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Pauline Lerner

Hilary Hahn Plays with Singer Songwriter Josh Ritter

April 25, 2008 at 4:19 AM

I have heard Hilary Hahn play solo (Bach S&P), with one other classical musician (a pianist in Mozart duets), and as a soloist with an entire orchestra (numerous concertos). Now for something different: I have heard her play duets with the folk guitarist and singer Joshua Ritter. Most of the time, they play Josh’s folk music with Hilary in the role of backup musician, but they also perform some classical music, in which their roles are reversed.

I have a personal interest in this type of performance because I often find myself playing backup to a singer/guitarist but without the benefit of prior rehearsal.

Hilary and Josh have played together for a few years, and they have grown into their respective roles of music partners. Hilary Hahn plays like Hilary Hahn in this duo. She does not try to emulate the sound of the great folk fiddlers. Her personal style fits as well with Josh’s music as with the music of a classical musician. When Josh is playing lead, Hilary’s eyes are riveted on him for visual, as well as musical clues, on what to do. In this clip, she starts out as a purely backup player, “humming” along with a few notes on her violin. After a while, her improvised harmony gets louder and more musically complex. Instead of a fiddle break (solo), which would take place in truly traditional playing, Hilary and Josh play a duet, with Hilary playing lead. The sound of the violin then subsides as guitar and voice take the lead again. At the very end, both musicians again play important roles. This song would sound much different and much more monotonous without Hilary. Josh’s guitar harmony is not particularly inspired, as Hilary’s harmony is. Perhaps most important of all, Hilary’s playing makes the entire piece sound so much sweeter.

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Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine