Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Encore! Encore!

November 02, 2011

If you were looking for the future of classical music on Tuesday, you might well have found it at the Walt Disney Concert Hall where violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa gave a recital. Hahn is a fascinating musician of some noticeable contrasts. She and Lisitsa arrived in voluminous strapless ball gowns, which seemed incongruous to Hahn’s relaxed and unassuming manner while announcing all the evening's selections from the stage. And despite the casual tone, Hahn and Lisitsa played with consummate professionalism and virtuosity in a program that featured unfamiliar music from living composers. A program that might seem like a non-starter elsewhere, was apparently nirvana for Hahn’s fans as the hall was packed for a Tuesday night with a younger skewing crowd. There was an immediacy to the show and a real sense of shared exploration that was exciting to listen to.

Hahn and Lisitsa have just recorded a remarkable collection of Ives’ sonatas for violin and piano, but the duo was looking forward Tuesday to the next project. Under the moniker “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores,” the new project consists of 27 brief works Hahn has invited a wide variety of living composers to create for her. On top of that, the 27th encore in the series will be determined through a competition open to anyone interested in entering. Hahn notes she’d recognized a lack of new encore pieces being created by contemporary composers, so she set out to talk a number of those she most admired into writing works that she will be performing in various combinations on tour over the next two seasons. Thirteen of these encores made up the bulk of Tuesday's show and were grouped together in several different clusters. It’s an amazing array of music, and as Hahn pointed out, part of the fun comes from the juxtaposition, which she changes up from performance to performance. Some of the pieces like Jennifer Higdon’s Echo Dash, Paul Moravec’s Blue Fiddle and Avner Dorman’s Memory Games played upon the kind of quicksilver virtuosity one might typically expect from a flashy encore piece. Yet others were more self contained world’s of their own including Max Richter’s lovely and melancholy Mercy or Christos Hatzis’ drunken brawl of a wake up call Coming To. Perhaps the best two of these miniatures were Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Whispering paired with Soren Nils Eichberg’s Levitation. Both works shared an unexpected expansiveness creating an almost orchestral feel among the two players who would alternately work together or at cross-purposes. Some of the music was clearly hot off the press including an impressive dialog for the two instruments from Nico Muhly called Two Voices. Hahn and Lisitsa will continue to play these encores all around the world before recording them.

So when a sampling of supposed desserts becomes the main course, where else can you go? Hahn offered up a couple of anchor pieces to offset the contemporary works. One was Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Piano, but perhaps more endearing was Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor. Hahn’s Bach tends toward the brisk and has a straightforward, no-nonsense approach that is both exciting to watch and a pleasure to hear. And for an encore, there was Ives. It was fitting that this American original, who sounds as dangerously modern as any of the living composers offered that evening should end the evening. Hahn seems a kindred spirit intent on moving music forward and taking her own approach to performance with little compromise. Hopefully the Ives performance inspired many in the audience to get her new recording.

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Nice appreciation.

And way to use your celebrity for good, Hilary, as Alicia Silverstone once stated in "Clueless" (the only great Jane Austen movie adaptation other than the Colin Firth P&P).
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