One of the world’s most in-demand concert violinists, Daniel Hope has also served as associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival since 2004.
At 33, the energetic young performer represents the fresher, busier, more global face of classical music’s future. Born in South Africa, raised in the U.K., currently residing in the Netherlands and helping manage a music festival in the southern U.S., Hope also tours constantly all over the world, playing in a variety of genres from classical to Indian to jazz -- while still finding time to follow the cricket scores.
Hope spoke with us recently from his home in Amsterdam, as he finished up a German tour and prepared to come stateside for the Savannah Music Festival, in which he will make several concert appearances of his own.
The single most ambitious event in this year’s Festival is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. What was the genesis behind bringing that to town?
Daniel Hope: I met Martin HaselbÖck, who directs the Musica Angelica, four or five years ago when we played a Mendelssohn concerto together. I found in him the most extraordinary musician. The sound he’s able to get from a period instrument ensemble is amazing. I’m fascinated by the way he develops phrases and makes the music sing. When I heard he was doing this tour of the Matthew Passion, I got in touch and asked if we could find a way to get this to Savannah.
With two period orchestras and a large choral ensemble, it’s a massive undertaking. How did you and Director Rob Gibson decide the Festival could handle the logistics?
Daniel Hope: It’s not a natural choice for a city like this. It’s usually only seen in major American cities, so I was very keen to have it come here so people here can have a chance to hear one of the great masterpieces of Bach. I put the idea to Rob, and he didn’t need much convincing. He has for a long time admired Martin, and like all of us he loves the Matthew Passion. He went back to the board and his personal team and found out how it could work. I was thrilled they decided to do it.
It’s obviously a risk to have this kind of big-scale event put on. But I maintain that it really helps to give a face to the Festival when you have certain key events that happen throughout. It’s important to the Festival to have these kinds of things that are unique. It’s all very well to program a complete cycle of Beethoven string quartets. But by bringing in special events that are hard to find even in major cities in the U.S., it will help propel the Festival to another level, to reinforce the fact that people who come to the Festival are able to really enjoy seeing something special.
On the other end of the spectrum, people seem to really love the intimate chamber music concerts in the Telfair.
Daniel Hope: I’m still getting feedback via my website about how pleased so many people are to have chamber music back in Savannah. I’m very keen to establish a corps of players to continue to chamber music in Savannah.
With violist Philip Dukes and Josephine Knight, the great cellist, those are two key players we already have. And of course I’m pleased for a number of reasons that my wife Annika can come play bass. It gives us a chance to see each other and also to play some music together. We met playing music, that’s what connected us. We also have a number of great American artists we want to continue to spotlight. One of course is Benny Kim, not only a great musician and violinist but a great guy to have around.
These are all close friends of mine, and I think if people like each other and enjoy spending time together, that comes across in performances. What I think is important is to give a face to chamber music. Not necessarily the same players every time, but a stable group of veteran players that the audience will recognize. And all the musicians I’ve selected are all incredibly communicative people. Music is about communication, and we want more people to realize that an evening of chamber music is one of the finest art forms you can have.
In this year’s finale you’re soloing in the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who accompanied Andre Watts in last year’s Festival. Is the plan for the ASO to have a yearly presence?
Daniel Hope: I’m very much hoping it’s a relationship that will continue. First of all, because it’s important to have the major orchestra in the state actually associated with the Festival. It makes a very important statement. And it’s great also for the ASO to be getting out of Atlanta and making in Savannah what I would hope to be a regular stop. I know Rob is very keen on that as well.
How did you decide on the Brahms?
Daniel Hope: It was a combination of consultation with the orchestra and with Mr. Spano, the ASO’s fine director. The Brahms concerto is one of the greatest works for violin ever written. It’s up there with the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos. It’s a monumental piece, full of passion, with some of the greatest melodies ever written.
We certainly wanted to offer a popular piece as well as a great piece. We become spoiled as violinists, because there are so many wonderful works written for the instrument. But this in particular seemed to me to be a really great romantic work by Brahms to offer. There are a lot of romantic works throughout this year’s Festival, actually. So in a sense having the Brahms at the very end will be a fitting statement.
Brahms seems to be consistently underrated.
Daniel Hope: I’m not so sure about that. I would say there’s probably a big difference between the audience in Europe and the U.S. Certainly in Europe, Brahms is very appreciated and remains one of the composers best rooted in tradition. I think perhaps in the States there’s less of that.
If anyone is hesitant about the value of the Brahms concerto, all you have to do is listen to that opening melody. It gets me every time. And the second movement has this amazing oboe solo, itself with one of the most beautiful melodies. A lot of violinists in the day, including the great Spanish virtuoso Sarasate, refused to play the Brahms concerto. He said, “How can you expect me to stand around and watch the oboe player steal the show?” Of course, the violin is an essential part of the piece, but there is definitely the sense that he’s a part of the orchestra.
Doomsayers have long predicted the demise of classical music, but musicians such as yourself seem to be in extraordinarily high demand. Is the problem as bad as it’s been portrayed?
Daniel Hope: I think we certainly do have a problem in terms of audiences which, to be frank, are not getting younger. We have this wonderful audience now for classical music, and we need and rely upon that audience, but where the classical music industry is not paying enough attention is to the audience of tomorrow. That is a worry.
As classical musicians we’re lucky enough to have a full cultural life offered to us so we can play every day of the year. In many concert halls in Europe, it used to be that people had to sometimes stand in line for tickets for hours. Now we see that the same halls may be 50-70 percent full.
There are phenomena out there that are different, like in Holland where I live, where the Amsterdam Concertgebouw has something like a 98 percent attendance record, often doing 5 or 6 concerts a day. There are scores of young people in their audiences.
It gets back to education in classical music. In many parts of Europe, the schools teach classical music and attendance at concerts is compulsory. At school concerts often you’ll see some of the very youngest kids actually sitting amongst the players while they’re playing. They learn what classical music is about firsthand, up close.
But if we don’t address that issue in the next 10 or 15 years we will be facing a problem. The predicted death of classical music is often overdramatized, but I certainly believe we can’t afford to be complacent about that.
What specifically is the Festival doing to address this?
Daniel Hope: One of the first things Rob Gibson said to me was, “We have to have children’s concerts. We have to offer free events.” I’ve agreed to take part in a children’s concert, and I insist all of my friends that come to the Festival appear in that concert. And they all do and they do it with pleasure. These free events are very, very important -- I don’t think that people who don’t have the funds to afford a classical music concert should be excluded.
In these concerts we’ll often ask how many kids are taking strings or playing an instrument, and scores of hands go up. It’s a great thing to see.
Daniel Hope performs in various concerts in the Savannah Music Festival, including the Sensations chamber music series in the Telfair and the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 3 p.m. April 1 in the Lucas Theatre. For tix and info go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org