Rudolf Haken

Professor of Music, University of Illinois


Rudolf Haken is a composer and violist internationally renowned for his creative melding of disparate musical styles and genres. He is particularly known for his work with extended-range violas, appearing in concert on four continents with his five-string Rivinus viola and six-string Wood Viper electric viola.

Currently, Haken is on the music faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as Professor of Viola as well as Founder and Director of the University of Illinois Hip Hop Collective and the Electric Strings program.

Performances of his compositions, including numerous commissioned works, have met with great success both in live performance and recordings. In September 2012, violinist Rachel Barton Pine premiered Rudolf Haken’s solo violin work Faust at Chicago’s Beethoven Festival. Pine had commissioned this work from Haken as part of an effort to bring heavy metal influence into solo acoustic violin music. In April 2011, Haken’s Violin Concerto for Stefan Milenkovich was premiered at the NOMUS Festival (Novi Sad, Serbia) and at Kolarac Hall in Belgrade. A Centaur CD of concertos composed by Rudolf Haken was chosen as a 2007 “Critics’ Choice” by American Record Guide. In 2004, WTTW-Chicago produced a video featuring Haken performing his transcriptions of Van Halen and Metallica on a Jensen five-string electric viola. This video was shown frequently in passenger areas at O’Hare and Midway airports in Chicago. Haken's compositions have been featured at conventions of the International Double Reed Society, North American Saxophone Alliance, and International Trumpet Guild.

Professor Haken has performed his Concerto for Five-String Viola with several orchestras in North America, South America, Asia, and Europe. He has also composed commissioned works for Paul Merkelo (principal trumpet of the Montreal Symphony), oboist Nancy Ambrose King, flutist Jean Ferrandis, clarinetist William King, Nobel Prize laureate Paul Lauterbur, pianist Robert Auler, patrons George Brock and Harry Triandis, and numerous others.

Haken has been a featured performer of contemporary music at conventions of the Society of Composers, Inc., Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and American Composer’s Alliance in New York City. Among Haken’s recordings of contemporary music is a Capstone Records release of viola works of Matthew Davidson.

As a sought-after educator and adjudicator, Professor Haken was invited to Seoul in October 2012 to serve on the international jury for string auditions of the Korean Broadcasting Service Symphony Orchestra. Haken also has served on the faculty of the Festival Internacional de Musica Erudita de Piracicaba (Brazil), Schlern International Chamber Music Festival (Italian Alps), Michigan City Chamber Music Festival (Indiana), Musikalischer Sommer in Ostfriesland (Germany), Hot Springs Music Festival (Arkansas), Interlochen Music Camp (Michigan All-State), Zomeravond Concerten (the Netherlands), Mammoth Lakes Festival (California), Montecito International Music Festival (California), and Quartz Mountain Festival (Oklahoma). He has given master classes internationally, with venues including the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Kookmin, Jungang and Konkuk Universities (South Korea), Shakujii International Orchestra and HEIMES (Japan), Welsh National Academy of Music and Drama, Universidade de Caxias do Sul and Universidade Estadual de Maringá (Brazil), Studio für neue Musik at Universität Siegen (Germany), Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien (University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna), Salle Jacques Brel in Montigny-le-Bretonneux (France), Conservatorio Oficial de Música in Cáceres (Spain), Yıldız Teknik Üniversitesi in Istanbul, University of York (UK), University of Toronto, and Queens University (Canada). Haken's recent recitals and master classes in the United States have included appearances at the Eastman School of Music, Rice University, and the Kaufman Center in New York City. Haken has served as viola professor at West Virginia University, as well as guest violist for the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera, performing under such renowned conductors as Christoph Eschenbach, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Sir Neville Marriner. He has performed in London, Beijing, and Shanghai as principal violist of the Sinfonia da Camera, and has toured South Korea with the World Symphony Orchestra. Professor Haken has acted as adjudicator for the Houston Symphony Young Artists, Midwest Young Artists, Missouri-American String Teachers Association, and Chicago Viola Society competitions.

