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Dvorák with Hahn and Gimeno

Hilary Hahn
Michael Patrick O'Leary
Hilary Hahn

Saturday, June 5, 2021
8:00 PM

Encore broadcast from October 14, 2017

In an encore broadcast of the BSO, Hilary Hahn is the guest soloist in Dvorák’s jovial Violin Concerto, and Gustavo Gimeno leads Schumann’s verdant “Spring” Symphony.

Gustavo Gimeno, conductor

Hilary Hahn, violin

LIGETI Concert Românesc
DVORÁK Violin Concerto
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 1, Spring

Hilary Hahn talks with CRB's Brian McCreath about Dvorák's concerto, the wide range of creative projects she undertakes, and, specifically, her encore commissions, "In 27 Pieces." For audio, use the player above. Transcript:

Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB with Hilary Hahn, who is back in Boston, and it's great to see you. You're here to play the Dvorak Concerto with the Boston Symphony. And I wonder about the Dvorak Concerto, what are the challenges of that piece that really set it apart from the other really great violin concertos like Tchaikovsky or Mendelssohn or Beethoven?

Hilary Hahn [00:00:21] This concerto is kind of irregularly structured in that it has elements of folk music in it; it has very rhapsodic cadenza-like sort of passages for the violin; it has sort of the traditional three movements for a concerto, so kind of medium exciting for the first movement and then slow, lyrical for the second, and almost like a Rondeau format for the third. And in that sense it is a little bit classical. You know, there are many classical concertos that use that Rondeau format in the final movement. But he does the whole piece in his own way and is very clearly Dvorak's soundscape. And I really love it because there are so many beautiful moments between the violin and various orchestra members, the different instruments that are brought out, the counter rhythms that occur, and just the passing back and forth of certain thematic melodies is really, really satisfying.

Brian McCreath [00:01:33] And you're doing it with several orchestras this season. And so you have that chance of collaboration with lots of different musicians. And I imagine that kind of changes from one place to the next, perhaps.

Hilary Hahn [00:01:44] I was just in London, so I'm trying, you know, close comparisons across the pond, I guess. But in a way, I bring similar ideas to each week because I know what I'm starting with. But a lot of it adjusts in the rehearsal process and it might have something to do with the conductors take on it. But often, for me, the things that adjust the most are in reaction to how the orchestra naturally plays. There are a lot of things we don't have time to micromanage in rehearsal. And these orchestras, they're great, and they have their own styles, and there's no reason to change that. So it's just a matter of finding common ground so that we can have a great mutual interpretation.

Brian McCreath [00:02:27] So I've looked at your career for years as a lot of people have, and I just love these projects that seem to come out of nowhere, like the collaboration with Hauschka, and the "27 Encore" project and recording, and Josh Ritter, all these things that you've done. And it makes me wonder when I look at those all together or even some of them together, does one of those projects that you take on from time to time organically lead you to a new idea, or do you sort of close the chapter on each one of these, and then think of something brand new to kind of occupy your mind after that?

Hilary Hahn [00:03:03] The common thread is the typical, you know, concerto / recital / chamber kinds of performances. And I do, by far, if you're comparing genres of music that I play, it's by far dominantly classical music. But in order to better understand the creative process, the thing that really inspires me is the creative process. How are composers thinking? And you can't necessarily ask the former composers who aren't with us anymore, and you can't necessarily get that information from their biography or from their letters because people don't share what's in their head in every single context. So while it is helpful to have background, it's also helpful for me, also for my own creative process to interact with people who are making things in the moment and see what does that feel like for them? Can I shift my perspective by being with them in that process? And I think that's been the generator for almost all of the projects.

[00:04:11] In a sense, the projects have been linear. If you look at them in a batch or you isolate them, it may not be clear what the linear element is. But, for example, my first non-classical thing I did was a track on ... there's a band called ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. So I did a track, a violin solo with band accompaniment, but no vocals, for one of their albums, and they'd asked me to do it. So the melody was basically written out already. So it wasn't really improvising. But I got a chance to work with one of the band members who'd written the melody to embellish it and make it a little bit more "violin exploitive." So that was kind of the first step.

[00:04:59] And then after that, I had a friend who, I thought I would maybe do the same thing: I would write a little violin part for one of his songs. It was Josh Ritter. And it wasn't that I wanted to be on a recording of his or anything. I just thought it would be fun to maybe play in one of his shows sometime. So I said - we were having lunch somewhere in Canada, and I said, "You know, if you ever need a violinist, let me know." And he said, "How would you like to play on my show tomorrow?" [Laughs] I said, "Yeah, sure, that sounds great!" I went back to the hotel and I wrote up a little violin part that I thought would work great with the song that he was going to do. I had it all memorized. I was ready. And then the half hour before the performance, I said, "Can we run it through?" And he said, "Sure!" And he pulled out his capo, and it was in a different, different key. And I wasn't good at transposing, so I couldn't remember it anymore. And I got on stage, my knees were knocking, and I just made something up. And I played really quietly when I wasn't sure I was in the right chord. And that was my first improvisation experience. So from there, it's just kind of things like that. One thing leads to another.

