A Portrait

Werke von / Works by
J.S. Bach · Korngold · Mozart
Paganini · Vaughan Williams
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
London Symphony Orchestra
Natalie Zhu · Kent Nagano · Sir Colin Davis a.o.
Int. Release 01 Mar. 2007
1 DVD-Video
0440 073 4192 6
DVD-VIDEO NTSC 0440 073 4192 6 GH
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 16:9
Subtitles: German/French/Spanish/Chinese
A coproduction of Loft and Nightfrog in cooperation with
Deutsche Grammophon GmbH and IMG Artists commissioned
by Bayerischer Rundfunk
This compelling new DVD goes behind the scenes with Hilary Hahn

Track List

David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hugh Wolff

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Violin Concerto In D Major, Op.35

Hilary Hahn, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano

David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn, Gary Graffman, Natalie Zhu

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004


David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn

David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn, London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Violin Concerto In D Major, Op.35

Hilary Hahn, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano

David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn, Hong Kong Philharmonic Society Limited, Gunther Herbig

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Violin Concerto In D Major, Op.35

Hilary Hahn, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano

David Kehoe, Hilary Hahn, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hugh Wolff

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major, K. 301


Hilary Hahn, Natalie Zhu

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Violin Concerto In D Major, Op.35

Hilary Hahn, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano

Total Playing Time 1:38:06

One of the most notable features of this absorbing release is the generosity of its extras . . . in the Korngold her legato is seamless, her intonation impossibly true under even the most fiendish pressure, her tone blemishless. Flying spiccato, forced harmonics, multiple stopping, sleight-of-hand arpeggios, rapid string-crossing -- all are seemingly child's play to this remarkable young player. Not only that, but Hahn goes beyond mere pyrotechnics, continually phrasing with the kind of sensitivity normally accorded bona fide masterpieces . . . There is also an energized purity and aristocratic poise about Hahn's playing in the Mozart sonata which reminded me of the great Henryk Szeryng. Everything she does, both musically and technically, is so exquisitely subtle that one can only sit in wonder at the sheer comprehensiveness of it all. Zhu proves the perfect partner, gliding in and out of her alternating leading and supporting roles with an ease and intuitiveness that makes it all sound deceptively easy . . . Hahn possesses a large amount of personal charm . . . she is a thinker who clearly cares deeply about her art and she shows a maturity, both personal and musical . . . those complete performances of Mozart and Korngold significantly enhance the desirability of this release.

. . . her playing . . . fully communicates her ideas without the aid of any "audio-visual apparatus". Because of the stature of her musical artistry, and footage of Hilary Hahn should be self-recommending . . . the release deserves to be included in any library of video performances by violinists.

. . . in both performances Hahn¿s violin does the talking to enchanting effect.

Die fabelhafte Welt der Hilary. Hilary Hahn ist eine der wunderbarsten Geigerinnen unserer Zeit. Ein neues Porträt der Künstlerin entstand auf einer Konzertreise und zeigt die stets höchst ernsthaft und auf die musikalische Sache konzentrierte Solistin, die . . . ihren PR-Kollegen keine Chance gibt, anderes als künstlerische Momente ihrer Persönlichkeit in den Mittelpunkt zu stellen . . . Nichts als Musik führt sie im Sinn; und musiziert dann Korngolds Violinkonzert unter Kent Nagano mit so viel Sinn für Romantik wie eine Mozartsonate mit Natalie Zhu in klassischer Harmonie.

. . . ihr technisch brillantes Spiel mit perlender Klanggestaltung besticht . . . berauschend strömt der Schönklang.

Le sujet Hilary Hahn est . . . exceptionnel . . . On se consolera . . . admirant une performance publique intégrale du concerto de Korngold et d'une sonate de Mozart, où l'on retrouvera la perfection plastique du jeu, le contrôle instrumental et émotionnel phénoménal de cette violoniste d'exception.
    Hilary Hahn – Life on the Road

Whether she is traveling, concertizing, recording, rehearsing or (rarely) relaxing in her Baltimore apartment, Hilary Hahn makes the most of her experiences. She invariably conveys enthusiasm, intelligence, fo­cus, a zeal for adventure, and a wide-eyed excitement about the possibilities that the future could bring. Forget the limos and the red carpet treatment, Hilary Hahn is a serious and modest musician who hoofs it to the concert hall with her violin case strapped to her back. Although her new CD presents works which – having been composed by legendary violin virtuosos Louis Spohr and Niccolò Paganini – are considered among the most technically challenging in the repertoire, this violinist prefers to downplay the fireworks and reveal the musical substance beneath, as she tells Amanda Holloway.

You seem to be in the jetsetting lifestyle. Seeing you one could get the impression that you’re always on the move: from Hong Kong to London, or from Berlin to Philadelphia. Do you see any parallels between your life on the road, and that of Spohr and Paganini, both of whom entertained audiences all over Europe?

Being on the road now is probably as different from a 19th-century soloist’s experience as a pop artist’s stadium tour is different from performing chamber music at a festival; it’s comparing apples and oranges. It’s true that the material on this album is very violinistic: that is, technically specific to the violin and particularly effective on that instrument. In fact, people tend to concentrate mainly on the violinistic, showy side of both the Paganini and the Spohr. But for me, the core of this music is its lyricism and operatic qualities – something which can also be violinistic, but in a way which plays up the vocal element of the violin’s range. That is a side of this music which can get lost when one subverts its emotional potential in favor of flashiness. I tried coming to the Paganini from a melodic perspective: instead of making the technical sections the central focus of the piece, tying them together with the melodic sections, I try to use virtuosity as ornamentation in the context of a very lyrical, vocal work. In other words, the technique becomes of secondary importance.