Mr. Haken started his career as a child prodigy. At the age of ten, he conducted his first orchestral works at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (University of Illinois) with the encouragement of Professor Charles DeLaney. As a child, Haken appeared frequently in the US and Europe as composer, conductor, soloist, and chamber musician. In his teenage years, Haken studied composition and piano with Hubert Kessler and viola with Guillermo Perich.


“Unbelievable multi-talented genius. Marvelous. He's taken us to new places—the new age of the viola is here.” – Bernard Zaslav, violist of the Fine Arts Quartet and Vermeer Quartet (Yahoo Groups / The Viola List / Topic: Rudolf Haken, Feb 13, 2011)

“If a bit of stirring modern neoclassical-neoromantic chamber music for viola sounds like something you'd appreciate, there is Rudolf Haken….These are works with memorable thematics, well constructed compositional form and a touch of virtuoso kinetics. He has his own voice that brings complexities into the mix yet has an appealing lyric panash. Try this one out and you may well find it quite worthwhile. Refreshing!” - Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review

 “Haken’s concerto was such a success that the public demanded an encore and Milenkovich repeated the most virtuosic part of the concerto . . . The huge applause and screaming from the audience made it seem like we are all at a rock concert . . . a standing ovation from the audience of all generations . . .” – Radio Srbija Magazine

“I realise that I have compared Haken’s early music favourably to that of some of the greatest composers of the Romantic era, as well as some of the core works in the viola literature. I mean every word. They really are that good . . . Those of us who carry on a love affair with the viola, whether four-or five-stringed . . . can applaud the achievements of this extraordinary musician and take pleasure in his contributions to the literature for our instrument . . . Haken has become an outstanding concert artist, a bold and exciting performer who has toured internationally to great success . . . His viola works are distinguished by a sensuous lyricism, an exuberant sense of humour, a natural and thorough mastery of compositional technique, and above all an intimate understanding of the technical and expressive capabilities of the viola—a body of work all the more remarkable in that much of it was composed when Haken was still in his teens . . . Haken, at the same age, had already attained a higher level of development—yes, than the young Felix Mendelssohn.” – Paul Groh, Journal of the Australia-New Zealand Viola Society

“….utterly charming and witty, quirky and sassy too… the performances by Haken and pianist Rachel Jensen vital and beyond cavil….another well-crafted short piece that other chamber organizations ought to consider for regular presentation.….Haken is unfazed by the difficulties and deftly negotiates every treacherous turn and every technical hurdle with panache….it brings an imaginative take on the Baroque spirit into the 20th century and without distorting or satirizing it….In sum, there is much that is highly rewarding on this disc, and those interested in accessible contemporary chamber and/or viola music should fine this disc of interest.” - Classical Net

“This disc is highly recommended not only for the clarinet work, but also for Haken’s exuberant Americana fiddling style of the viola work and the beautiful and engaging Oboe Concerto. . . a joy to experi­ence. This is a winner—guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.” – The Clarinet 

“Ordinary boundaries do not fence Rudolf Haken in . . . He flaunts his fiddling capabilities in a Concerto for Five-String Viola—four wacky but well-crafted movements . . .” – American Record Guide

“The man with the unique super-viola . . . The versatility of the instrument was convincing, allowing the technically skilled and musically expert virtuoso to expand the narrow bounds of conventional instrumental art to an almost unlimited degree.” –Westfälische Rundschau

“A visit to Rudolf Haken’s YouTube channel . . . reveals the liveliness, the freedom, and the serenity that exemplifies this artist—and the courage he has in presenting himself for videos. First we see him playing Van Halen and Metallica, in leather pants and cool poses, with an electric viola. Then, a few clicks further, Rudolf Haken is shown as an interpreter of Bach, in a concert hall, with great seriousness and interprative depth. He is a pioneer, as demonstrated by his repertoire, his way of working, and his manner. This is what drives him, and what he delivers to the audience.” –Siegener Zeitung