Hilary Hahn: In 27 Pieces

Violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe at the 57th annual Grammy Awards earlier this month in Los Angeles.


Earlier this month, violinist Hilary Hahn and accompanist Cory Smythe picked up a Grammy award for their 2013 album, In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores. The recording came in first in the Best Chamber/Small Ensemble category.

Don’t be deceived by the album’s title. This isn’t yet another CD of violin showpiece warhorses. It’s a collection of completely new music born out of an intriguingly fresh idea. Hahn noticed that, while the violin repertoire is full of short encore pieces from the past, few contemporary composers have ventured into this territory. After careful consideration, she approached twenty six composers (a process she now jokingly compares to asking someone out on a date) for commissions. A twenty-seventh composer, Jeff Myers (The Angry Birds of Kauai), was selected through an online contest. You can check out Hilary Hahn’s informal discussions with each composer at her youtube channel.

It will be exciting to see if any of this music finds its way into the standard violin repertoire. Only time will tell. In the meantime, we have a fun CD to enjoy: Jennifer Higdon’s Echo Dash sounds like its title and suggests the dense counterpoint of J.S. Bach. David Lang’s Light Moving takes us on an exciting neo-minimalist joyride. Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis’ Coming To evokes a cinematic atmosphere. Lera Auerbach’s lamenting, romantic Speak, Memory suggests the twentieth century sounds of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Messiaen.

And that’s one of the more interesting aspects of this recording-the way the present meets the past. Contemporary composers seem liberated from the need to be “new” or to push forward a dogmatic idea. Ukrainian pianist and composer Valentyn Sylvestrov says,

I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists…With our advanced artistic awareness, fewer and fewer texts are possible which, figuratively speaking, begin ‘at the beginning’… What this means is not the end of music as art, but the end of music, an end in which it can linger for a long time. It is very much in the area of the coda that immense life is possible.

Two Pieces by Valentyn Sylvestrov:

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3 thoughts on “Hilary Hahn: In 27 Pieces”

  1. Just having read Timothy Judd’s very intriguing Blog on Hilary Hahn’s newest musical adventure and “Prize” for her curiosity and innovative ideas, I listened several times to a new “encore” by Turnage titled, “Hilary’s Hoedown”. I thoroughly enjoyed Hilary Hahn’s effervescent almost Kentucky – down – home ‘drawl’ sound in this
    ‘catchy’ slice of Americana

  2. Not being able to write all I wished to above, due to technical glitches of my computer or the site, I would finish my
    impression of Hilary Hahn’s rendering of “Hilary’s Hoedown” by Turnage, in saying it will be a most welcome
    addition to the little pieces or “encore” Violin repertoire, and a sure ‘Hit” at that! I look forward to hearing more of the”27″pieces on this Grammy Award wining Album, which is more than deserved ~ Cory Smythe proves to be an ideal
    collaborative piano partner for and with Ms. Hahn … Bravo to Hilary Hahn for her ‘courage’ in asking so many
    composer’s ‘out on’- what Judd tells us – she felt comparable to “a first date” in inviting composition’s from so many
    composer’s. Now that is moxy!!


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