Violinist Hilary Hahn has a special regard for Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, which she'll be playing with the Houston Symphony during a four-day stint at the end of March; as a young man, her teacher, Jascha Brodsky had performed the then new concerto in a competition and subsequently met Prokofiev. "I really, really love this piece," Hahn told Art Attack. "It's a nice reminder of how things connect through the generations."
The concerto has several sudden swings in mood. "There's lots of lyricism, lots of delicate details. It has these ethereal moments and then these wild, really brash moments, and then back," says Hahn. "It's fun to play because it stops all of the sudden. Not the sound, but the momentum. As a player, it feels like that Olympic sport where they ski and then they shoot. They're going, going, going and then suddenly they have to lie still and control their breathing. In certain parts, it's so exciting to play. My heartbeat goes up and then I have to play something soft right after that and I'm thinking, 'Okay, control the right arm, control the right arm.' It's really interesting for me, I just really get caught up in the momentum and the surprises that the music has."
The rest of the program includes Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes by Britten, and Sospiri and Enigma Variations, both by Elgar. Two of the performances are part of the ACCESS Series, which is a shorter program with no intermission and hosted by NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman, who will give a bit of history of each piece. It's a format Hahn enjoys. "I think it's great. Every now and then, I'm involved in a program like that. I have some friends who are not musicians and they really like to go to a concert where they get to learn about the pieces and the composers. It adds to their enjoyment."
Hahn, who spends most of the year on tour, finds working with a different conductor and orchestra both refreshing and challenging.
"It's very collaborative when I work with people. It's pretty much just a rehearsal and a half with the orchestra, and a couple of meetings with the conductor. Everyone's adjusting like crazy to each other. You have very little time. For me, I'm always tuned in to what's going on around me and I'm always listening to the orchestra. So what an audience hears is always very spontaneous."
At 32-years-old, Hahn has been working professionally for some 20 years. Known for her elegance and technical brilliance, she was just 12 when made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; she was 16 when she signed a recording contract with Sony Music and earned enough credits to graduate with a Bachelor of Music degree at the Curtis Institute (she postponed her graduation and continued her studies there for another four years). She was 17 when she made her Carnegie Hall debut.
Although she has sometimes collaborated with people from outside the classical world, including appearances on two albums with Austin alt-rockers ... And They Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Hahn is dedicated to the violin and classical music. "The violin has a huge reperitoire in classical music. You can chart the way the music grew and changed over the centuries just by working in the violin repertoire," she says. "There's a lot to work on. You can keep challenging yourself, and exploring and never be done. There's just so much there; I think there's as much in classical music as there is in everything else combined."
See Hahn in action here.Hilary Hahn performs with the Houston Symphony at 8 p.m. on March 29. That concert is at the Sugar Land Baptist Church, 16755 Southwest Frwy, Sugar Land. She performs with the Houston Symphony at 7 p.m. on March 30, 8 p.m. on March 31 and 2:30 p.m. on April 1 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. The March 29 and 30 concerts are part of the ACCESS series with Miles hoffman. The March 31 and April 1 performances are in the standard concert format. For information, visit www.houstonsymphony.org or call 713-224-7575. Tickets are $20 to $116.
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