Chad Hoopes: A Violinist Cooking Up Solo Concerts

By Wayne Delacoma

Chad Hoopes was apportioned an arresting array of adjectives in a Washington Post review of the violinist’s Kennedy Center debut last year: “jaw-dropping,” “a little intoxicating,” “glowing,” “gripping,” “smiling-slash-snarly” (his performance of Ravel’s tempestuous Tzigane).

But it’s a verb in the first sentence that catches the eye: “The gifted young violinist Chad Hoopes has been rising—or maybe hurtling—toward international stardom since taking first prize in the junior division of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2008.” 

“Hurtling” just about sums it up for Hoopes, who makes his Ravinia debut August 30 with a recital in Bennett Gordon Hall.

“Looking back, it was a bit of a whirlwind,” said Hoopes, now 23, in a recent phone conversation from his home in Boston, where he was catching a rare bit of downtime before heading off to Europe for a concert at a summer festival in Evian, France. “I was very young to be doing some of the things I was doing.”

Since 2008 those things have included concerts at the Louvre Museum in Paris and debuts with orchestras in Berlin, London, and Munich. Hoopes has appeared with numerous US orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco and Houston Symphonies. And since 2014 he has worked with the prestigious Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The Florida native has a long history of being a young overachiever. He was 3 years old when he clamored for a violin. His family had by then relocated to Minneapolis, and his two older sisters were diligently studying the instrument. Chad was enthralled, and soon he had a violin of his own, one specially designed for stubby toddler fingers (known as a 1/32nd violin). “Those violins are like toys,” Hoopes said with a laugh. “They’re like Christmas tree ornaments they’re so small. It was probably a violin my sisters played on.”

He modestly credits his sisters for giving him a jump start on his chosen instrument. (Both girls studied at Juilliard but are now pursuing different fields.) “When you sit and watch your older siblings do something for so many years,” Hoopes said, “it becomes easier and a little bit more like second nature.”

His parents, perhaps having second thoughts about adding yet another violinist to the household, gently suggested he take up the piano or cello. But young Chad was having none of it. “I was really adamant,” Hoopes said. “And I just sort of picked it up and ran with it, in more ways than one. I was incredibly excited to have a violin.” But at the time of speaking, he was incredibly excited to be at home and indulging in his favorite form of relaxation—cooking.

“I’ve been home for the past week and a half, which has been fantastic,” Hoopes said. “I love cooking, and I think I’ve cooked every day. On the road you have to go out and eat in restaurants or eat in your hotel. After a while it gets pretty terrible, actually. So I’m excited to get home to my pots and pans and a refrigerator where I can stock things and cook at any time. Then I’m refueled and ready to go out and be on the road for a couple of weeks.”

For his August 30 recital, Hoopes and his collaborative pianist, David Fung, are mixing up their repertoire. In addition to sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, the program includes Romantic Pieces by Dvořák and Road Movies, a three-movement piece by American composer John Adams that’s just a year younger than Hoopes himself. “I’m a huge fan of John Adams; I’ve recorded his violin concerto,” said Hoopes. “I heard the Road Movies and fell in love with them. They’re very whimsical. There’s a real kind of swing to them, and a kind of groove. The last movement is [in] perpetual motion … a machine that doesn’t stop. It’s totally fun; you just kind of rock out with it.” [The performance culminates Ravinia’s celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday, which traversed both orchestral—Harmoniel­ehre with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Common Tones in Simple Time and the Chamber Symphony with The Knights—and chamber works—Shaker Loops with the Lincoln Trio and friends and Hallelujah Junction and Roll Over Beethoven with Christina and Michelle Naughton, the latter adding to the festival’s history of regional Adams premieres including El Niño (2003) and The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2013).]

After years traveling the world for solo recitals and guest solo performances with orchestras, Hoopes is adding more chamber music to his schedule. “For most of my life,” he said, “I’ve been primarily considered a soloist. Playing solo concerts is a huge thrill, and it’s very exciting. But chamber music is such a rich and satisfying way of making music. I’m at the beginning of my journey in chamber music.” 

Catch Chad Hoopes at Ravinia on August 30.  

Wynne Delacoma was classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1991 to 2006 and has been an adjunct journalism faculty member at Northwestern University. She is a freelance music critic, writer, and lecturer.