Young Violinist Matteo Hager talks about the Challenges of finding Balance between Career and Teenage life
Czech-American violinist Matteo was born in Prague. He started playing the violin at the age of four and since 2014 has been studying at the Music Gymnasium in Prague. Matteo is the winner of several national and international violin competitions such as the Czech National Music Competition (2014), the international Violin Competition of Dr. Josef Micka (2017,2019) and the competition of the Academy of Václav Hudeček in Luhačovice (2019). Matteo has also won the prize of the Zlin region for exceptional talent at the Music Academy in Kroměříž and has also appeared as soloist at numerous concerts, including a performance at the festival of the Czech violin virtuoso Václav Hudeček in 2017 and the concert “Young Talents for Josef Suk” in 2019 at the Prague Municipal House where he was accompanied by the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK. Matteo took the time to talk about his journey towards a career as a professional musician and the challenges that come with it.
How much is your life as a professional musician intertwined with your personal environment?
For starters, basically all of my friends are musicians. (Jokingly) I guess this would just have to be the number one criterion for being my friend. A lot of them go to the same school. I actually spend most of my time in school because you can practice in the rooms there so i play my violin 7 days a week. (He laughs) Probably even more than that. Even though practicing is such a huge part of my life I am also interested in a lot of other things. I really like picking mushrooms for example. (Laughing) I know it sounds a bit nerdy, this year the season was quite good, that is why it came straight to my mind. Apart from that I also like swimming and fishing. But of course even in my freetime music is still a big part of my life, I enjoy listening to Jazz and going to concerts when I am not playing at any myself. I think that the Czech Republic is a really good place to enjoy some great musicians.
Is there anything you are missing out on?
Honestly, I am terrified of hurting my hands. I think if I broke my hand unfortunately that would be the end of my music career. But what can I do? (He laughs) I cannot wear casts around my hands all the time. Still, I am 100 percent more cautious with everything. For example it is very risky for me to play certain sports. It happened to me a few times that I played some basketball and I didn`t even break anything, the ball just hit my hand a little too hard and I couldn`t play for two days which is a long time when you practice everyday.
How big was your workload when you first started to take violin lessons?
At first I met my teacher, which was quite strict, one hour per week. Towards the end of my cooperation with her the number of lessons increased until I finally switched to the Hudební Gymnázium, where I can concentrate even more on my career. It is a very special school for kids like me who want to make music but they also want to keep up with their normal education. My mentor is Professor Jiří Fišer who has a really good reputation here in the Czech Republic. I have classes with him twice a week. It is also obligatory to play the piano and we have a lot of music theory, too.
Did you go through any troubles financially in order to receive such a good education?
Actually, a lot of children are able learn an instrument from a young age because in Prague there is a good institution. It is a bunch of schools called “Suk” for performing arts and they are very cheap so a lot of kids can go there no matter their financial circumstances. Quote Regarding my school, the question of who gets in also doesn`t depend on money. The applicants need to perform infront of a jury and if they receive a certain amount of points they can go there. It is actually free, just like a regular school so it enables students from different social classes to go there.
Do you experience a lot of pressure?
Of course there are certain expectations you need to meet. Regularly, we have concerts at our school and you can get kicked out if you don`t show enough progress. For a lot of people it becomes too hard so they leave. I used to get extremely nervous, I would shake and then the performance would be a lot worse than if I wasn`t so nervous but the more I perform, the better it gets. Of course we all want to become musicians but I also like that we have all the normal classes, too. The school is good in the sense that you can still choose if you want to become a musician or…(He laughs) maybe an astrologer.
Is there competition among the students?
I think it is the good kind of competition, we motivate ourselves. Yes, there is a lot of competition but i love it there actually. Luckily, I have never experienced any horror stories such as sabotage. (He laughs) One time during a concert one of my strings snapped but that surely was only an accident.
What kind of music do you like playing best?
I play across all genres but I definitely like playing classical music the best. But I wouldn`t say it is less fun to play folklore music here in the Czech Republic because it is very popular especially in the Maravian region where I have a lot of concerts.
What are your goals for the future?
I would like to study in England at some point. Careerwise, I hope in the future I will be able to play some of the songs I am not technically ready for yet. To be able to perfect Henryk Wieniawski`s Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor would be amazing. This piece is just so cool because you can really show your technique and that you are a truly skilled violinist.