For Adam, music is storytelling: communication and unrestrained creativity – even if the notes were written 200 years ago, each must be recreated live in the moment as if played for the first time. His mastery of a diverse range of genres, baroque, classical, contemporary classical, folk, Gypsy, tango and Klezmer informs all his performance, and underpins the reckless irreverence for genre and boundaries shown in his compositions and improvisations – creating new musical narratives in his own idiom.
He credits his “thrilling virtuosity” (Gramophone) to the combination of the superb technical grounding he was given by one of the twentieth century’s greatest pedagogues, Yfrah Neaman, and a strict intolerance to error from his grandfather, a violinist and fiddler who learnt from Adolf Brodsky, the player who premiered Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. His grandfather’s teaching was a direct link to the greats of the golden era of violin playing and at the same time immersed him in his heritage: a long line of north-country fiddlers with exotic Eastern European influences – leaving Adam with northern and Celtic melodies on one hand and Eastern European tunes on the other.
Adam received scholarships to all of the English music colleges, attended the Royal Academy and Guildhall School of Music as an undergraduate and was then offered a scholarship to join the Advanced Solo Studies course. He started his international career with solo concertos in prestigious venues such as the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg and the Rudolfinum in Prague, and has since toured the USA extensively as a concerto soloist as well as in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. Much of his career has been devoted to chamber music, kick-started by a Purcell Room recital of music by Copland and Alan Bush – ‘consummate virtuosity from all three players’ The Strad – and highly critically acclaimed premier recordings of music by Copland and Alan Bush – ‘to die for’ The Strad; ‘I cannot recommend this too highly’ Gramophone; ‘ utterly compelling’ BBC Music Magazine. The Bush recording was a selected disc in Gramophone Magazine.
Adam has recorded 25 discs for various labels including Harmonia Mundi, Meridian Records, Chandos, ASV, Toccata Classics, Sargasso and Red Priest Recordings and now has own label Extinct Records.
He has performed many times in the South Bank Centre’s Purcell Room, also the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Wigmore Hall and recently played in distinguished international venues include the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, the Théatre du Chatelet, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. His extensive international touring has taken him to France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Poland, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Denmark, Russia, China, Canada, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, Alaska and the USA. As well as the obvious metropolitan venues, he has found himself in extraordinary places such as Kodiak Island, Northern Finnish lakes in the middle of summer, northern Alaskan towns in the middle of winter, stunning barns in the Loire Valley and in ancient palaces in Croatia, school halls in the Mid-West of America, the Rockies, the deserts of Saudi Arabia and a Danish ditch. Fiddle playing has also taken him from folky improvisation on small stages at Glastonbury to the 02 arena, playing to 20,000 people – after a chance encounter with the MD for the multi-platinum selling Dutch pop sensation Caro Emerald.
Adam’s “intoxicating … virtuoso fiddle playing” (The Times) defined his role in Zum, the world-touring gypsy-tango band that created what became a new genre and for which he wrote much of the music. This groundbreaking fusion of styles combined the gypsy tunes from the back streets of Eastern Europe and the tango melodies from the ‘bordellos’ of South America. Although now defunct, the band re-ignited Adam’s interest in fusing the different strands of his own musical heritage; his new project Dodo Street Band combines elements of the folk tunes he played with his grandfather to create a wildly irreverent and dangerously exciting take on folk music. This festival sell-out band embarks on a trailblazing, joyously wild musical odyssey, encompassing melodies from the shores of the Hebrides to the mountains of Eastern-Europe. The band won the Buxton Festival Fringe Small Ensemble Award 2017 for its first gig and has continued its festival run throughout 2018. They are releasing their debut CD, Natural Selection in April 2019. Adam met Cormac Byrne, the word renowned bodhran player, when forming the Dodo Street Band and inspired by the concept of creating music live and in the moment they created a remarkable recording – ‘Stone Soup’ to be released in May 2019 … ‘we didn’t plan anything, we just started to play’. No preparation, no composition – just communication: music created in the moment between two players.
He joined the dynamic and extraordinary Baroque group Red Priest in 2015 and touring with the group is now one of the major parts of his life. He was introduced to the mysteries of Baroque violin playing by Roy Goodman in the 1980s, initiated into period instrument performance by Paul McCreesh and studied with Micaela Comberti, all performers at the forefront of the early music scene. Adam was excited to be able to put his original condition 1730 violin through its paces as he arranged and composed most of Red Priests latest disk “The Baroque Bohemians”, an incandescent mix of baroque virtuosity and gypsy cunning that topped the classical charts.
Adam’s arrangements and compositions feature on twelve other discs, perhaps most notably Harmonia Mundi’s ‘Piazzolla and Beyond’ – ‘a riveting, dramatic and even sexy listen’ BBC – and Chandos’s ‘Gypsy Strings’ – ‘cumulative excitement and sheer abandon’ Gramophone. This last lead to a composition for the soundtrack of Guy Richie’s Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows, in which Adam also makes a cameo appearance as a gypsy. Adam also recorded live on set, improvising a melancholy melody as Robert Downey Jnr’s body double before training the actor to mime to the resulting track. Adam’s music is played frequently on radio stations throughout the world as well as on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.
Also a remarkable multi-instrumentalist, Adam has developed a dramatic and unique gypsy baroque guitar style as a spicy ingredient for Red Priest. He plays medieval Gemshorns, mandolin, mandola and a Hammond 44 melodion, instruments that feature in Dodo Street Band and Deadman’s Folk – another developing project, with master accordionist Murray Grainger. At the other end of the instrumental spectrum, he made premiere recordings on viola of works by Copland and Allan Bush – critically acclaimed additions to the recorded musical canon.
A New York Times review highlights ‘astonishing, all-out virtuosity on violin by Adam Summerhayes – including “beer-fiddling”, as he terms it’ – Adam’s favourite quote, capturing something at the heart of his playing.