Daniel Hope gives Vivaldi new life at Ravinia

Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope (June 18, 2013)

On the face of it, it seems like a goofy idea: Recomposing Vivaldi's greatest hit – the ubiquitous "Four Seasons" – music almost everybody knows from its use in countless TV commercials and movie soundtracks, on elevators and over the phone while one is being kept on hold.

But a British composer has done just that with his "Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons," which deconstructs the famed set of Baroque violin concertos and filters it through a postmodern prism. British violinist Daniel Hope's Deutsche Grammophon recording of the piece, released last year, has since climbed to the top of the classical charts in Europe and the U.S.

And both musicians are dead earnest about the validity of the project.

Hope, who will bring "Vivaldi Recomposed" to Ravinia on Sunday evening as part of his solo debut at the festival, has been playing Vivaldi's original practically since he was a beginning violin student in London.

So you can imagine how disorienting it must have been for him when he first encountered Richter's Vivaldi mash-up. Richter discards some 75 percent of the original, pulls apart what's left, adds new electro-acoustic layers and winds up with a kind of misty post-minimalism pulled through a time warp.

"The Vivaldi is so ingrained into my musical DNA that just the thought of taking on something like this seemed very strange," said the 39-year-old Hope in a phone interview the other day from his home in Vienna, which he shares with his partner, Silvana Kaiser, a painter.

"But when I met Max and actually looked through what he had written, I realized this erudite musician loved 'The Four Seasons' as much as I. His aim was to rediscover a piece we all carry around with us and carve a new path through its landscape. I thought that was a very interesting way to approach it, and that made me both curious and intrigued."

Hope points out that the idea of one composer reimagining another composer's creations is hardly new. J.S. Bach turned Vivaldi violin concertos into keyboard concertos of his own. And Dave Brubeck and Jacques Loussier jazzed up Bach. The list goes on and on.

The DG album, in which the violinist is accompanied by the Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, has divided reviewers, some embracing the enterprise, others disparaging it.

"I think reaction of any kind is a good thing for classical music," Hope said. "There will always be people that say, 'What's the point in reworking a masterpiece?' There are others who will say, 'How interesting to take something and look at it through different glasses.' I think the majority of people who have experienced Max's piece in concert have been converted. Once you hear it live, the music takes on a different dimension."

For him, he added, the experience of playing Richterized Vivaldi all over the world has made him "fall in love with the original all over again."

"Vivaldi Recomposed" is just one of the boldly original projects that set Hope apart from the pack of globe-hopping virtuoso fiddlers. The South African-born violinist is one of a new breed of super-musicians, a musical adventurer whose eagerness to take on offbeat challenges is matched by the brilliance and braininess he brings to them.

His repertory ranges from Bach to bluegrass, from new classical music to raga and jazz. His collaborators have ranged from the Beaux Arts Trio (Hope served as its violinist for six years before the group disbanded in 2008) to actors Mia Farrow and Klaus Maria Brandauer, rock star Sting, bassist Edgar Meyer and the Indian tabla artist Zakir Hussain.

Does all this make Hope a crossover artist? Hope shuns the term because it implies "jumping over a fence into someone else's backyard." In any case, he insists that he approaches projects that lie outside the purely classical realm with as much hard work and dedication as the standard violin repertory he performs.

"As a musician, I believe we are here to be as open as possible, because we never know what we might miss otherwise," he said. "When I started to study Indian music, it took me three years before I was allowed to actually sit down on the stage and play a note of it. It requires a seriousness of approach if you're going to delve into a different culture and a different world. But if you're willing to do that, those kinds of cross-genre things can be very exciting and rewarding."

Many of the 120 or so concerts the violinist performs each season involve placing classical works within broader contexts, pointing up connections, telling stories. So do his recordings. His latest release is "Spheres," a fascinating, astronomy-inspired collection of pieces that span the Baroque to the present century.

Hope also finds time to direct music festivals in Savannah, Ga.; and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; also to play chamber music with close friends and colleagues such as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Of the three books he has written in German (none of them yet translated into English), one is a chronicle of how his German Jewish grandparents were forced to flee Nazi Germany and wound up living in South Africa. There his father, author Christopher Hope, became an anti-apartheid activist whose fierce opposition to government-sanctioned racial segregation forced the family to uproot itself once again, this time relocating to England.

In London, Hope's mother found a job as secretary to the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. She would take her son – who already was showing extraordinary promise as a violinist – to play with Menuhin's children while the master gave lessons. When Hope was 11, Menuhin invited young David to join him in performing Bartok duos on German television.

Thus began an artistic partnership that spanned more than 60 concerts, including Menuhin's final concert appearance in 1999, when Hope was his soloist. Although Hope does not consider himself a Menuhin protégé, the rich musical atmosphere of the many soirees he attended at Menuhin's home had a profound effect on his musical development.

He considers himself fortunate that his record company has been amenable to every project he has proposed thus far, something almost unthinkable in this day of retrenchment among classical labels. He praises his musically savvy producer at DG, Christian Badzura – "a very accomplished musician and a producer in the great, old-fashioned sense of the word" – for the success of the 10 albums he has released thus far on the label.

"The classical music world is changing so rapidly that you never know what will be around the corner," Hope observed. "But as long as there is a chance to make these kinds of CDs, I will put my heart and soul into them."

Daniel Hope will perform "The Four Seasons Recomposed" as part of a program of J.S. Bach, Arvo Part and Max Richter, accompanied by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra under Tito Munoz; 7 p.m. Sunday at Ravinia, Lake-Cook and Green Bay roads, Highland Park; $25-$60, $10 lawn; 847-266-5100, ravinia.org.

Sharps and flats

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Bizet's "Carmen" is the first "Live in HD" encore presentation of the summer, playing in movie theaters on Wednesday. The Met performance stars Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna. Later rebroadcasts in the series will be Verdi's "Il Trovatore," June 26; Rossini's "Armida," July 10; and Verdi's " La Traviata," July 17.

David Danzmayr, music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, was awarded second prize at the fourth international Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition last week in Bamberg, Germany . . . Chicago-born and trained flutist Demarre McGill has been appointed principal flute of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. His brother Anthony McGill serves as principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

jvonrhein@tribune.com | Twitter @jvonrhein

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