Posts Tagged ‘Hilary Hahn’

Houston Has No Problem

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Andrés Orozco Estrada and the Houston Symphony Orchestra at work in Jones Hall

Published: March 20, 2018

MUNICH — Judging from reports around the country here, the Houston Symphony Orchestra today returns to Texas mission-accomplished. The clarity of its tone colors, the exuberance of its brass section, the articulate luster of its strings — all have been remarked upon during an eleven-day tour to busy German cities (plus Brussels, Vienna and Warsaw) already awash in art music. Last night’s concert in the Gasteig certified the plaudits, although the advance acclaim had not filled every seat. Stronger programming might have helped. Music director Andrés Orozco Estrada opened with the so-called Overture to West Side Story (1956), “a compilation of tunes not made by [Bernstein]” (Jack Gottlieb), when he could have chosen the work’s tense and authentic Prologue and thrown a cleverer light on his musicians. A heavily pregnant Hilary Hahn then meandered in good taste and with pure intonation through the same composer’s conceited Serenade after Plato’s Symposium (1954), unable to do much about its weak structure but sensitively supported by harpist Megan Conley and six astute percussionists. Dvořák’s D-Minor Seventh Symphony (1885) received a brilliantly flowing, sunny performance, with smooth work from the Houston horns and much soft, detailed playing. The Vienna-based, Colombian-Austrian maestro, who learned music at a school next to the rainforest east of Medellín, and first conducted there, will be with the 105-year-old HSO until at least 2022. An ideal appointment, on the evidence.

Photo © Anthony Rathbun

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Plush Strings of Luxembourg

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Philharmonie in Luxembourg

Published: December 31, 2014

MUNICH — Lëtzebuerg Stad, a.k.a. Luxembourg-Ville, population 100,000, holds a spiffier position these days in the musical firmament. Its orchestra has graduated from the legendary but somewhat seedy aegis of Radio Luxembourg — once a commercial thorn in the national broadcasting sides of France and Britain — and now operates as the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg in an arresting white 9-year-old hall on a rock, a mile from the Grand Ducal Palace. Credit local economic prosperity, with new bases for Amazon, Apple, Cisco, eBay, Microsoft and more, not forgetting the Cour de justice de l’Union européenne (the E.U.’s Supreme Court), whose duties and lawyer count expand with each passing budget.

The metamorphosis has blessed the ensemble with a glowing and intense string sound, evident all through a MünchenMusik tour stop here Nov. 19 in the (awful) Gasteig. Guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein let the strings speak eloquently for themselves in Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye (1911); woodwind contributions varied in quality. Nudging the pace here and there and supporting legato lines, Weilerstein brought coherence to the suite, and charm, notably in Petit Poucet, the movement about the boy whose breadcrumbs vanish. On the concert’s first half, the Luxembourgers demonstrated lively partnering skills for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (1806) and soloist Hilary Hahn, who established her authority from the moment she entered. Fresh, alert, technically brilliant, she chose ideal tempos and mustered considerable drama, her tone pleasingly full, her fingering secure. As rousing conclusion came Gershwin’s An American in Paris (1928). Here however, with the extra brass and possibly varying ideas about how to swing, coordination three or four times faltered, and conspicuously.

Photo © Ministère de l’Économie du Luxembourg

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Ives: Violin Sonatas on CD

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Violin sonatas of Charles Ives on CD

Published: September 25, 2013

MUNICH — Hilary Hahn threw a spotlight recently on benchmark American chamber music: the four violin sonatas of Charles Ives. Fond of the Third Sonata (1914), she recorded the whole cycle for Universal Music Group in 2009, up the Hudson Valley accompanied by Internet pianist Valentina Lisitsa. The scores are probing, refined and intimate here, bold and sovereign of spirit there. They make an engaging group, and a lucid one: Ives’s propensity for throwing in the kitchen sink faces the agreeable constraint of two voices. The First Sonata (1908), at least, attests to Yankee genius.

But the highly touted CD from Hahn and Lisitsa is one of a dozen Ives cycles around and, it turns out, has not always the most to say. The discreet Munich label ECM Records, for instance, sells a 1995 traversal by violinist Hansheinz Schneeberger and pianist Daniel Cholette. To this recording, made near Heidelberg, the duo brought twenty years’ experience playing Ives, and Schneeberger, at 69, a certain éminence, having premiered violin concertos of Frank Martin and Bartók in the 1950s.

Not surprisingly, Hahn is at her most persuasive in the 1914 work. Its central Allegro lights up the Deutsche Grammophon disc, buoyed throughout by Lisitsa’s gutsy playing. The last movement, which Schneeberger and Cholette allow to turn saccharine, is saved by Hahn’s sense of purpose and cool clean manner. Similar qualities bring shape to the extended and ambitious first movement, where the ECM pair sparsely limp along.

Schneeberger and Cholette excel elsewhere. Their masterful First Sonata finds Ives’s lyrical and energetic impulses deftly balanced, and its Largo cantabile — affectionate, never precious — is traced with palpable American style. Here Hahn and Lisitsa sound cursory and the violin part wants more personality.

The Second and Fourth sonatas are shorter. The Second (1910) shares thematic material with the First; it is a more direct and perhaps lesser work than the other three despite the nostalgic labels on its movements. Schneeberger, and only he, makes an effort to present it in independent colors.

The concise, perplexing Fourth (1916) bears the title Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting. Ives began its composition with a child’s playing ability in mind but soon veered off in dark and tricky directions. Hahn and Lisitsa find the sonata’s lyricism but not much else. Schneeberger and Cholette adopt a painfully slow pace in the middle movement, famously marked Largo—Allegro con slugarocko, lending gravitas. Cholette is forceful here. The ECM musicians then bathe in irony the truncated last movement, with its reference to Shall We Gather At the River? Ambiguity reigns as the music trails off.

