The Korea Herald


‘Because it’s Bach’

By Shim Woo-hyun

Published : Dec. 11, 2018 - 17:26

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There comes a point when you love someone because you just love them, without any particular reason. Violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn’s love of Bach is that kind of love.

“Because it’s Bach!” Hahn said, explaining her love of the composer in an email interview with The Korea Herald ahead of her upcoming South Korea tour.

Hahn will perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 on Dec. 18 in Daegu and again on Dec. 19 at the Lotte Concert Hall with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under conductor Paavo Jarvi. Her Bach solo recital is scheduled for Dec. 21 at the same Seoul concert hall.

Violinist Hilary Hahn (Michael Patrick O’Leary) Violinist Hilary Hahn (Michael Patrick O’Leary)

“I have always played a range of repertoire every season. This year has a Bach focus, with my first Bach solo recitals on a world tour and performances of the concertos,” Hahn said.

To Hahn, Bach is irreplaceable. “I can’t imagine not playing Bach. His solo music is, miraculously, the one section of the violin repertoire that can be played anywhere, under any circumstances, and be meaningful to the audience, whoever they are. So, I’m sure it will always be there with me,” she said.

This year, which marks the composer’s 333rd birthday, Hahn too is reaching a career milestone with the album “Hilary Hahn Plays Bach.” It completes the Bach sonatas and partitas that she started recording for her first album, which she released at the age of 17.

“There are certainly differences (between now and then), but sometimes the big picture differences are smaller than the day-to-day differences. I’m still the same player, shaped by the same initial influences in my Bach style. The new recording continues the arc of the first,” Hahn said.

Her upcoming solo recital will epitomize the talent and hard work of an artist who has been playing Bach almost every day since she was younger than 10. The results: steadfast interpretation, clarity in tone and capacious sounds.

“I’ve learned over the years to listen closely to my instincts. For example: Do I feel like playing this section with this character? Does this phrase move forward or retreat? Which polyphonic line do I emphasize? That’s where I start. Then I try it. Then I perform it. Then repeat the cycle,” Hahn said.

Each Bach recital is new, reflecting subtle changes that Hahn decides to make as she goes.

“I have a full dynamic range, and I have complete rhythmic freedom. I also have to generate all of the energy onstage as well as convey the entirety of the music. Those things change a performance in hundreds of tiny ways,” Hahn said.

The solo recital program includes Bach Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, Partita No. 3 in E Major and Sonata No. 3 in C Major, a selection from her old and new albums of Bach’s solo violin works.

“I feel these works go together very well. In the C major fugue, you have the biggest piece Bach wrote for solo violin. The other movements in that piece are classics, forward-thinking but self-assured. The E major partita is so resonant on the violin; it’s almost as if Bach is writing for a different instrument because of the higher register he uses for that key. Of course that piece’s Preludio is a big hit. Maybe the most recognizable of his works for solo violin? The A minor sonata has so many memorable moments, from the improvisational, moody first movement to the quirky fugue theme, to the heartbreaking Andante and the jaunty Allegro,” Hahn explained.

Hahn, who started out as a child prodigy, has continued to push her musical boundaries throughout her career.

She has built a discography that covers a wide repertoire, from Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich to Barber, Schoenberg and Bernstein.

Her appreciation of contemporary music is shown in albums like “Silfra” and “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.” The former is an improvisation-based collaboration between the violinist and avant-garde pianist Volker Bertelmann or Hauschka. The latter is a selection of contemporary pieces she played as encores, each lasting about five minutes.

“Also this season, my artist residency with Radio France in Paris, which includes the world premiere of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s final work, a concerto he wrote for me that remains incomplete because he passed away before he could finish it,” Hahn said about another focus for this year.

In closing her solo recital in Seoul, she might perform a contemporary piece for an encore. Or she might perform an encore while hula-hooping, like she did last month in Boston as she joined Australian YouTuber duo TwoSet Violin’s performance of Paganini’s 24th Solo Caprice.

Hahn, who is also a popular Instagram personality with more than 100,000 followers, says, “Communication is a big part of my life.”

“I just hope more people and myself would come across in our daily lives! I make up projects: #100daysofpractice, or special fan interactions that help me to understand even better who is out there and what they love about music. When I see something interesting, I have more reasons to explore it, because I want to find out more to share it with people, and then I wind up learning more than I expected. Exploration and following my instincts are essential to how I live my life,” Hahn added.

In Seoul, Hahn, a mother of two, will also hold BYOB -- bring your own baby, that is -- concerts, where parents can bring their children and listen to classical music in a traditional setting.

“I always love working in South Korea. There’s such appreciation for the music and knowledge of the violin. The halls are beautiful,” Hahn said.

“I also like going to food courts in shopping malls and watching the people. And then I go to the grocery store. For me, a grocery store is a very interesting part of every country’s culture. It tells you a lot about the people!

“I think Korea has the most seafood in grocery stores of any country I’ve ever been to. It feels like taking a tour of the ocean. And the green vegetable selection is mind blowing, compared to other countries. I also like face masks and Korean beauty products. I am going to try to do as much of all of that as possible in the short time I have between working sessions!”

If you happen to spot a foreigner roaming round a shopping mall or grocery store, maybe with a violin case on her back, it might just be Hahn.

By Shim Woo-hyun (