Fremantle performance electrifies global classical music community

A BREATHTAKING performance in the Fremantle Town Hall by Rudolf Koelman and the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra has gone viral on YouTube.

In the 10 days since being first loaded onto the social media site, Koelman’s fingerboard fireworks have been viewed more than 210,000 times, eliciting rapturous comments and reviews.

Orchestra founder Hans Hug suggests Koelman may even be the world’s greatest living violinist.

Much of the YouTube traffic has been generated from the Violin Channel, an international online hangout for serious classical buffs.

Gypsy Airs

The video captures the FCO and the visiting Zurich-based Dutch violinist tackling Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen) in January. A link to the video can be found at

The piece is studied in conservatoriums around the world but rarely played publicly as only virtuosi are considered capable of nailing its blistering runs and dazzling technical challenges.

“I think Rudolf has the edge,” Mr Hug told the Herald.

“What sets Rudolf apart from everyone—except his teacher, Jascha Heifetz—is you can hear every note, and every note has something that grabs you.

“Each note is chiseled out of rock—it’s crystal clear—and that’s risky because you can’t fudge anything.”

Mr Hug’s name-dropping of Koelman’s teacher is significant. Heifetz was described as “perhaps the greatest violinist of his time” by the New York Times upon his death in 1987. Another violin virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman, remarked: “None of us mortals are going to be able to reach his standard.”

Mr Hug thinks Koelman’s time might have come after many years of flying under the radar, and flying in and out of Fremantle, which he visits annually to perform with FCO.

“Rudolf never had the fame, for a number of reasons,” Mr Hug says of his 54-year-old close friend.

“First there were some crappy agents who ripped him off, and then his wife was bed-ridden for years and he looked after her and the kids, and tried to do the career himself—but you need an agent.”

Koelman once even considered ditching solo performances and settling into chamber music, before Mr Hug convinced him his rightful place was out front.

He’s now picked up a new agent and is getting good support from the Violin Channel, which Koelman himself credits for his fast-growing global fame.

“The director told me he is very good friends with Shaun Lee Chen [FCO’s concert master in January],” Koelman says. “From them only we’ve got hundreds of enthusiastic shares which means people who put it on their site and many people share again and watch and share and watch, etc.

“Like a snowball, some of my other videos benefit also very much … because people start to compare, click twice and the rating becomes higher and higher.”

Mr Hug is still trying to work out how the FCO can make the most of Koelman’s rising star. He’s hoping to book Perth’s concert hall and travel to Sydney and Melbourne in 2015 when the orchestra celebrates its 10th anniversary.

But he shrugs he’s almost resigned to doing it without funding assistance, as he’s regularly turned down by WA’s arts funding agencies.

Fremantle council has also been parsimonious, generally offering in-kind sponsorship such as use of the town hall but turning down requests for financing.

“The most galling thing is I don’t think I have the support of the CEO or [community services chief Marisa] Spaziani,” Mr Hug says. “There was that whole saga of not being able to put posters up in the visitors’ centre before the concerts.”

The long-time Fremantle local says it’s been particularly frustrating to watch some classical outfits score tens of thousands in funding, only to disappear after a year or two with little to show for it. “That’s because they’re doing it for the money, but we do it only for the music, and here we still are.”

The FCO has another performance coming up at St John’s Church in Fremantle on Saturday, March 30. This time it’s teaming up with German pianist Heidemarie Wiesner to tackle Vivaldi, Mozart and Schumann. The concert starts at 2pm, but if you miss it it’ll be at the Perth town hall the next day, also at 2pm.

• Disclaimer: The Herald is a sponsor of the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra and Hans Hug is married to Herald advertising supremo Natalie.


2 responses to “Virtuoso

  1. Thanks for writing this article giving more information about the amazing Rudolf Koelman. We are so fortunate to have attended all of his concerts in Fremantle over the past few years thanks to his association with Hans Hug and the wonderful FCO.

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