Arts concert review

Contemporary classical celebrity

A performance by violinist Hilary Hahn

5711 hilaryhahn
World-renowned violinist Hilary Hahn performed in Boston last week. The concert was part of the Celebrity Series of Boston and took place at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Courtesy of Peter Miller

Hilary Hahn, violin

8 p.m. Friday, March 1, 2013

New England Conservatory

Jordan Hall

Seventeen years ago, my grandmother presented me with my first violin, and introduced me to the world of classical music. That same year, at the age of sixteen, violinist prodigy Hilary Hahn made her debut recording.

Ever since then, as I have trained to be a violinist, I have followed Hahn’s maturation as one of the most popular modern-day violinists, through her online audio recordings and performance videos. It was a dream come true to go last Friday to the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall to finally experience a virtuosic performance of hers firsthand.

Two-time Grammy winner and world famous, Hilary Hahn is the Beyoncé of classical music today. With God-given talent and a commitment to technical mastery, she never leaves the stage before having made the entire audience fall in love with her.

This performance, part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, was no exception. Hahn was accompanied by the brilliant pianist, Cory Smythe. Hahn played an exquisite 1864 Paganini-style violin, and her performance was, to my semi-trained ear, flawless.

Hahn’s presence, too, was one to awe. She was elegantly dressed in a long flowing cross-backed black gown, and her brunette curly hair was fashionably made up in an up-do. A touch of bright carnation lipstick completed the look. She entered the stage with an aura of royalty, and performed with almost otherworldly tranquility. Even after one piece that never went below a triple forte or a tempo of 160 beats per minute, she still seemed perfectly calm and relaxed.

One unique attribute of Hahn is her dedication to contemporary pieces. During this concert, she performed a selection from her famous modern anthology In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores, which included works by some of the most prolific composers of today — Anton Garcia Abril, Du Yun, and Jeff Myers. The pieces ranged from the graceful, smooth, and rhythmic, to the dissonant and jarring, and the emotion behind the notes was oftentimes overwhelming.

Yet a performance would not be quite complete without pieces from some of the greatest composers of all time. Hahn performed three classic pieces by Fauré, Corelli, and J.S. Bach. Hahn’s almost impossible-to-imitate rendition of Bach’s Partita No. 2 blew my expectations of the piece completely out of the water. At one point during the piece I could not see that she was playing anything at all — her bow and fingers were a blur. It was not until the end of the piece that I realized that I was holding my breath the entire time.

Hahn performed twelve pieces in total, sustaining a level of skill and passion that captivated the audience for almost two hours. She was able to color each piece to give the composers, modern or classic, their due. I highly recommend anyone musically-inclined to go see her perform. Her demonstration of the limits of musical mastery was undoubtedly the highlight of my week.