradivarius in concert halls across the globe. The violin isn’t his whole world, but a joyous part of it. Perhaps that’s why the Dvorak Concerto — a piece he’ll play Thursday — fits him so well. It has long been an underappreciated piece in the classical canon, one virtuosos — or let’s just say it, showoffs — tend to avoid. The concerto suits Hadelich beautifully, showcasing the whole orchestra, not just the violinist. The simplicity of the score lends itself to his style, a voice that is distinct and nostalgic, never a dizzying exhibition of skill devoid of substance.
“It is part of his great gift,” said Joseph Kalichstein, the Kennedy Center’s artistic adviser for chamber music, who coached Hadelich when he studied at Juilliard. “I wouldn’t presume to know why, but he makes an individual statement. He doesn’t sound different for the sake of being different. That . . . is a throwback to a better age.”
Throwback is a word Hadelich hears a lot. Joel Smirnoff, one of his instructors at Juilliard, told the New York Times that Hadelich sounds like one of the “golden age guys.”