Interview with William Hagen

William Hagen, a twenty-three-year-old violinist who “plays with an obvious and sincere love for the very act of music making” (North Texas Performing Arts News), will soon be making his debut with Kaleidoscope in the upcoming concert featuring Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. As an immensely accomplished international soloist, since age nine Mr. Hagen has been marking his place in musical history. Having performed with renowned conductors all over the world, such as Marin Alsop & Placido Domingo, and as the third prize winner of the 2015 Queen Elisabeth Competition (the highest ranking American since 1985), Kaleidoscope is thrilled to be working with such an incredible artist. Interested in how he’s preparing for his Kaleidoscope debut, he graciously donated his time to allow us to go behind the scenes to find out a little bit more about who he is.

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?

William Hagen: I got started in music at age four. I had first heard the violin at church when I was three, and started incessantly begging my parents for a violin. My parents had always intended my brothers and I to study some type of musical instrument, but I surprised them by being way more enthusiastic about it than they had expected, and at a much younger age!

CR: That’s excellent! What about the violin attracted you? What do you love most about it?

WH: I had an immediate connection with the sound of the violin. It has always been my favorite instrument, and I can't tell you exactly why, but I have always been confident that I made the right choice of instrument! It really is impossible to say what I love most about it, but one thing I absolutely love is the repertoire that exists for the instrument. There is so much amazing music written for the violin, and I always feel lucky as a violinist to have so much beautiful music to play.

CR: Very true. When collaborating with an orchestra, what are some things that you do as a soloist in preparation for a performance?

WH: When preparing to play with orchestra, I make sure that I am ready to play my part, and that I have a real vision for how the piece should go. Being a soloist is like playing the main character in a stage play--since I have such a prominent role to play, I need to be confident in the way I'm telling the story. I can't just learn the notes and play them; I need to say something, and really think about how I want to say it.

CR: What kind of story are you trying to tell in The Lark Ascending?

WH: It's based on a poem, and I get the impression that the orchestra creates this beautiful landscape which the violin sings on top of. Lots of big violin concertos feel to me like the soloist is addressing the audience as one big group, but this piece seems like the solo part is having a private, intimate conversation with each audience member, or privately expressing its thoughts to itself. There are these recurring cadenzas where the orchestra holds one chord while the soloist has a very lyrical solo that ascends up the violin. The orchestra is so still, and the solo part is so serene that it implies intimacy. I've actually never performed it before, so I'm really excited to play it!

CR: Sounds beautiful! What is your primary goal when performing with an orchestra?  

WH: My goal when playing under any circumstances is to love the music, and show the audience why I love it.

CR: You’ve performed as a soloist many, many times, but have you ever performed a solo with a conductorless orchestra before?

WH: I have, in Japan with the Yokohama Sinfonietta. It was a blast playing without a conductor - it feels more like chamber music because you communicate directly with the musicians in the orchestra, rather than going through the conductor.

CR: Absolutely! So, what initially interested you in collaborating with Kaleidoscope? What are some of your expectations?

WH: Well, I have several friends whom I admire that have played with the orchestra, and I love the idea of playing with a conductorless ensemble for a brand new audience; for me, playing in that atmosphere is really inspiring. I’m really looking forward to rehearsing with the orchestra because I know there will be more of an open exchange of ideas amongst myself and the players than there would be with a conductor.

CR: So, Kaleidoscope is really invested in the Los Angeles community, putting on performances in different kinds of venues, providing free concerts, and this year they’re implementing a “Pay What You Can” model and eliminating ticket sales. This is because a core value of the ensemble is that music can and should be provided to all people regardless of social and economic status. In what ways do you try and engage with the community as a musician, and why is that important to you?

WH: I absolutely love that value, that everyone should be able to experience music, regardless of social status and/or economic status. The way that I try to engage with the community is by trying my best to make both myself and the music accessible to everyone. Many people think that they can’t understand classical music, or that it's boring; nothing could be farther from the truth! It can absolutely change your life, it can be the most thrilling thing in the world, the most comforting, the most devastating, the most uplifting. And you really don't need to make it an academic pursuit; if you can understand the Beatles, you can understand Mozart. People need music without knowing it or realizing it, and social or economic status is not a good excuse to keep people from it. Emotions define all lives, and music expresses those emotions intimately and immediately.

CR: That’s a great way to put it! Speaking more to yourself, what are some of your hobbies outside of music?

WH: I love good food, nature, movies, sports, and much more. I would absolutely count music as a hobby, because it certainly isn't a "job.”

CR: Do you have a favorite mantra that you live by?

WH: I just always try to see the best in every situation; it makes life happier and better.

CR: I agree. Are there any charities/causes that you’re passionate about that you would like to raise awareness to in this interview?

WH: I feel strongly about many charities and causes, but I have a hard time singling one out. I really think it's so important for people to support great art that they really believe in. The more great art in society, the better.

CR: Is there anything that you want to say as a final remark to the audience and the readers?

WH: I'm really looking forward to coming back to LA and playing this beautiful piece of music with Kaleidoscope!

CR: Great! Thank you, Will!

WH: Thank you!


Carrie Rexroat is a freelancer writer for Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s blog, but is also the Founder of storytelling blog, A’tudes & Brews.

Saturday, February 18 @ 8 pm
The Huntington - Rothenberg Hall
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, CA 91108
For reservations, please click HERE

Sunday, February 19 @ 6 pm
First Presbyterian Church
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
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Carrie Rexroat