CD Review

Hilary Hahn Creates New Door for Modern Music Neophytes

We all know the scene – incredible musical personality plays a memorable concert, and at the insistence of the audience, comes back onstage for one more piece – the encore. For such a recognizable genre, though, it has been a while since the encore has seen significant new entries in the genre.  Superstar violinist Hilary Hahn recently sought to remedy this, embarking on a journey, listening to hours upon hours of music, handpicking 26 composers (the 27th work of the project was selected via contest), and working closely with them to reinvigorate a long-neglected genre.

Whether intentional or unintentional, Hahn has also created a new way in for those who are intimidated by contemporary music. Whenever my passion for the music of living composers comes up, there is invariably at least one person who says something along the lines of “oh, I don’t really go for that… modern stuff.” That isn’t really a fair thing to say, because music of the last 100 years or so reached an unprecedented level of originality, and innovation. To say that one doesn’t like contemporary music is like saying that one doesn’t like dessert; If all you’ve had is cake, how do you know you don’t like ice cream, or pie, or mousse? This project is a testament to the huge variety of music that exists today. Among the highlights for me were…

  • The short cadenza for solo violin within Impulse, the longest work of the whole project.
  • The eerie intonation effects at the end of When a Tiger Meets a Rosa Rugosa.
  • The jazzy, rhythmic ideas in Memory Games
  • The nostalgic, Mahler inspired melodies of Farewell.
  • The fiddle harmonies in Ford’s Farm!
  • The meditative elegance of Whispering.
  • The exotic ornamentation in Aalap and Tarana.

I could go on and on about the memorable qualities of each and every one of these short, modern cookies. Each piece is totally unique, and a huge range of cultures and styles are all present here. Just as significantly, most of these works are really exciting musical statements. Unlike some previous entries in the genre, there is some really profound and original music making going on here, and the composers who participated in the project all put their creative energies into doing some really creative things. In a genre most known for its schmaltz and showmanship, that is quite remarkable. Combine that with the sheer variety present on this disc, and you’ve got quite the collection of music on your hands.

Holding the whole project together is Hilary Hahn. Hahn has, of course, been peerless for her mastery of the violin for so long, that it hardly bears mentioning at all. Hahn admits in the liner notes that this project stretched her to her limits, both technically and musically. You’ll hear the kind of violin playing here that you won’t anywhere else, and that’s a testament both to Hahn, and her composer collaborators. Classical recordings are so prevalent today that there aren’t many recordings that come along that can truly be called important. Thanks to its ingenuity, spirit of exploration, and sheer nerve, this is one such record.

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