The Paganini seems to me to have been written in the context of an operatic culture, while the Spohr is more of a violin-centric adaptation of operatic styles of the time. Both are fascinating ways of composing for the violin; they’re very unique in that they’re so operatically oriented.

Would you agree that your image is not that of a showy, virtuoso violinist?

Showiness is not what I find important in the music so I don’t see any reason to play it up. At the same time, I place a lot of importance on technical, virtuosic accuracy – with the goal of making everything so clean and organic that no one knows how difficult any section truly is! The point of that is that the technique should be as good as possible, so that it enhances but doesn’t overpower the music within any given piece. But, inter­pretively, there’s no right or wrong; one has to do what feels right. Someone else might come at this music from the opposite perspective, but their version would be equally valid, though I might not feel comfortable adopting it. Nowadays, we think of Paganini as a pure, astonishing tech­nician, but in fact, in his day, Paganini was also renowned for his musicality and phrasing. His violin was nicknamed “The Cannon” because it had such a big tone and it just sang out – and we all know that a violin doesn’t play itself. Spohr was similarly famed for his musicality, and I’m sure that he wouldn’t have wanted technique to be the focus of his aptly-named “Gesangsszene”.

The Paganini is familiar to audiences today. Why do you think the Spohr is not so well-known?

It’s possible that the length of the Spohr makes it an awkward piece to program, considering that few audiences have ever heard of it – it’s about 20 minutes, kind of short to be the soloist’s only performance on a program, but a little long to pair with something else. It isn’t considered standard repertoire anymore, but to me it is, because the Spohr was one of my teacher Jascha Brodsky’s favorite works, so I learned it when I was still rather young. I remember him ­waxing poetic about it; he was born in 1907, and this piece was really popular in the early part of the 20th century, frequently played either in recital with piano, or in concert with orchestra. Perhaps it was played so often that people didn’t feel the need to program it anymore; then maybe a generation passed, and the format of orchestra concerts started to change, and it just faded out of the mainstream repertoire. Some people claim that the piece sounds dated, but I think it only sounds quaint when you don’t put the drama into it. When you let it sing, it’s modern beyond its time.

What inspired you to link these two together on one album?

I had wanted to record the Spohr for a quite a while, but it was important to me to wait till I had the right piece to pair it with. The right combination presented itself once I reached an age at which something like Paganini wouldn’t automatically be called prod­igy music when I played it. I realized that recording this Paganini Concerto was a challenge I wanted to take on, but I needed to present it in the right context, and because of the vocal emphasis shared by the two works, it seemed so natural to put the Paganini and the Spohr together. Interestingly enough, Spohr and Paganini knew each other, and for a long time, Spohr didn’t approve of how Paganini wrote for the violin – so I wonder if he’d be happy if he knew that their works were being paired together on the same album! On the other hand, maybe this is his chance to finally prove himself and my chance to get his music out to a new audience.

You said it was very much a violinists’ album?

By that, I meant that while Spohr and Paganini are beloved among violinists, a lot of other people might not be aware of them, especially the Spohr. I’d like to see the Spohr in particular played more often in performance and presented as something other than a student recital piece. That is pretty much how it’s approached nowadays – people learn it in school but don’t take it past that, and I don’t know why. I’d like to see the Paganini taken seriously as lyrical music and treated accordingly by performers and audience alike.

Are these pieces straightforward to play?

Each is unique, just like any other work within classical music. Ideally, one should approach everything with the attitude that “this isn’t like anything else, so I’m going to emphasize everything that I find enticing in it and try to do it justice”. Simply playing the notes is ineffective in any piece, no matter how simple or straightforward it might seem, but it’s very easy to fall into that trap because there’s so much to think about when playing the violin. These pieces are ­distractingly tricky to play, from the performer’s perspective, because one has to make everything fit naturally while twisting one’s fingers in knots to make all of the notes come out clearly. At the same time, one has to concentrate on how the music itself is communicating to the audience, since the essence of the vocal style is human communication.

Take the Spohr, for instance: the whole first movement is like an extended recitative, almost improvisational-sounding, so you have to heap on rhythmic freedom and musical flexibility to make it come alive.
The notes are simply the notes, but once you liberate them with rhythm and dynamics, they make for phenomenal music.

Do you like to think of yourself as maybe delivering that Concerto the way Spohr did?

No. Since there aren’t any recordings of Spohr playing, I wouldn’t pretend to know how he would have delivered anything. I know what I hear in it that I wish to bring out and what I feel I can offer in playing the piece, so that’s what I focus on. When a score has markings from the composer, I do try to stick to those as much as possible, but neither Spohr nor Paganini (who was very secretive about his music) left many markings behind in these cases. There are ­certain interpretive traditions which come into play in both concertos, and I respect those. Basically, my job as a performer is to apply my own perspective to music which has been played a zillion times before; to me, that means that I have a responsibility both to the past and to my particular view of the music.

My teachers taught me the importance of looking to previous generations for musical guidance, though they would have been the first to say that one should never copy another artist. In keeping with that, I’m not trying to change what’s already there, just to play the music the way I’d want to hear it played if I were in the audience.