Hilary Hahn has to pause to get her bearings. Asked where she is during a phone interview, the superstar violinist goes silent for a couple of beats, then laughs. It turns out she’s in New York City.
“Sometimes I don’t know what city I’m in,” she says, “what day of the week it is, what month it is.”
Such is a hazard of the touring life for an enormously popular musician. Hahn appears Thursday and Saturday with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, performing Jean Sibelius’ 1905 Violin Concerto in D minor. Xian Zhang, music director of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, is guest conductor.
“I really love playing that Sibelius piece because it has such an interesting balance of dark and light in its musicality,” Hahn says.
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“It has an undercurrent that some people call bleak, but I feel it is a controlled power just waiting to be unleashed. Sometimes it makes itself known, but it’s balanced by a light element in the piece that’s not talked about very much. It’s absolutely beautiful and shows up in the melody, in the interplay between violin and orchestra.”
Hahn finds touring — despite schedule disorientation — conducive to inventiveness. She is never in short supply.
Hahn last appeared here in June 2012 at an unlikely venue: the Neptune Theatre, on a tour with German pianist Hauschka that emphasized improvisation and experimentation. The two released a much-admired album, “Silfra,” certainly different from Hahn’s previous recordings.
She says the experience “filled in a creative gap I was curious to fill.”
“I perform and improvise with singer-songwriters, but in the context of music they’ve already written. And, of course, I spend a lot of time with classical music I can’t talk to composers about. But I thought it would be fun to work with Hauschka in a musical language of our own. I wanted to see what it was like to be in a living, breathing musical experience with someone, get familiar with our own new, creative process and have that understanding.”
Hahn also opened the door to discovery with her “In 27 Pieces” project, which she performed a part of here in 2011. A body of short encores commissioned by Hahn and written by, among others, bassist Edgar Meyer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, the idea was to see how 27 composers would attack the same challenge.
“The record is coming out in the fall,” Hahn says. “I’ve premiered all of the pieces, and I plan to keep playing them at concerts. It was really neat to see how many people were enthusiastic about the project. I wanted to see what an encore meant to each person.”
Hahn’s investigations into the mystery of creativity extend to video interviews on her YouTube channel, conversations over the years with fellow musicians. But she is especially proud to have been the first guest editor, last June, of The Strad, a magazine about bowed-string musicians.
Hahn assigned musicians — including herself — to interview all sorts of people (among them a choreographer, a dentist and a boxer) about their craft.
“I get a lot of inspiration from conversations with other creative people,” says Hahn. “I like talking to people about where they get their ideas and what keeps them going. I took that approach with The Strad, and I was really happy with the results.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org