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School of Music

Practice, Perform and Love it

Chicago Symphony Soloist William Hagen Shares Insight into Education and Performance in School of Music Encore Lecture

Concert Violinist William Hagen Played & Advised Students in an Encore Lecture Last Month
Photo by Abigel Kralek

In March 2024, an intimate crowd enjoyed a world-traveled performer playing a world-class instrument before he offered insight into performance and preparation. Audience questions ranged from how to prepare for a big performance to how to pick the right music school, but to all, his answer was generally that after meticulous preparation, the most important choice is to play with feeling.

The performer, William Hagen, played “Chaccone” by J.S. Bach from the “Partita in D Minor” on the 1732 “Akwright Lady Rebecca Sylvan” by Antonio Stradivari before giving insight into performance and music training. He has been a soloist and chamber player in domestic ensembles as prestigious as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and venues as far away as Asia. The Salt Lake City native studied with Suzuki teachers Natalie Reed and Deborah Moench and then at Julliard before embarking on his career as a musician. Hagen characterized his career as a combination of “working hard and a massive deal of luck.” He described his own efforts as a combination of preparation and being able to let go of technicality to feel the music and tell its story.

In describing his mindset before a high pressure performance, he said early preparation and performance are important—whether that means performing for friends in a living room or residents in a rest home. “Don’t be performing it for the first time,” he said. Hagen also said that it’s important to try to anticipate what the audience is thinking in the practice room. His hope is that the next generation of performers “doesn’t get jaded” and that by focusing on audience perception and telling a story they can bring life to their music.

Hagen described a meticulous interest in technique and understanding the historical context of pieces; however, he also said that musicians eventually have to let go and include emotion in their music. “A musician’s technique will change when they focus on expression,” he said. He also said it’s “more fun and easier to memorize” music with this mindset, and focus on interpretation is a way of avoiding burn-out. In addition to taking breaks, he said, “bring something to life.”

Hagen taught a masterclass for violin students, but the audience consisted of more than string players. Jackie Biggs, a graduate student in piano performance said she was glad she attended. “It’s really eye-opening for students to hear from a professional musician about his career and realize where they are in the music world and how to prepare for the future,” Biggs said. “His performance was amazing—very inspiring. He had a down-to-earth way of speaking to students. He seemed approachable but also very professional and experienced. A lot of the things he talked about—performance anxiety and the relevance of classical music—were applicable to all musicians.”