Hilary Hahn is about to celebrate her 33rd birthday. She's spent 30 of those years playing the violin. Her resume is as impressive as expected.
This weekend, the Dallas Symphony is performing two works by Beethoven, including one of classical music's most recognizable pieces, the composer's 5th symphony (dum-dum-dum-duuuum). Sandwiched between the symphony and Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Hahn will perform a much less familiar piece, Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto.
I chatted with Hahn over email about the Korngold concerto and what it's like to be a touring super-star violinist.
While you are in Dallas, you will be playing Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto. What drew you to this piece? This concerto is one of Korngold's distinguishing concert pieces. It is sweeping, infectious, colorful, flashy, and romantic. It is beautifully written for the violin and shows off the orchestra's strengths at the same time. I love it!
Your music career began very early and your education was focused on violin performance at a young age. Do you ever feel you missed out on anything a "normal teenager" might experience (i.e. high school prom, etc.)? I didn't exactly miss prom. I went to formal parties at [Curtis Institute of Music], the conservatory, where some of the best musicians in the world made up the band and students put on skits and danced and celebrated. It was fun! And though I didn't go to regular high school, I took my Bachelor's Degree classes when I was 12-16, in tiny classes, with wonderful teachers. I took ballet, traveled internationally, worked with orchestras and saw great halls. I feel fortunate.
It's funny, the things I didn't necessarily do when I was younger, because they weren't priorities for me, I can do now. Amusement park? Sign me up! Some high school's prom in the hotel lobby? Let's try to crash it! (Yes, I got kicked out; my concert dress must have given me away.)
For a long time it seems the classical world has been dominated by men and often times by older men. What is it like being a young woman in the classical business/culture? Do you feel you have to work harder to prove yourself? I don't know what it is like to not be a woman in the classical world. I guess either gender could perceive advantages and disadvantages. Where I see the gap most clearly is in traveling: when I am in an airport lounge, I am one of the few women there.
I like to think that within the classical music world, in the end, the focus is on how someone performs, rather than on initial snap judgements. No matter how perfectly set up you are when you arrive, if you don't do good work and you don't deliver a substantial effort, that is what will stick with people. Conversely, you can win over a lot of doubters with amazing work.
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When you visit Dallas, what will you do in your free time (or will you even have any)? I will dress up for Halloween! I'm still figuring out the costume. I'm excited to experience Halloween in a place where everyone doesn't have to wear their coats over their costumes to stay warm.
Have you ever worked with Maestro Jaap van Zweden before? Yes, and on some challenging repertoire to boot. Jaap is one of my favorite colleagues. He is entirely focused on the music and he is determined to get things as good as they can be. That work ethic takes commitment. And he is fearless. That is fantastic.
After you play the Korngold concerto, the Dallas Symphony will perform Beethoven's 5th symphony. Do you typically listen to the second half of the concerts in which you perform? And how do you think this very old, familiar piece is relevant to today's audiences? I always try to listen to the second half of the performance. That is the time when the orchestra can dig into their own playing and show their entire range. I want to experience that.
I don't get to hear the symphonic classics as often as I would like. I think a classic is a classic for a reason; it has survived many tests, taken its place in history, and still has impact today. It is really important to reach back as well as forward within classical music. This genre's span is what sets it apart. Although much of the music is associated with certain time periods, in a concert hall it is alive in the moment. You can think of everyone who has been in contact with a piece like Beethoven's 5th over the years. It makes for a vast network. Every time a piece is played, it is relevant to that moment. That vividness never gets old.