I blew this month's paycheck seeing Hilary Hahn 4 times with the CSO
I can post an update after tomorrow, but I thought I'd get this thread started and see if anyone else had gone to a performance.
Interesting things of note:
She did not play an encore Thursday or Saturday (too tired from touring? Or from playing Sibelius 3 days in a row?). On Friday she played the Gigue from the Bach E Major Partita No.3 that was marvelous. I wonder what she will play tomorrow...hopefully more Bach. And I will sacrifice a small goat if it means she plays Ysaye.
Maestro Mikko Frank who was supposed to conduct, but fell ill with an ear infection at the last minute. Since I assume ears are important to a conductor, Marin Alsop from the Baltimore Symphony filled in with a slightly truncated program. I get the feeling that the last minute conductor change really effected the presentation of the music due to lack of familiarity. For example, on Thursday, it felt as though Hilary played it safe, but started to take slightly more musical risks on Saturday.
On that note: I don't understand why people say Hilary plays too austere or too cold. She actually moves a lot, and spits fire when she wants. Plus, due to the conductor change, it felt sometimes that she was driving the orchestra more than the conductor, especially on Thursday, where she was cuing everyone. On Saturday, after 2 performances, it felt that the concerto was edgier and she was taking more freedoms the notes.
Hilary Hahn put a little insert in the program that she would be signing CDs after the concert, every day. I can't remember anyone else ever explicitly doing this, and as a fan it is really touching to see her show this level of care for the supporters. There was a really long line every day and they sold out of CDs Saturday night. Symphony staff were pretty "she is only signing CDs and programs", but I am a rebel who doesn't care, and also a shameless fanboy, so I brought my copy of her Bach on vinyl, plus the sheet music for Solo Bach and Solo Ysaye, a copy of her encores book and a copy of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (which may be out of my reach for this lifetime. Should have kept up violin during college, but I had no money and fell out of love with playing. C'est la vie). I don't know if she finds this endearing, or considers me a stalker. Furthermore, according to my teacher, getting my copy of Solo Bach signed has not improved my playing.
I can post a picture of my swag after tomorrow.
Chicago Symphony hall is actually kind of annoying acoustically for solo violinists, so bear with me on this next point. I feel like she was giving her instrument all she had to get it to reach all the way to the upper balconies. I sat in 3 different places each day (lower balcony 1st row, main floor about 10 rows back, then lower balcony about 20 rows back). For example, on the main floor up close you can hear her really crunching the strings (although her crunching sounds very different than when I do it) down during the 3rd movement, but up in the "best seats in the house", the crunching is harder to perceive. Her bow changes (like in the final minutes of the 1st movement) can be heard if you really pay attention up, and you can also hear her body movements, where as in the balconies you can't. Must have something to do with how sound attenuates in Symphony Center, but I don't know much about acoustics. Anywho the point is that Symphony Center as a venue will do different things to sound depending on where you sit. While the lower balcony has the best blend of sound, I actually enjoyed sitting sort of middle/back on the main floor because it let me hear the raw instrument better, at the cost of blending the orchestra's sounds together. I also wonder if her violin's reputation as a "copy of the del Gesu Cannon" is more urban legend than fact, or maybe the 2 violins have just changed over however many hundred years, or maybe she needs to buy a Needham violin to punch through the upper balconies at the CSO.
Speaking of her bowings, Hilary Hahn generates a ridiculous amount of power on long bows, more than any other artist I have seen in recent memory in this same venue. When she played Bach, it was insane how much the sound carried. And the Gigue is supposed to be a type of dance.
The CSO strings section needs to punch harder. Depending on seating, I can clearly hear the first two stands play, where the rest of the section seems lost. Not that they aren't fantastic violinists of course, but I wish I could hear more than the concert master/asst concert master playing without the rest of the section, and it kind of "shrinks" the soundstage when the power is only concentrated at the middle, especially because the horns play with an arch behind them that can really diffuse their sound. The violinists on the wings get swallowed up sometimes.
During the opening of the Sibelius VC second movement, the clarinet and the bassoon play "solo". On Friday night, one of the instruments absolutely BUTCHERED the opening. My musical sense isn't strong enough to be able to tell whether it was the clarinet or the bassoon, and while I understand that this kind of solo would be more than enough to make ME shit my pants, but come on. That was pretty terrible.
One final note. Since I stalk Hilary's instagram and am the king of reading too much into what girls say on social media, I saw an Instagram story where Hilary talks about the importance of the number 6 in her life. 6 pieces of solo Bach of course kick started her career and she plays them every day. Then she commissioned 6 partitas from Anton Garcia and newly released a recording. I naturally took this to be code for "I'm recording the 6 Ysaye sonatas next". I obviously had to ask about this to show that I pay attention to every aspect of her life she shares on the internet.
She said no.
I haven't (knowingly) heard Hahn's new Strad-model Vuillaume, but I have no doubt that she can produce power enough on either of her two violins to easily carry more than a Needham. And she's probably got the best carrying power, in terms of sheer ability to produce sound, of any current living violinist I've heard.
"The CSO strings section needs to punch harder. Depending on seating, I can clearly hear the first two stands play, where the rest of the section seems lost."
I’m jealous, would love to see her live.
Great read, thanks for posting it.
Wow! I really hope to see her just once, it's great that you are able to do this and pass along your impressions. Thank you!
Seeing her live would ruin my life. I think I would stop to have any appreciation for any other woman, or man.
You can sometimes hear the front of the section more clearly than the back few stands. Whether that is the result of timidity in the rear, or some philosophy of the conductor is not always easy to tell.
