How Hilary Hahn Brings Classical Newbies To Her Yard

Carol Shih is D Magazine‘s assistant dining editor. You can read her regularly on SideDish

There’s something surreal about watching Hilary Hahn perform at the Meyerson Symphony Center. It’s an odd feeling to actually see Hahn, an internationally renowned violinist I’ve watched play over and over in a PBS documentary. But here she is in the flesh. In Dallas. Ever since my days as an elementary Suzuki violinist, I’ve followed her earliest Bach recordings to her Grammy award-winning Schoenberg recording. Now I follow her on Twitter @violincase, where Hahn tweets from the perspective of her traveling companion. Here’s a taste of the amusement I derive from it every day:

HilaryHahnViolinCase ‏@violincase

To those who have assigned me a gender, may I note that I have not claimed one publicly and would rather reserve that right for myself.

Hahn has a quirky sense of humor and an even more surprising presence on stage. When Hahn performed the Korngold violin concerto at the Meyerson last weekend, she played, as one would expect from a superstar, with finesse. Wearing a black-and-gold butterfly dress, Hahn, a petite woman, looked so sweet and fragile right up until she began attacking the double stops in the Korngold violin concerto with a controlled ferocity and gusto that requires serious muscle work. Korngold’s cinematic piece is built from sweeping melodic snippets that he borrowed from his own film scores, and it was Jascha Heifetz – that machine of a violinist – who debuted the piece and put it on the classical world’s map. During the beginning of the allegro assai vivace, Hahn’s masterful ability of switching between clear spiccato brushstrokes, double stops, and precise double stop pizzicatos had me floored. I was sitting on the edge of my seat. The guy to my right was doing the same. How is it possible for any human to reach that level of technical mastery?

Very few can do what Hahn does. It’s difficult for violinists to get their bow strokes to sound as endless and infinite as hers, and control their vibrato with that same amount of evenness. It’s a wonder to watch. The packed crowd at the Meyerson’s Sunday matinee proved that a name as large as Hilary Hahn’s is able to nearly fill all 2,602 seats inside the symphony center. Bold clapping between the first and second Korngold movements indicated that a third of the audience wasn’t a season-pass subscriber and DSO-goer. (Every regular quickly learns that clapping between movements goes against unspoken symphony etiquette.) By the sound of it, there was a large population of fresh ears at the symphony for first time because of Hilary Hahn, which is the exactly what the DSO always needs.


  • emma

    Such a well-written review !!!! I hope to see her performance in person one day!!!

  • alicia

    I love Hilary Hahn, but I’m pretty sure the concerts were sold out because of Beethoven’s 5th symphony on the program…

  • atxinbos

    I’ve seen Hilary play with the Boston Symphony on a couple of occasions and in many smaller venues in full-blown recital as soloist and sometimes accompanied. After so many jaw-dropping, technically impossible moments, she just gets better every time I hear her play. It’s astonishing how much command she has of her instrument. If you can’t find a recital venue nearby, the one album and, one of her first, still makes me gasp/ cry every single time I hear it…that is the Collection of Bach Partitas for Solo Violin. It will rip your heart out…in a good way.

  • Carol Shih

    And Bach is not easy to play. At all.