The Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn has been wonderfully precocious since she entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at age 10 in 1990. A year later, she made her orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Performances with other major American orchestras quickly ensued before her 1995 international debut in Germany with Lorin Maazel and her Carnegie Hall debut, once again with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Over the years, she has performed as soloist and chamber musician with many ensembles, but a soft spot in her heart belongs to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Once again, she joins the group and its new music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, at the Kennedy Center to perform Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto. The program also features Bruckner's Symphony No. 7.
"Korngold's concerto is challenging for all the instruments," Hahn said. "It's rewarding for its huge range of emotional landscapes. Even though he composed for movies, he was a concert composer first. I have fun playing this concerto, which juxtaposes several of his film themes."
The young genius composer traveled from Vienna to Hollywood in 1934 to arrange Mendelssohn's incidental music for Warner Brothers' sumptuous production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" starring Dick Powell, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Joe. E. Brown and other big names of the era.
|The Philadelphia Orchestra with violinist Hilary Hahn|
|» Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW|
|» When: 8 p.m. Wednesday|
|» Info: $35 to $105; 202-785-9727, 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324; wpas.org, kennedy-center.org|
Instead of returning to Austria, Korngold continued composing film scores throughout World War II. Several of them earned Oscars. After the war, he left Hollywood to compose once again for the concert hall. His violin concerto followed the cello concerto and was premiered by Jascha Heifetz. It incorporates themes from four of his film scores: "Another Dawn," "Juarez," "Anthony Adverse," and "The Prince and the Pauper."
A generation later, Hahn cut her musical teeth on Bach, the focus of her first and several later recordings. She continues to feel at one with him even as she boasts an enormous and diverse repertoire that ranges from 18th century baroque to Schoenberg, Charles Ives and her 21st century project, "In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores." She hopes that her commissions of short pieces by some of today's brightest young composers from around the world will fill a void by providing exciting new pieces to top off a concert. She began to premiere the first 13 on a recital tour last year with pianist Cory Smythe and continued this season with the rest of the winning encores. All will be released as a two-disc set this fall.
"I've always loved variety in everything and experiencing as much as possible," she said. "When I began commissioning the 'Encores,' I wanted the composers to write down their own concept of what an encore should be. There's always so much to say, and yet they must be precise, like writing a short story. It's interesting to me how each composer approached the project. Each had a specific ownership of their own creative process and their own connection to the language."
One of the 'Encores' was composed by Jennifer Higdon, whose Violin Concerto commissioned by Hahn received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The two first met at Curtis when Higdon was teaching a course in 20th century music history and Hahn was her student.
"She would play the music of a composer for most of the class, then tested us on what we heard and noticed," Hahn said. "I learned so much from her and knew she would do something substantial when I commissioned the concerto. Composers don't always write what performers want, but what they want you to do. It's like writing a role or a screen play from a point of inspiration. This piece has many layers."
"Silfra," Hahn's most recent album recorded with Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann), is perhaps her most unusual venture to date. The goal of Hauschka, a "prepared-pianist," is to deconstruct the piano by altering its function. "That may involve putting extra things into the piano, like duct tape over some of the strings to dampen the sound, or adding tiny motors," Hahn said. "He might add a string of metal beads that hop around to add a snare sound. It's like working with a one-man band. No two performances are the same."
Hahn's rigorous touring schedule and work on Hauschka's projects have prevented her from communicating through her "Postcards from the Road" series as frequently as in the past, but she continues to share with fans through her violin case's Twitter account. Clearly, she has fun whatever she is doing.