SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a lot that can go wrong for a violinist during an audition. The weather could affect the instrument’s sound, the violin could go out of tune, a string could pop or a bow break.
But Madeline Adkins had a more unusual problem when she flew from Baltimore to Salt Lake City in 2015 to audition for the Utah Symphony’s concertmaster position: a lack of proper attire.
While Adkins’ violin survived the cross-country flight, her luggage did not. So when it came time to audition, the musician had no choice but to wear her sweats and rely on her violin to do the persuading. Fortunately for Adkins, the symphony had started a new audition process where even the final rounds of the audition were blind, leaving the judges unaware of her fashion crisis.
Adkins’ bag did finally show up — on the morning she was flying back to Baltimore. But the violinist would take a wardrobe misfortune over a broken string any day. She ended up emerging the winner and assumed the role of Utah Symphony concertmaster in September 2016.
This weekend, the Utah Symphony’s 2017-18 season comes to a close with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, the U.S. premiere of Tristan Murail’s “Reflections” (a piece the Utah Symphony commissioned) and Adkins’ performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto — a piece the violinist frequently listened to as a teenager and has wanted to perform with a symphony for a long time.
And when the Utah Symphony performs, you’ll find Adkins sitting in her appointed spot as concertmaster — near the edge of the Abravanel Hall stage, directly to the left of animated conductor and music director Thierry Fischer. It’s a place she’s wanted to sit ever since she was 15 years old.
A musical upbringing
As the youngest of eight kids in a family where both parents were music professors at the University of North Texas, Adkins said music was the family business.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents had this ability to help us with learning music and developing whatever natural talent we had,” she said. “That’s the way they felt they could help us in life, even if we didn’t end up becoming musicians in the end, but most of us did.”
Including Adkins, six of the eight children went on to become professional musicians — the family rebels are a scientist and an accountant. But all of the children developed a strong musical foundation as their parents always encouraged them to play.
“Growing up, there was a lot of chaos because there weren’t enough rooms for everyone to practice,” she said. “So there would be people (practicing) in the bathroom or on the back porch a lot of times after school. … It was kind of just a free-for-all.”
After attending North Texas in her Denton hometown, Adkins went on to graduate school at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. During her final semester at the conservatory, she auditioned for a spot in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She joined the orchestra as assistant concertmaster (third chair) in 2000 and in 2005, auditioned and moved up to the second chair position of associate concertmaster.
But that dream of being concertmaster — a goal she’s had since age 15 — always lingered in the back of her mind.
“These jobs, they don’t come open that often,” she said. “People tend to stay in them for life. (You can’t) really think about where you want to live — that's not something orchestral musicians usually have the luxury of thinking about. It’s more, ‘What position is open?’”
Which is why Adkins was relieved when she learned of a concertmaster position open in Utah.
“Anywhere you go, you have to be willing … (for that) to be your last stop and somewhere that you really want to spend the rest of your career. And Utah’s definitely a place for me that fit those requirements. It was quite easy to imagine it here,” she said. “My husband and I love hiking and outdoor activities, so it’s a great place to be for that … and the quality of life is so high here. (Orchestral musicians) don’t usually get to make decisions based on factors like that, so I was just really thrilled to be able to come here.”
Joining Utah’s performing arts scene
Since joining the Utah Symphony, some of Adkins’ highlights with the group include visiting Haiti twice to host music workshops with young Haitian musicians, traveling to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall and embarking on a Great American Road Trip that brought classical music to some of Utah’s more rural areas.
“One of the things that’s really fun for us is to get out and play for people who don’t normally hear us,” Adkins said. “Whenever the orchestra travels together and plays concerts, it’s kind of like a bonding experience, too. One of the best things about what we do that I love is the constant variety. There’s a lot of excitement all the time.”
Adkins’ life is about to get even more exciting, as the concertmaster prepares to take on another role in Utah's performing arts scene as music director for the NOVA Chamber Music Series, effective July 1. While her plate will be substantially busier — during the Utah Symphony’s regular season, she attends multiple rehearsals a week in addition to her personal daily practicing schedule — Adkins is excited for this new role as it allows her to select the repertoire for the upcoming NOVA season, which kicks off in October and will include works by nine female composers ranging from the 12th century to modern day.
But before stepping into that role, Adkins will help bring Utah Symphony’s season to a close with her performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto. She’ll perform the 1945 piece on her unique violin made in 1782 — loaned to her by Gabrielle Israelievitch, wife of former Toronto Symphony concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch, who passed away in 2015.
“She is so gracious to lend it to me to play,” Adkins said. “For violins, it’s good for them to be played rather than to sit in a museum or a house or something. They’re kind of living, breathing things — they do better when they’re played. It’s a partnership you have with your instrument … (and) I definitely feel like over the last year, I’ve been able to take things to a new level because of that beautiful instrument, so I hope people really enjoy hearing it.”