When violinist Hilary Hahn appears in Seattle on Oct. 17, she'll play not only the three big B's — Bach, Beethoven and Brahms — but selections from new works from composers around the world that she commissioned herself. With Hahn will be buzzed-about pianist Valentina Lisitsa, who counts 30 million YouTube views among her many...
One of the most popular and gifted artists on the international concert circuit, the Grammy-winning, celebrated violinist Hilary Hahn is no stranger to performing new music expressly written for her.
At age 19, Hahn — who performs in Seattle on Monday with pianist Valentina Lisitsa — premiered and recorded a 1999 violin concerto composed for her by bassist Edgar Meyer.
A decade later, she did the same for a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto written for her by Jennifer Higdon, Hahn’s former music professor at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
So when Hahn, now 31, was inspired earlier this year to commission not one, but 27 composers — including Meyer, Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence Mason Bates and the Oscar-nominated film composer James Newton Howard — to participate in an ambitious new project, reaching out to so many creative minds must have felt familiar, even comfortable.
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“I actually cold-called people,” Hahn says by phone from Paris.
Sounding like a timid kid hoping for a date with a popular boy, she impersonates herself dialing up the composers on her list, mumbling and laughing nervously.
“It was like, ‘Hi, this is Hilary Hahn. Do you mind taking part in this project? I really like your music.’ I felt like some kind of crazy admirer asking, ‘Will you go out with me?’ “
Most said yes, and Hahn’s long-considered project was suddenly real: “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.” Seattle will be among the first cities to hear selections from the project as Hahn performs them through 2013.
“In 27 Pieces” was conceived as a collection of short encores, most for acoustic violin and piano. Hahn says while it is unusual to focus on encore repertoire, her interest reflects contemporary concert norms.
“Historically, encores were repeats of a favorite section from the performance you just gave,” she says. “Today you hardly do that because people want to hear a favorite piece not on the program. It occurred to me the encores people look forward to have been around for a while. I thought it would be nice to create some new favorites by commissioning them.”
For the next couple of years, Hahn is premiering all 27, not as encores per se, but as part of announced programs.
At Benaroya, Hahn will include 13 selections — including works by Higdon, Danish National Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Søren Nils Eichberg and Japan’s Somei Satoh — on a bill of music by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
“I want audiences to hear them, see what they like,” says Hahn. “It’s very important to think about the longevity of a piece. When I commission a composer to write for me, I dedicate big chunks of the next few years to performing it so it gets out there and in the available repertoire.”
One of the joys of the project was working with a wide range of artists, Hahn says.
“I looked at how people create, got inside each person’s creative space so I could interpret their music. I do that usually, but I’m usually not learning so many different composers’ ways of writing in any one year. It’s been galvanizing.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org