Monday, March 21, 2011

Fire Outside, Fire Inside

This past weekend, I went to the Colorado Symphony, and the featured soloist was a young violinist named Augustin Hadelich. Prior to this, I was not familiar with his work. He was stunning. Just my impression? Consider this. Someone else thinks so much of his playing that they let him use their Stradivarius.

The audience was so appreciative of his performance that he also did something quite uncommon. He returned to the stage and performed an encore, solo.

But there is more to this story than just the fact that a superb musician can create phenomenal sounds using a rare and valuable instrument.

When he came on stage, my first impression was that his makeup was very strange. As he cradled the violin, I could see scar tissue on his neck. Suddenly it came to me that he must have been burned in a fire.

So I looked him up on the web when I got home. He has been playing since he was 5. His family is German, and he lived on a farm in Tuscany with his parents. When he was 15, some diesel fuel caught fire and burned his face, his body and his bow arm. Doctors thought that he might never be able to play again. He had 20 operations and spent 2 years healing. Now, he performs with great orchestras all over the world. Perhaps there is a touch of irony to his selection of works by Beethoven and Paganini that evening, reflecting the roots of the German family living in Italy. I choose to think that there are no coincidences in this story.

And all this has happened just in his first 27 years.

It is stunning, isn't it? What humans can do, even in the face of great adversity exceeds stories that the imagination could conjure up.

How strong must a person's will be to come back and make world class music after surviving such intense damage and pain?

Of course, the doctors must have performed their roles exceptionally as well. Yet, even though they restored his body, his spirit had to be restored in order to be able to perform at this level. Was it the power of music that helped him recover? Or was it something else? Maybe this will remain a mystery.

Or perhaps the fire inside was even more powerful than the fire outside.

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