Alternative readings of the Ives cycle include: Rafael Druian, violin, and John Simms, piano, recorded in 1956 (Mercury); Paul Zukofsky and Gilbert Kalish, 1963 (Folkways); Zukofsky and Kalish again, 1972 (Nonesuch); Millard Taylor and Frank Glazer, 1975 (Vox); János Négyesy and Cornelius Cardew, 1976 (Thorofon); Daniel Stepner and John Kirkpatrick, 1981 (MHS); Gregory Fulkerson and Robert Shannon, 1988 (Bridge); Alexander Ross and Richard Zimdars, 1992 (Bay Cities); Curt Thompson and Rodney Waters, 1998 (Naxos); Nobu Wakabayashi and Thomas Wise, 1999 (Arte Nova); and Lisa Tipton and Adrienne Kim, 2004 (Capstone).

Photos © Edition Zeitgenössische Musik and © Universal Music Group

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Is There a Network of House Concerts?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

I have been told by many of my musician friends that it is very gratifying and helpful to perform in house concerts because they allow for direct communication with a small and appreciative audience and an opportunity to play through repertoire in an unpressured environment. In some instances, they might even put a little money in your pocket. Can you tell me how I might go about identifying such opportunities? Is there any central house concert website? —Andrew K., violinist

Dear Andrew:

While it is true that house concerts take place all over the world, I am not aware of any directory that lists them. This may well be because of the need to maintain privacy and ensure security when opening one’s home to the public. There is an informative website,, which does provide its members with information about hosts of house concerts, enabling them to get in touch directly, but it is my impression that the opportunities are for singer-songwriters and folk music performers, not classical. They do offer a free and helpful “House Concerts Guide”, written by their founder, Fran Snyder, which walks the reader through all aspects of performing in or presenting a house concert. Most of what they cover is universal to any genre of music.

A good place for you to start would be to ask your musician friends whether they can introduce you to the individuals who have hosted their concerts. Perhaps you can also encourage them to program a work in their upcoming concerts that might include you. If you are still a student, you should visit your school’s concert office to see if they have a list of hosts. You could also check with the Development office, as they often coordinate private concerts for current or potential donors. Let them know of your interest in participating in them. Set aside some time to think about possible concert hosts among family friends, fans, or people you may have met in a variety of professional or social situations. Violinist Hilary Hahn was able to secure a substantial amount of the funding for her commissioning project that is generating twenty-seven new encore pieces via a house concert hosted by someone she happened upon by chance.

In New York, where I live, there are a wide variety of house concerts taking place regularly.  Some of them, such as the series at the home of Shirley and Sid Singer, have been going on for as long as twenty years and generally feature up and coming soloists and chamber ensembles who are recommended by managers or returning by popular demand. Others, such as chamber music concerts hosted by Dr. Daniel Kuhn, a cellist and psychiatrist by profession, are motivated by the host’s desire to play great music with artists they admire. A third category would be concerts for the benefit of a designated charity, such as Classical Action’s Michael Palm Series, which typically feature artists of some renown. None of these would be easy for you to penetrate. However, Michael Reingold, Producer of NYC House Concerts for the past six years, works with a variety of hosts in presenting 25-30 concerts per year. Some of the artists are his own choices outright but others approach him by e-mail, and he tries to introduce new faces into the mix. His particular motivation is to introduce his friends and their friends to the beauties of classical music. He also is happy to afford artists the opportunity to try out a new program and to gain experience in communicating verbally and socially with audiences that are new to this music.  Neither he nor the artist(s) receive any financial gain but if the host is in agreement, the artists can put a basket at the door for voluntary donations, and they can always feel comfortable selling cd’s. If you live in New York, you should definitely acquaint yourself with this organization.

Perhaps the most entrepreneurial individual I have met in regard to pursuing house concerts (and more) is pianist and composer, Kimball Gallagher. A graduate of Rice University and Juilliard, he is the founder of PIANOKEY, “a salon concert company that is dedicated to the revival of the romantic salon culture”. He is currently in the midst of “The 88 Concert Tour”, which he organized totally on his own and which has recently included performances throughout the U.S., as well as in Shanghai, Taipei, Mongolia, Hanoi, Bangkok, Tunisia, Turkey and Afghanistan. Each concert host receives a short personalized piano work that he writes for them, using a compositional system to spell out musical notes to match their names, and which is included as part of the program.  Mr. Gallagher receives a fee for these concerts which, added to income from private teaching, allows him to make a reasonable living. He does not conceive of the concerts as preparation for more significant events but rather as events in themselves. He connects with his audiences in interesting and innovative ways that wouldn’t be possible in a larger venue; for example, playing a virtuosic Chopin etude at a slower tempo before performing it as it was intended to be heard. His success at international networking is quite spectacular, and yet it breaks down into small, logical steps that follow from one another. He keeps track of every new contact he meets and has the charm and confidence to ask them to help, If he believes they can. When he has needed to fill out a tour in Asia, he has contacted Juilliard to see which alumni might be residing there. There is much to learn from Mr. Gallagher’s intrepid approach to organizing his own concert life. The fundamental answer to your question is: Don’t look for a network of house concerts. Research them as best you can but in the end, don’t hesitate to create one!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011

This is the final “Ask Edna” column of 2011. I wish all our readers a very happy holiday season and look forward to reconnecting with you on January 5, 2012!