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COVID made me do it... Augustin Hadelich in Antwerp!

I like to think that there’s a moment for everything and that all the good and bad things in life happen for a reason. Even if it makes me angry or sad sometimes, I’ve learnt to understand and accept that if something doesn’t happen it’s because it’s not meant to come about yet. And that’s exactly what occurred with Augustin Hadelich and the Sibelius violin concerto. He was supposed to perform it with OSE -Basque National Orchestra- right before the pandemic hit, but they had to postpone the concert because of the lockdown. They rescheduled it for the next season, when I was in the last year of my Bachelor’s Degree. Full of excitement, a friend of mine and I bought the tickets the night before the concert and I remember turning the lights down, getting into bed and suddenly realizing that there was a tiny problem that we hadn’t thought about: the concert was in Donostia and we were in Pamplona, which are in different provinces, and because of COVID we weren’t allowed to travel to another province. Luckily, we managed to resell the tickets, but we were left with a bitter feeling of being so close to seeing one of our idols perform live and not being able to do it because of the pandemic.


Was there a concert that you were excited about that got cancelled because of the pandemic? Let me know in the comments below!

It’s been a bit more than two years since that, two years in which I was never close to listening to him live. But that changed this summer. I was looking for tickets for the concert of Hilary Hahn in Amsterdam, but I realized that I couldn’t go because of the date, so I went to Bachtrack and almost accidentally found out that Hadelich was playing in Antwerp. In case you don't know about it, let me shortly introduce you Bachtrack, a website that works as a kind of search engine for concerts. You can type the name of the performer, the concert hall, the city, the repertoire… or combinations of them, and it’ll show concerts in the following season that match your search, isn't that fastinating? Anyway, when I saw that Augustin Hadelich was playing in a city that's so nearvy Zwolle, I didn’t think twice. I texted my friends and Mireia (who, if you have read my last post, you might have guessed that is my adventure buddy) wanted to come too, so we checked the distance and connections between the cities, we bought the tickets for the concert right away and we were all set for a weekend in Antwerp. Now it was time to wait for about four months.


As the weeks went by and the big day was closer, we started to organize the trip. At first I wanted to make the most out of the weekend in Belgium and have a violin lesson, so I contacted a couple of teachers. Unfortunately, my schedule and theirs were incompatible; therefore, I decided that it was a sign for me to enjoy the weekend and forget about the violin for two days. To be honest, taking this decision made the trip easier -because traveling with the violin is always more stressful- and cheaper -because we booked two beds in a shared bedroom in a hostel, which I wouldn’t have dared to do if I’d have the violin with me.

Christmas tree in front of the city hall of Antwerp

The morning of the 10th of December we woke up very early to catch the train to Antwerp. A friend of us decided to join the trip at the last moment, so the three of us wandered a bit around the city center during a very cold and foggy morning: we saw the main shopping street, the cathedral, the Christmas Market that had just opened the day before, the Ferris wheel, a kind of castle next to the Scheldt river… I had already been in Antwerpen some summers ago with my friends, so it was cool to see it with all the Christmas decorations this time.




We spent the whole morning repeating ourselves that we were about to listen to Augustin Hadelich live for the first time. It still felt unreal, we couldn’t believe it and we were so enthusiastic about it. After eating something fast for lunch, we went into the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It’s next to the central station and it kind of camouflages with the rest of the buildings on the square, it didn’t catch our attention at first. Anyway, the inside is beautiful and modern, the main hall is not very big and it's surrounded by golden colored walls. Our seats were on the first floor on the left side of the stage, but since there were a few free places in the front balcony, I decided to sit there hoping for better views. The concert began with Haydn’s Symphony nr. 22, called “The Philosopher''. I liked very much the soft and intimate sound of the orchestra and how they blended, but I couldn’t stop thinking that Augustin Hadelich was about to go on stage. I looked at Mireia, who chose to stay in the seats that we had originally bought, and she was just as excited as I was.


Queen Elizabeth Hall, Antwerp

And there he was. The violinist whose recordings of Prokofiev's Violin Sonata nr. 2, Wieniawksi's Scherzo Tarantelle or Bach's Andante from the Sonata nr. 2 for Solo Violin, among others, I've listened to hundreds of times. Whose motivation and violin technique videos have helped me improve and be willing to practice even when I'm on the lazier side. Hadelich’s version of the Sibelius violin concerto was amazing. He was so incredibly expressive even in the most virtuosic parts of the piece. It's hard to pick a favorite when everything is close to perfect, but I'd say that the movement I liked the most was the second one. Augustin's bow seemed to be never ending and every note was so connected to the next that it was overwhelming. I got goosebumps almost during the whole movement. And the third movement… oh my God. There was so much phrasing and expressivity in between all the really, really difficult passages, which I think is where the real virtuosity is shown. Quoting Itzhak Perlman, “a good technique is how you manipulate a phrase in such a way giving it colors and stuff that you can actually make it sound amazing”. Being a violinist myself, one of my biggest struggles is to be expressive and to use the music to transmit my feelings, so I think I value and pay attention specially to this. As an encore, he played an arrangement of a piece by Piazzolla, very contrapuntistic, and even if I didn’t take my eyes off him I couldn’t believe how he managed to connect the voices in such a way that you could follow each line individually but it also made sense as a whole. Simply wonderful.


There was a short intermission after the encore and Mireia and I were hoping to talk for a second with Augustin and get a picture with him. We asked a couple of employees and they told us to go to the artist entrance around the corner. We had left our coats in the wardrobe but we didn’t hesitate to go out with nothing more than our sweaters and wait for him for a couple of minutes before going back for the second half of the concert. Sadly, he didn’t leave before we needed to enter again. The next piece the orchestra played was Prokofiev’s Symphony nr. 7 and I must admit that I didn’t like it that much. I don’t know if it was because of the piece itself or because of the version, but I didn’t understand the portrayed emotions and was not able to follow a story. All in all, we left the concert hall feeling extremely happy for listening live to one of our idols and best violinists in the world, knowing for sure that it wouldn't be the last time that we attended one of his concerts.


Oreo and whipped cream waffle in Antwerp

The weekend was already amazing at this point, but if there’s something that could make it even better was to try a famous Belgian waffle. I’m not going to lie, besides the concert this is one of the things I was more excited about. They recommended us a waffle shop close to the hall and we went there right after the concert. Curiously, the place was called Australian - Homemade Ice Cream & Waffles, and if it weren’t for the recommendation I’d never have bought a waffle in a shop with that name (at least if I’m not in Australia). As you can imagine, the waffle was so heerlijk that we went for another one the next day. At this point both the musician and the foodie in me were extremely satisfied with the trip!


That night and the next day we strolled around the city, went to the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts) and ate delicious food in a Greek restaurant. Seeing it from a distance, even though I was very upset when I had to resell the tickets two years ago, I’m glad that I didn’t go to the concert in Donosti, because this time I got two-for-one: a weekend in Antwerp and Augustin’s concert. And now I have a space where I can write about it, which makes me even happier! After the concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker some months ago, it's so rewarding to see yet another dream came true :)

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