In Spring 2012, I received an enigmatic call from Max Richter. He said he wanted to “recompose” the Four Seasons for me. I asked him what was wrong with the original. "Nothing", he said, "it’s perfect". And he explained that his problem was not with the music, but how we have treated it. In his opinion, the piece had become part of our turgid musical landscape. We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators or when a caller puts you on hold. He told me that Vivaldi’s music is made of regular patterns, and that connects with post-minimalism: one strand of the music he composes. It was time for a new way of hearing it, and that it felt like a natural link. I must confess that I could never get enough of the original, but playing and living with Max’s version made me equally keen to revisit the original masterpiece.
You've mentioned your memories of experiencing Vivaldi as a toddler. How has your relationship with the composer developed and changed over time?
I would say I am still completely fascinated by Vivaldi. Over the years I have been lucky enough to work with historically informed performers, such as Kristian Bezuidenhout and Christopher Hogwood. They both taught me a great deal about the continuo possibilities in Vivaldi, but the biggest change came when I was appointed Music Director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. I found myself in front of this wonderful orchestra playing the piece I’d first heard them perform four decades ago. And then I realised how these musicians were so energetic and enthusiastic in the way in which they expressed their understanding of Vivaldi. I felt our performances of The Four Seasons were a revelation in terms of the colours we produced, the tempi we took and the details that emerged. After performing the concertos for the third time together, we decided we’d be mad not to record them. Yes, there may be a thousand recordings of The Four Seasons – and legendary recordings among them. But I realised I felt finally ready to add our interpretation to them. It was either now or never!
For Seasons consists of music spanning a tremendous period of time. What was the process of selecting music for the album, and how did you find compatibilities with works that are seemingly worlds apart?
I tried to create a mosaic in music and images of what the seasons mean to me, as well as pieces that match my feelings for the months of the year. There’s a modern message here, which is about the cohesive expression of time and life cycles. Those familiar cycles are being broken left, right and centre at present throughout our world. This is my way of marking time: my time and our times.
There are works directly associated with the calendar, including arrangements of Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, “June” from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and Kurt Weill’s September Song, while others convey the atmosphere of a given month. Other connections are more subtle. The Roman month Februarius was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification. I have long been fascinated by Rameau, not just as a composer but as a historical figure. In 1735 he composed Les Indes galantes, based on the 1725 meeting between native American Indian chiefs and King Louis XV of France, the aim of which was to have them pledge allegiance to the crown. I find Rameau’s “Danses des Sauvages” far ahead of its time and yet its poignant message is singularly current. There’s a reason behind every track.
How has your relationship with Yehudi Menuhin contributed to the way you work and perform today? How important is having a mentor for young musicians?
Yehudi Menuhin is the reason I became a violinist. As he used to say, I fell into his lap as a baby of two. We were closely connected until his death, and there is hardly a passage in all of the great works for violin where I don’t stop for a minute and think of Menuhin. Supporting young musicians is vitally important. It’s our responsibility to pass on what we learn to others.
When you play so many concerts in a year, how do you continue to find inspiration and keep an element of spontaneity (for you and the audience) in performance?
Playing the greatest music in the world with some of the greatest musicians and partners. Doesn’t get any better.
Finally, many of our readers are in the very early stages of their careers as instrumentalists. Do you have any advice for young musicians and developing artists about pursuing a performance career?
1) Take all concerts VERY seriously – no matter how small
2) Take advice from your mentors
3) Make time to practice
4) An engagement is important, but the re-engagement defines the career
5) IF you are 100% sure you want to make music your life: NEVER give up.
Daniel Hope's brand new record, For Seasons, is now available to purchase or stream here.
Photos for Deutsche Grammophon. © Tibor Boz