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Hilary Hahn

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Well-Tempered Ear

September 18

Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

The Well-Tempered EarBy Jacob Stockinger Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos. It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order. It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos. It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it. It uses the Olympics sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring. (For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn , who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater , and conductor Pavvo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.) The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode ’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.” The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and opening in questions. It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times. But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play. And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance. Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces. Here is a link: The Ear also hopes the website follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult. In the meantime, The Ears asks: Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons? Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other? Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting? The Ear wants to hear. Tagged: Alexander Glazunov , Arts , Bach , Baroque , Bartok , Beethoven , Berg , blog , Brahms , brass , Bruch , Cello , Chamber music , Classical music , comeptition , Compact Disc , concerto , Dvorak , Felix Mendelssohn , Henryk Wieniawski , Hilary Hahn , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , Lalo , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Mendelssohn , Mozart , Music , Olympic , Olympics , Orchestra , Paganini , Pavvo Jarvi , Piano , Prokofiev , Sibelius , Sport , Stravinsky , strings , symphony , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Violin , Violin concerto , Violin Concerto (Mendelssohn) , Vivaldi , Website , winds , Wisconsin , Wisconsin Union Theater , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , YouTube

Well Sung

September 3

The NSO Season Ahead

Seven years is a curious amount of time in the life of a symphony orchestra: long enough to feel like the past is a distant memory, too short to comfortably assume the rose colored glasses that obscure recent misgivings. Perhaps that is why Christoph Eschenbach's final season with the NSO doesn't look like much of a victory lap, but rather a continuation of the NSO's last few years, characterized by a healthy smattering of interesting programs but few of the exciting investments we saw earlier in Eschenbach's tenure. The "themes" for the season have probably never driven anyone into the concert hall: "Shakespeare" (a good year to use that one I suppose) and folklore (I mean, c'mon). At the least one would hope these themes were tied to an ambitious project or two, but mostly they seem to be justification for so much filler. In the Shakespeare bucket, most of the material is new to me and may turn out to include some interesting curiosities (Smetana did something inspired by Richard III? There's a Korngold score for a Much Ado About Nothing film?) but none of it is likely to generate broader excitement. The folklore lineup provides a pretext for chestnuts from Rimsky-Korsakov and the like (though I will definitely be going to hear the suite from Cunning Little Vixen). One of Music Director Designate Gianandrea Noseda's two appearances for the year (and definitely the choicer of the two) crops up under one of the Shakespeare headers: a complete reading of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. Noseda's lesser evening will find him proving he can hack it in Americana in the NSO's big Kennedy tribute evening, a program that will include John Williams' music from Lincoln and JFK, Copland's Lincoln Portrait, Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, among other crowd-pleasers. A more intriguing line of programming is the celebration of the 90th anniversary of beloved former Maestro Mstislav Rostropovich's birth, offering an excuse for a welcome emphasis on Russian works and a brief tour to Russia  featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Highlights include Eschenbach conducting Shostakovich Symphonies 1 and 8 and the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1, and James Conlon leading Shostakovich Symphony 5 and Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1 with Lise de la Salle. Soloist wise, a number of familiar big names from recent years make appearances next season, most notably Joshua Bell, who will take up a residency in February, much of which will be devoted to new works or TBD crossover programs. Lang Lang (opening ball something something), Emanuel Ax (Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1), Gidon Kremer (Weinberg Violin Concerto), and Hilary Hahn (Mendelssohn Violin Concerto), all turn up as well for a roster that is respectable, if not exactly brimming with must-see soloist and repertoire combinations. Missing from the line-up are any forays into concert presentations of dramatic works, often a highlight of the Eschenbach years, though there will be a few evenings requiring larger forces. These include Eschenbach's final NSO encounter with Mahler (Symphony No. 2), and the requisite Beethoven 9 torch song (featuring, FWIW, a strong cast including Joseph Kaiser and J'nai Brugger). If one fact stands out about the season, it is the impressive line-up of new commissions, world premieres, and recent works new to the NSO. The Kennedy Center is paying a lot of lip service to new and/or American work as part of the JFK centennial year, and the NSO is doing its part with no less than 5 new commissions or co-commissions. This is a commendable thing, though whether it translates to enjoyable nights in the hall is yet to be seen. For instance, we're going to be getting a whole lot of composer-in-residence Mason Bates next year, which is good or bad news depending on how much you enjoy a techno bonus track on top of you regularly scheduled symphony. Earlier this year, upon news of Noseda's appointment Ionarts' Jens Laurson offered some crucial thoughts on where the NSO goes from here: The NSO cannot be fixed without its audience improving. Anyone familiar with the Washington classical music scene will have noticed a strange disparity between the uncurious, unenthusiastic, fair-weather crowd that goes to the Kennedy Center (the Washington National Opera crowd being the worst, but the NSO audience, which gives standing ovations only to reach for the car keys, not far behind)… and the world class chamber music audience, which is curious, excitable, stands in long lines to hear new acts or unknown music and which is discriminating and extremely knowledgeable. You find them in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Freer Gallery’s concert stage, at the Phillips Collection, at the National Gallery of Arts, at various embassies and residencies. How can these latter music lovers be coaxed to take a stake in the NSO’s future and presence? The chamber music scene Laurson describes builds on DC's considerable cultural advantages: 1) smart, deep pocketed audience attracted by the government and its attendant industries; 2) foreign institutions providing support for and ready connections to international culture; 3) the prestige that ensures DC remains a destination for international artists; and 4) proximity to federal largesse. Today the National Symphony largely benefits from #4 (in the form of Kennedy Center space), and to a lesser extent #3. Audiences feel like the NSO is coasting--a good enough band for a good enough city. It may not be fair, but it's the cross many DC institutions must bear, and changing this narrative will require taking some chances and moving away from the bet-hedging of the current season. 

