“I love to communicate, even outside of music. I love to meet people!” explains violinist Hans Christian Aavik. Born in Estonia and currently based in Germany, Aavik combines a probing intellect and curiosity with an extroverted charisma that has made him one of Europe’s most exciting young talents to watch. 

Aavik explains his beginnings in music. “I was five years old. I have an older brother who started with violin first, but then switched to trumpet. The violin was just left at home, and my family says that I was always in my brother’s room looking for it! My mother asked me whether I’d like to learn, and I said yes.”

Hans Christian Aavik
© Kaupo Kikkas

After high school, he moved to Germany to study at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt. “It was a big shock coming from Estonia and suddenly being in a big city. At first it was a bit overwhelming. It was hard to choose which concert to go to, because every evening there were so many options!”

“The environment is so motivating for me. This is why I went there, just to be in the cultural home of so many composers,” Aavik explains. “I’m very happy that I took the courage to go – and I needed a lot of it, because I was just finishing high school and it’s always more comfortable at home. I remember the first evening in the dormitory, I didn’t have anything – not even a blanket or a pillow – and I remember wondering whether I had made the right choice. But I do really enjoy it now, so it was a good choice!”

Aavik is still in the beginning of his career, having recently turned 22, but has collected a multitude of awards and prizes throughout Europe, most recently winning first prize in the 2020 Estonian String Players Competition. Does he think competition success is a requirement for young artists today? “I must admit to having somewhat mixed feelings about competitions! I don’t think it’s necessary for an artist to do competitions, but they have helped me a lot in providing a goal. I feel like I always develop a lot when I have a competition to prepare for: it’s not so much about the success, but about the chance to really focus on preparing and understanding a huge range of music.”

Despite his youth, Aavik already performs with his own unmistakable voice. How does a young artist go about developing their own artistic perspective? “I’m studying with Erik Schumann, who I met in Estonia – I only played a couple of notes for him, but already I felt that we really clicked. I have been with him for three years and we really think alike for everything, not just in music. His students are never the same – they don’t sound the same, they don’t have the same personality. He really focuses on making sure your own personality comes out, to take your perspective on things and make them even stronger. It’s not technical at all: it’s more about how you see things, how you want to see things, and the perspectives you bring.”

Aavik performs on a 1610 Giovanni Paolo Maggini, on loan from the Estonian Foundation of Musical Instruments. Does this also contribute to his artistic voice? “Violins really have their own character,” he concurs. “I’ve tried many great instruments but this one is really special to my heart. It’s amazing to me that it was made in 1610 – Bach wasn’t even born! Actually, the former player was Vladimir Sapožnin, who was a great friend of David Oistrakh. When Sapožnin passed away, the violin just stayed under a bed for 20 years until it ended up with the Estonian Foundation of Musical Instruments. I’ve had the violin since 2017 and I hope to play on it for a lot longer.”

He also has another trick up his sleeve: studying the composers’ original manuscripts. “I always feel that you are closer to the composer when you can see how they wrote and the decisions they made,” he explains, “and you can see how the composer thinks by how they write on the page. I remember I played once the Mozart G minor string quintet, and he had changed so many things! But you could see behind what he scribbled out. I tried playing those scribbled out options and suddenly it gave me a whole new perspective.”

Chamber music is another passion for Aavik. He has won as many awards as a chamber musician as he has as a soloist and ultimately hopes to combine both as a career. “I’ve always been curious to connect with people onstage, to get to know them and to get inspired. With chamber music, you lead sometimes and then you let yourself be led. You learn so much with these amazing musicians that you could never learn by yourself. I think this is something many young musicians neglect: they are only in their practice rooms, playing their concerto, and suddenly you’re onstage with a hundred other musicians and you don’t quite know how to cope with it. Concertos are just like chamber music: you take the melody from the oboe, for example, and then you pass it onto the clarinet. A good soloist is always a good chamber musician.”

Hans Christian Aavik
© Lembit Michelson

Certain composers feature particularly heavily in Aavik’s programming. “I always have admired Bach a lot,” he explains. “I recently heard Isabelle Faust play the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas and I think it was one of the most amazing journeys of my lifetime. My dream is to play all of his cycles: the sonatas, the partitas and the concertos. It’s all so ingeniously written, and I find that I connect with this music very well.”

Aavik is particularly keen to explore complete cycles by composers. “I think if a performer thinks one can say something with just one composer, one should just do it. It’s also important to highlight that the composers themselves changed: Brahms is in one sonata passionate, in another more mature. For Beethoven, it’s so interesting to see how those ten sonatas intersect with different life events and how the music reflects that.”

It’s hard to predict what 2021 might bring, but at least one major project is on the cards. “I’m really excited to be recording my debut album next year. I don’t yet know everything that will be on the programme, and I have to look deep inside me to really see what I want to say with this recording. There are going to be pieces by Bach and Pärt – really timeless composers.” 

How does one prepare differently for a recording compared to a recital? “Recording is psychologically a bit different,” he explains. “Somehow, you know that every note and every moment counts just a little bit more! But I also think one shouldn’t lose the atmosphere of a live performance. It’s about going even more deeply into the pieces, why I want to play them, and to find the meaning in every note that goes into this recording.”

And beyond 2021 what do we have to look forward to? “There are so many pieces on my bucket list: the Sibelius concerto, the complete Ravel sonatas, the complete Bach violin and harpsichord sonatas come to mind. For chamber music, I’d love to play the complete Mozart string quintets, and of course the late Beethoven quartets. I love that the violin repertoire is so big,” he enthuses. And we audiences will be all the luckier for it.


With the Young Artists To Watch project Bachtrack aims to shine a bright spotlight on deserving artists from all over the world that might not be getting as much visibility as they would have without the limitations caused by the pandemic. 

Find out more about Hans Christian Aavik:

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