And (off-topic), I'd be interested to put a Needham against a Vuillaume or other good antique. I haven't been able to get another player to make the comparison at some distance. I just had my HN adjusted this spring, and the difference is quite startling. Not tons of raw power, but wonderful (if fragile in a Strad-like way) balance that probably carries better than you'd think.
@Lydia and @Stephen regarding violins
projection is not measured under ear, it is measured at a distance.
She is really amazing and so personable! I also attended / will attend all four concerts. I really enjoyed how she brought something new every concert. The crowd she brings is on the younger side as well--- many high schoolers and young professionals. I enjoy talking to them and hyping them up to talk to her. Hilary is really so sweet in the meet & greet line. She listens to you and gives you thoughtful responses.
Do you want to meet up outside the hall? I too have been skipping the Rachmaninov Symphony and re-entering during the signing. I have a friend with me, maybe we can all grab a drink.
Ah, I am having problems putting my email in my account.
We're going tonight as well, though this will be our first time for this concert series (my son had rehearsals and concerts the other days). We've seen her play before in Symphony Center in recital but this will be the first time with orchestra. Looking forward to it and will report back!
Yes, HH now has two JB Vuillaumes -- the Cannone del Gesu copy, and a Strad model. The second violin is a fairly recent acquisition. (Note to James: The workshop instruments aren't even considered in vaguely the same class as the actual JBVs.)
A $15k-20k one is probably Nicolas Francois Vuillaume, JBV's brother.
"I don't "think" I only hear the first 4 violins playing. I actually hear them cut through the rest of the section. Whether this is due to acoustics or due to the first 2 stands carrying the section I do not know."
"My son has extreme opinions on how the first movement of the Sibelius, particularly the opening, should be played, and thus far no one has met his expectations so we will see if she does. To paraphrase my son, Sibelius is from Finland--you have to imagine Sibelius looking out over an icy landscape...." (Susan)
@James the recital must have been about 5 years ago. I think she was pregnant at the time if that helps figure out when. I know only my son and I went because my little one (now 9) was still too little. I'm pretty sure it was the first recital my son ever went to!
Her latest recital in Chicago was in 2016, when she played Mozart Sonata with Cory Smythe, if I’m not mistaken.
Ok, so Carl and I grabbed a beer since neither of us had any particular desire to Rachmaninov for the 4th time in a week. It's always interesting to meet online people in real life, and we had a great time.
That would be pretty cool to see.
One thing which perhaps our older members can clarify-- when I was much younger, JBV was deemed to be basically OK, but not especially interesting to anyone who could get a decent Italian. Too "French" sounding.
Interesting to read your comments James on what Hilary said about her violins. My teacher Sidney Harth, who was Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra also had a very nice J.B. Vuillaume. I know Fritz Kreisler made many recordings on a J.B. Vuillaume with a Tubbs bow. I play on a Nicolas & a JBV. Their best examples don’t take a back seat to most great Italian makers in my opinion. As Lydia said the instruments do vary. I compared with Gaglianos and Testores. In my hands, the Vuillaume did better sound wise. I think some of the really good ones even compete with certain del Gesus I’ve tried..
@Lydia The fun anecdote she told us was, she was not actually for another violin. A smart seller (her own words) invited her to a private sale of Vuillames, and she went with no intention to buy one. She played with many of them and fell in love with the one she currently has.
We all enjoyed it immensely! @James I figured that was you asking the question in the Q&A. Luckily the Q&A had less fluff than these usual do, especially since my little one was half asleep by that point.
Stephen, a JBV is still a lot less expensive than the "decent" Italians you're probably thinking of from that time -- i.e. compared to a Rugeri or Guadagnini or the like.
I wasn’t even thinking of a Guad, although even lower-bracket good antiques did cost more. Obviously, though, at today’s prices, a 1.5x or 2x or whatever multiple makes a much bigger difference.
Ok guys, I haven't had time to go through the whole Q&A. I will at some point to pick out the good, non-questions (Why do you move the way that you move?), but here is my question and her response.
To All here!! Re ~ Hilary Hahn's 4 CSO Sibelius Violin Concerto concerts ...
Post Script ~ Laurie Niles
so James, Hillary did not actually answer the direct question on which instrument she had been playing these four concerts? by the way note what she said about the sound engineering, editing, going on in producing a record, we kind of all know that, but she again confirms that nontrivial things are being done. for example, I've been attending a number of session of the Queen Elisabeth Competition that is going on in Brussels at this time, and most of the contestants play old Italians, yet these instruments, in real life, sound great but still sound more or less in line with "your and my violin" so to speak, they do not have this impossible sound that you sometimes hear on recordings.
Yes she basically confirmed she has been using the Strad copy when touring the last couple years (the tone didn't come across in my transcription).
re.:- "the first four violins cutting through the rest of the section". Some of that might be because of the Proximity Effect. The brain will assign the sound of the whole section to the source that is closest to you. There is a very small time delay. In less than fully professional orchestras you want to put your 4 or 5 most accurate players on the outside row of the first violin section. A soloist will stand in front of the orchestra, closer to the audience. A sound engineers' trick: when using light amplification of an acoustic instrument, put a very short time delay in the system. Then all of the sound seems to come from the player, not the speaker.
A Grand Pause since a few weeks back ~
"She has matured as a Wife & Mother to 2 young one's plus a consistently majestically evolved into most thoughtful & armed w/ virtuosity Great Violinista!!!"
Some said that Kreisler’s sound became much more chaste after he got married. But that is an exception.