The Well-Tempered Ear

May 14

Classical music education: Suzuki Strings of Madison performs a FREE 25th anniversary spring concert this Sunday afternoon.

By Jacob Stockinger The Ear has received the following note of public interest about an event that deserves widespread support: Suzuki Strings of Madison (below) will presents its 25th anniversary spring concert at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday, May 15. Suzuki students served as the pre-concert “warm-up band” for violinist Hilary Hahn at her recent recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater . Hahn, herself a Suzuki alumna, credited the method with her early start on her career. The concert will take place at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), 2100 Bristol Street, which is attached to Middleton High School . The concert is open to the public FREE of charge and will feature violin students from three years of age through Sonora , the teenage touring ensemble. The music will include selections from the Suzuki repertoire as well as several classical ensemble pieces. ALL FORMER SUZUKI STRINGS OF MADISON STUDENTS ARE INVITED TO JOIN ON STAGE TO PLAY IN THE CONCERT. Everyone is invited to a reception after the concert. Suzuki Strings of Madison has been providing complete, quality music education through the Suzuki Method to children in the Madison area for 25 years. The program offers private lessons, music reading and theory training, a mixed string ensemble and two touring ensembles. The Suzuki approach deals with much more than teaching a child how to play an instrument. It seeks to develop the whole child, to help unfold his or her natural potential to learn, and to find the joy that comes through making music. (The Suzuki Method is explained in the YouTube video at the bottom.) For more information visit . Tagged: Arts , band , Baroque , Cello , Chamber music , Classical music , Concert , Hilary Hahn , Johann Sebastian Bach , Madison , method , Middleton , Middleton High School , Middleton Performing Arts Center , Mozart , Music , Music education , Orchestra , recital , repertoire , strings , Suzuki , Suzuki Method , Suzuki Strings of Madison , symphony , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Viola , Violin , Wisconsin Union Theater , YouTube

The Well-Tempered Ear

April 20

Classical music: Mixing old and new music. Violinist Hilary Hahn talks about the works she commissioned and will play alongside classics when she performs Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

By Jacob Stockinger There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night. The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard. Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10. Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples: During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven , Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky , Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others. But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer. Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear: You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions? I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus . It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years. I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city. As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me. That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands. In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest. Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes. Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart , Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson? I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently. García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.) His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue. As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination. What about the works by Mozart and Copland? Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates between stormy drama, lyricism, and playfulness. The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to. And the music by Tina Davidson ? The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project. What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general? I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden. Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures. If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for? That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics. Why did you commission 27 short encores? I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well. How successful have they been with the public and with other artists? The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape. I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response. This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work. Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course. You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences? I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing. Is there anything else you would like to say? Hello, everyone! Tagged: Aaron Copland , Anton Garcia Abril , architect , architecture , Arnold Schoenberg , Arts , Austria , Bach , Baroque , Beethoven , bowing , Brahms , Chamber music , Charles Ives , church , Classical music , classics , Compact Disc , concerto , Cory Smythe , counterpoint , Curtis Institute of Music , Dmitri Shostkovich , drama , dramatic , Earth , Edgar Meter , Elgar , emotion , encore , fingering , fugue , Hilary Hahn , Igor Stravinsky , interview , Jacob Stockinger , Jennifer Higdon , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , Keyboard , Konzerthaus , Leonard Bernstein , Ludwig van Beethoven , Lyon , lyrical , lyricism , Madison , Madison Symphony Orchestra , Madrid , melody , Mendelssohn , Mozart , Music , notes , Orchestra , Paganini , partita , Pennsylvania , performance , photo , photograph , Piano , polyphonic , polyphony , Pulitzer Prize , recording , repertoire , residency , Samuel Barber , Seattle , Sergei Prokofiev , Sibelius , Sonata , space , Tchaikovsky , Tina Davidson , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , vaughan williams , Vienna , Violin , Wisconsin , Wisconsin Union Theater , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , Wyoming , YouTube

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn (November 27, 1979) is an American violinist. Beginning her studies when she was three years old, she was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at age ten, and in 1991, made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Hahn signed her first musical recording contract at age sixteen. She graduated from the Curtis Institute in May 1999 with a Bachelor of Music degree.

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