Hagen takes over solo duties, conductor makes impressive debut with Utah Symphony

Sat Mar 30, 2024 at 11:32 am
Willliam Hagen performed Dvorák’s Violin Concerto with Anna Rakitina conducting the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall.

Violinist William Hagen made an unexpected but welcome appearance as soloist at this weekend’s Utah Symphony concerts. He replaces an ailing Sirena Huang, who was originally scheduled to be the evening’s soloist. 

Hagen, a Salt Lake City native, is no stranger to the Abravanel Hall stage. He first appeared with the Utah Symphony as a nine-year-old in a Salute to Youth concert back in 2001, and as an adult has performed numerous times locally, most recently with the Intermezzo Chamber Music Series. 

Walking onstage to boisterous applause, Hagen showed his artistry in the scheduled work, Dvorák’s Violin Concerto. He was in full command of the music, playing with robust decisiveness in the dynamic outer movements and lyrical beauty in the middle movement. And together with this weekend’s guest conductor, Anna Rakitina, he made the most of the romantic essence that flows throughout the concerto.

In the first movement, Hagen displayed his virtuosity in the rapid-fire flourishes that Dvorák demands of the soloist. He also held his own in the tutti sections, never letting the orchestra overpower him. And to her credit, Rakitina—making her Utah debut—kept a fine balance between the orchestra and soloist. She was a consummate collaborator, fully aware of the subtle shifts in dynamics and textures and always allowing the soloist to shine.

This was also apparent in the frisky and lilting finale. With its somewhat lighter orchestral textures, Hagen and Rakitina found the perfect balance. And Hagen underscored the lighthearted character of the music, bringing a playfulness to his playing that served the music well.

In the slow middle movement both the conductor and soloist brought delicate expressiveness and beautifully crafted lyricism to their reading that emphasized the subtle interplay between the orchestra and solo violin.

Hagen received a thunderous standing ovation at the end, and he treated the audience to an encore, the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3. Taking the piece at a faster speed than usual, Hagen nevertheless gave a musical reading that never sounded rushed or forced. Instead, he brought a distinctive take to the music that was invigorating and refreshing.

After intermission, Rakitina returned onstage and led the orchestra in an impassioned reading of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 that highlighted the late 19th-century sensibilities coursing throughout each of the four movements. 

After a beautifully played solo by principal clarinet Tad Calcara to open the first movement, Rakitina plunged headlong into the restless drive of the main body of the movement. She allowed the orchestra to play full out, yet she underlined finely detailed nuances to her reading.

In the slow movement, Rakitina brought bold lyricism to her interpretation that underscored the movement’s shifts between the sudden fortissimo and piano sections. And in the following scherzo movement, she balanced the lively opening section and the more lyrical passages with detailed attention to dynamics and expressions.

The finale was robust, with the conductor underscoring the romantic intensity of the music with defined direction that brought a seamless cohesiveness to her account.

The concert opened with Smetana’s stormy “Sárka,” one of the tone poems in his Ma Vlast cycle. Rakitina’s account was forceful in its relentless drive and energy, and she coaxed strong, dramatic playing from the orchestra that captured the powerful spirit of the music.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday. utahsymphony.org

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