My parents had to endure a lot

He is a star violinist who enjoys a bit of chaos now and then: Daniel Hope on his childhood in London, his family in Berlin and his engagement in Zurich.

Daniel Hope nonchalantly sets down his violin case a few metres away from him on the bench. The blue nylon case contains a work of art, the value of which Hope refuses to discuss. A German family that would like to remain anonymous offered to sponsor the purchase of a violin of his choosing. What was an investment for them has become what Hope calls his “heart and soul”: A 1742 Guarneri del Gesù. The instrument was once played by Karol Lipiński, about whom Niccolò Paganini, the devil’s violinist himself, is supposed to have said: “I don’t know who the world’s best violinist is. But the second-best is Lipiński.”

It’s not clear where exactly Daniel Hope lands in the world ranking of violinists, but it’s safe to say he’s very high. But perhaps even more important: Hardly anyone manages to make classical music accessible to as many people as the Director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Now he clasps his hands and gives me a friendly, attentive look. His face never seems to be far from a smile.



“I usually play standing up because it creates an entirely different dynamic.”

Mr Hope, the violin is not an easy instrument to master. How was it for you – did you ever doubt that you would do it?
It was interesting start. We went to a violin teacher – Sheila Nelson in London. She looked at me – I was just four years old – and she said to my parents: He’s too little, come back in six months. I threw a fit and wouldn’t stop screaming. She gave me the smallest violin they had, showed me how to hold it, and I started playing. It must have sounded terrible, but from that moment I’ve never let anything stand in my way. My parents certainly had to endure a lot. (Laughs.)

Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up?
No, but there were plenty of difficult times. For example, being upstaged by children who were five years younger than me, or later when I went a full year without being booked for a single concert. But I felt confident that I had something to say, and I fought for it.

It takes an incredible amount of practice to get this good, and children are notoriously impatient. Why do you think you were so determined?
My family was poor, I had very few toys. There were three TV channels, and with a bit of luck, one programme a week that interested me. When I realised that I was able to play this instrument, I was overwhelmed by an incredible fascination that I could create something on my own.

You have two sons – how often do you remind them that perseverance pays off?
Things are so different today. Kids tend to think in 15-second clips. My sons have more opportunities than I did at their age, and the luxury to try something out and then decide to quit. Luckily, they are both starting to develop their passions. My older son has a particular talent for video and film, and my five-year-old loves to draw.

Was it easier to learn new things when you were younger? Or rather: What gets easier over time and what gets harder?
Learning a new piece is pretty much the same. But travelling, jet lag, that gets harder. Managing stage fright gets easier. Never believe an artist who tells you they don’t have it! But as the years go by, it gets easier to calm your nerves.

What do you do before a concert?
The last half hour is the hardest for me. When I hear the audience in the concert hall, I just want to go out and play.

Is a concert physically demanding as well?
Absolutely. I usually play standing – and so does the entire orchestra since I’ve been here – because it creates a totally different dynamic. Recently, we played 13 concerts back to back; it was hot, crowded, two-and-a-half hours every evening. It’s like playing a sport. Neck pain in particular is unavoidable.

You are an extremely busy musician – how do you manage it all?
It’s all about planning. I have a great team; my employees are extremely dedicated – and throw their hands up in despair every time I come to them with a new idea. When I say my team, I also mean my family, especially my wife, who is amazing at managing our schedules. Family is always top priority, of course. For example, I never work during the children’s school holidays or on their birthdays.

I read somewhere that you’ve even practiced on planes.
Yes, that’s true. I’ve also played at the airport and on the train – very quietly of course.

And does anyone come up and toss a coin at you?
(Laughs.) No, I usually have someone from the team stand in front of me so I’m less noticeable.

How does a piece change when you’ve played it for years, or decades even?
The phrasing, the tempo, it changes a lot. Also as a result of the ensemble you’re playing in. That means a piece never gets boring.

What do you think: Which piece will you have played the most at the end of your life?
Probably Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Or Bach’s violin concertos, Beethoven’s violin concerto, or Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor. I’ve already played these pieces hundreds if not thousands of times.

And what do you do in your free time?
(Laughs.) Relax.

Lay on the couch?
Absolutely. And we love going to the cinema. We’ve passed that on to our children. Especially now, where everything is on small screens, the cinema is wonderful: a huge screen, it’s dark, popcorn, two hours with no distractions. Otherwise, I like reading, walking the dog; the main thing is spontaneity, chaos, free time – emphasis on the word “free”.




Do you ever take breaks from music?
Yes, absolutely. However, it’s hard to pick it up again: Your fingers, your muscles... I need two days until I’m back in it. Speaking of things that get more difficult over time. (Laughs.)

Classical concerts can seem to drag on for many people, especially novices. Do you come into contact with them?
Often someone will approach me after a concert and say: “By the way, that was my first – and definitely not my last!” I’m always pleased when people discover classical music.

Are there evenings when time seems to drag for you?
In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of being able to decide what I want to play and which ensemble I want to play with. So, I never get bored – at least in terms of the music. But, of course, you have bad days or concerts where the audience is checked out. Those can drag on. The orchestra feels it immediately. Everyone works that much harder to establish a connection to the audience.

Does it hurt when you don’t get much applause?
No, it doesn’t hurt. If anything, it’s an incentive to play even better next time.

We began this interview discussing your childhood and early years of playing, let’s conclude with the end: Which piece embodies you so fully that you want it to be played at your funeral?
Hmm. That’s a tough one. (Reflects briefly.) I’d say Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine”.

“I’ve also played at the airport and on the train – very quietly of course.”

A meeting of two Zurich institutions:
Beyer Chronometrie has supported the Zurich Chamber Orchestra as an exclusive partner of the ZKO Festival with Daniel Hope since 2023.


Beyer Chronometrie