[00:06:03] With the encores it was, noticing... Another pattern is, I notice a gap in the repertoire or in my repertoire, and if I don't see it being filled by someone else, I realize this is something that would be helpful for the grand scheme, if someone did this. And then that stuff is there for other people later. So that was the case with the contemporary commissioned encores.

Brian McCreath [00:06:29] OK, I'm going to put the interview on hold here to give you a more tangible sense of "In 27 Pieces," which Hillary released on two CDs a few years ago. There's an incredible range of music on the recording from really beautiful, sweet music by the late Einojuhani Rautavaara ...

[00:07:02] [Music]

[00:07:02] ... and Valentin Silvestrov ...

[00:07:20] [Music]

[00:07:20] ... to pieces that are made for more of a pop like the ones from Paul Moravec ...

[00:07:29] [Music]

[00:07:30] ... and Avner Dorman.

[00:07:43] [Music]

[00:07:43] Very cool stuff. I think you'll want to check out the entire collection "In 27 Pieces." OK, back to the interview:

[00:07:48] And I can't imagine you didn't get most of those encores, if not all of them, and think, oh, my gosh, this is so great that I want this person to do more. And it must have sparked all kinds of ideas for further commissions.

Hilary Hahn [00:08:00] Absolutely. At the same time, I was just trying to keep my head above the water. [Laughs].

Brian McCreath [00:08:04] It's a lot!

Hilary Hahn [00:08:05] Because I didn't realize... I thought of it in terms of minutes. I'd never done multiple commissions at the same time, and I'd only done concerto commissions. So I was thinking, well, this adds up to however many minutes, like maybe three concertos worth of music. And I kind of know what it is to prepare that. But I hadn't thought about the fact that since I hadn't played most of these composers' work before, it was not just the number of minutes, but it was also getting into their style, their, um, like, their implications in their writing, and also just understanding when they write "this," they mean "this." Because sometimes composers would write the same word in their scores. Then I'd go for a coaching, and I realized they meant opposite things. So really trying to get into these particular pieces, create interpretations that fit those pieces and get that music really deeply ingrained was a whole other experience than what I expected. And it was really, really educational for me and really helpful in all my other work.

Brian McCreath [00:09:12] I just think artistically it's one of the most fabulous things anybody has done because it just gives you this snapshot of so many voices, and there's so many great pieces, really, all of them, like I said. But but there are some that really stand out, anyway...

Hilary Hahn [00:09:24] That was my goal. Thank you.

Brian McCreath [00:09:27] Good, good. Well, you succeeded. I was walking into the hall today and one of the folks here on the BSO staff mentioned that you had played at the memorial for [former BSO Concertmaster] Joseph Silverstein. Did you know him and...

Hilary Hahn [00:09:41] Yes!

Brian McCreath [00:09:42] Yeah? Tell me about that.

Hilary Hahn [00:09:43] I met him when I was very young. I think I was like 11 or 12? No, maybe I was 13... But somewhere in there, early teen years, and I was introduced to him, I played a little bit for him, and he kind of gave me a bit of a coaching. And I remember this one thing he told me because it jumped out so much and I didn't entirely understand it. And now I understand it, and it's still true. But he encouraged me to play closer to the bridge. And he said, "Because, you know, that's the high rent district." [Laughs} And I was like, "What is a high rent district? What does that even mean?" But the words stuck in my head, and someone explained that, oh, that must mean blah, blah, blah. But now, because that was a quote that was kind of mysterious to me and, like, very memorable, I actually apply it. I do play closer to the bridge, probably largely because of what he said to me, which is a large part of my tone production. So you never know what's going to influence you.

[00:10:46] But then he conducted me in Salt Lake City in a New Year's concert. And it was the first time I was officially up past midnight. [Laughs] I had a great time, and I worked with him in Chamber Music at Lincoln Center, and I kept seeing him on and off in passing, like, if I would play at Tanglewood, or he taught at Curtis after a while, so then I would see him every now and then at Curtis. So, I mean, I wouldn't say that I saw him all the time. But for me, he was a very important figure. When I was growing up, we had some LPs and one of them was the Four Seasons with the Boston Symphony. And it was such a classic recording for me. I also loved the cover. It was beautiful.

Brian McCreath [00:11:33] Yeah, it was a great cover, right, right, right.

Hilary Hahn [00:11:34] So I really, like, that whole record for me is a very memorable one.

Brian McCreath [00:11:41] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hilary Hahn, thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me today.

Hilary Hahn [00:11:45] Thank you.