At 30-years-old with roughly half of her lifetime already producing best-selling CDs, winning big awards, and touring the world, you'd think American violinist Hilary Hahn would be ready for a vacation. Don't hold your breath. Hahn is currently gearing-up for her highly-anticipated CD, "Bach: Violin and Voice" which drops on January 12, a first-ever collaboration between the soloist and opera singers.
A couple Grammy awards already under her belt, the Lexington, Virginia home-girl showed early proclivities with the violin, and released her first album (Bach) when she was 17-years-old. Celebrating her 30th birthday just a couple months ago, she's spent the last decade of her life on stage while churning out polished and intuitive interpretations on disc, and has kept us duly entertained with her delve into the digital age -- she's on YouTube, writes a journal on her blog, and is on twitter (to be honest, her personified violin case does all the tweeting).
Her new CD is unique in that she collaborates for the first time with opera soloists -- baritone Matthias Goerne and soprano Christine Schäfer -- in a program of Bach cantatas, choral selections, arias, and duets from St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor with conductor Alexander Liebreich and the Munich Chamber Orchestra.
In celebration of the new CD, SIRIUS XM Radio will be broadcasting an intimate interview with Hahn at 1:30pm on January 12...catch it during your lunch break! If lunch is blocked, you can boogie down to Bleecker Street later that night (at 7:30pm) to catch Hahn's "Bach Party" at (le) poisson rouge, where Hahn will be on hand with her super-friends in a live performance of Bach's Chaconne in D minor and the Aria Variata for solo piano. She's also making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’s January 14th show (along with stellar guests Rob Lowe & Jane Krakowski!! <3 <3)
OC chatted with the violinist a few days ago, live & uncut from America's heartland. Here's how it all went down, although you'll have to read after the cut to find out:
OC: You make composers who are not generally seen as particularly warm (like Bach and Sibelius) sound more romantic. How difficult is it to go against the grain of the more mainstream interpretations? Is it getting easier with time?
HH: I hadn't really realized that I was doing that with those composers, but for me I just try to play each piece the way I'd want to hear it for myself, and play according to my preferences. It's not so much about going against the grain for me as it is being true to myself. I feel it's very difficult to interpret a piece in the direction that you're not comfortable with although sometimes you do have to do things a bit differently. But it's good being in the position that I'm in as a soloist and as a collaborative musician to be free enough to do things the way I’d like to do them. And of course, all the colleagues that I work with influence the way I play any single piece. Because you can never go in and say, "I’m going to play it this way," and then have it happen that way. Instead, the process is about wanting to do it one way but then looking at what the other person is doing – and then you figure-out what they’re comfortable with and you try to come up with something that works. The great thing about Bach is that the interpretation is really up to the musician, which is very stimulating.
OC: Cecilia Bartoli often mentions how frustrating it was to try and figure out based on reports from contemporaries how Maria Malibran actually sounded, and how refreshing it was to find a very early 20th century recording of the last castrato in Rome. Your teacher Jascha Brodsky once heard a young Efrem Zimbalist play in Europe -- is there a dream performance of the past that you wish you had heard in person?
HH: There are so many! I wish I could have been at the premiere of The Rite of Spring. That would have been great. I wish I could’ve been there in an environment in which it had such a big impact and there was such a volatile reaction. I mean, it doesn’t happen now so much in classical music. It was during a time in which you never really knew what would happen. So I wouldn't mind going back to Paris in the early 20th century just to see what that was like -- going to concerts and seeing the musicians that gathered there...the community of people that were there during that time. It would be pretty fascinating because there's such a Russian connection, too. And a lot of people came through there and a lot of them hung out in artist communities, so you didn't just have an influx of musicians. I would like see them all perform!
OC: As much as classical music is slightly less a boy's club than it used to be, is this a source of some frustration at times for you as a young woman? Do you have any examples?
HH: I grew up listening to a lot of great violinists, both male and female. I've also had two great violin teachers, male and female. So I never listened by gender. Of course how they play influences me, but their gender does not. And I never really thought about it until people started mentioning the gender issues, though I do realize many soloists are men. But at the same time, I look around the orchestra and there are a lot of women. It doesn't seem as skewed towards gender as it may have been, although I'm still young and I haven't been doing this as long as a lot of my colleagues, so I haven't been around when it was apparently more of a boys club. I think it really depends on the personalities of your colleagues and seeing whether they're male of female and what country they come from or what language they’re speaking and knowing that there's really no categorical definition. We're all musicians and it's more important on how I work with them and what kind of a person they are. And that's what I love about classical music. We all have to work together, and in that process everything else superficial really stops being important and I find that very refreshing.
OC: You have a new album coming out titled "Bach: Violin & Voice" featuring German soprano Christine Schäfer and German baritone Matthias Goerne singing Bach Cantatas, a Mass, and arias from St. Matthew Passion. You've never done an album with singers or vocalists before, so it's really unique for you. How did you go about picking these two singers?
HH: I had wanted to work with Matthias for a long time. I had met him on tour and we got along really well, even just chatting, and I love his voice. I got familiar with Christine a little bit later, but I always loved her singing and liked what she could bring to the table for this kind of project. They both have a great reputation and are very consistent in their work, and I respect how they both approached music. I liked their attitudes towards music and especially their approach to this kind of repertoire. They're very serious and knowledgeable about Bach and Baroque music and they both really love this music. There were no artistic or personality clashes among the artists and contributors, and the orchestra and the conductor were all fantastic. It was so great to have these two soloists join in the project because there really isn't a huge opportunity to work with great soloists and great singers and I can really see why it's so hard to get all these people together – even in the obvious fact that our individual schedules are so hectic. So even just to coordinate it was really nice, and it was great to see it come together and actually happen.
OC: So you'd definitely collaborate with singers again?
HH: I hope these kinds of projects never end! It was fascinating to understand how singers work with their own instruments. I learned so much about how singers work and their relationships to their instruments. I mean, it's not like they can exchange their instruments with another one -- so they have to be so close, emotionally and physically, to their instruments. It was so enlightening. And it was so interesting to learn about how they phrase and about their interpretive choices -- the articulation and the tonality, and the different sounds they can emote. It's all so new in a way and it's so inherent to being a musician.