Hilary Hahn Charms Audience in Pre-Performance Q&A
Petite and poised, world-renowned violinist Hilary Hahn charmed the audience that gathered in Booth Hall Thursday afternoon for an informal Q&A.
Hahn will perform at Thorne Hall tonight at 8 p.m., playing music by Franck, Mozart, Ysaÿe, Ives, and Brahms. She will be available to sign copies of her CDs in the lobby at the end of the performance.
Sitting in a simple black metal folding chair and dressed in black, the Grammy-winning classical musician, 27, spoke briefly about her educational background and shared the fact that two of her cousins attended Oxy, before taking questions. “I’ve been hearing about Occidental since I was 12, so it’s fun to actually be here,” she said.
Admitted to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music in 1990 at age 10, Hahn made her major orchestra debut a year and a half later with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. At the Q&A, Hahn recalled “running around the house until I stubbed my toe badly and finally collapsed on the floor” when she learned she had been admitted to the institute.
From ages 10 to 17 she studied at Curtis with the legendary Jascha Brodsky, who was 73 years her senior. Though she completed the Curtis Institute's university requirements at age 16, Hahn deferred graduation and remained at the school for several more years, taking additional elective courses in languages and literature. “I think it’s important to be balanced and well-rounded,” she told the Occidental audience, adding that she still takes language and art classes. Hahn graduated from Curtis with a bachelor of music degree in 1999 at age 19.
Speaking about her early years at Curtis, Hahn revealed that one of her earliest compositions was based on the sounds of cleaning her guinea pigs’ cage.
Since graduating, Hahn has been named “America's Best” young classical musician by Time magazine (in 2001), and appears on a regular basis with the world's great orchestras in Europe, Asia, and North America. She won a Grammy for her 2001 recording of Brahms and Stravinsky violin concertos.
Now out of college for eight years, Hahn said, “I feel like I’ve finally gotten comfortable with my own musicality ... It’s really finding your own guides in the creative process.”
One audience member asked her about the method of “slow practice” that she discusses on her website. “I find that when you slow something down, it’s not necessarily enjoyable but it’s satisfying,” she said, “because you can work on particular elements that are bothering you, such as shifting. It allows you to work out the technical aspects.”
Another asked her for her thoughts on performing popular music. “If you believe in something and there’s an audience for it, there’s no reason not to do it,” she said. “On the other hand, if you don’t believe in it, there’s no reason to do it. I have to do what I am comfortable with. Not everything has to be hoity-toity artsy.” She revealed that she once threw a melody from a bluegrass fiddle tune called “Down in the Swamp” into a Beethoven concerto during a performance in Japan. Hahn also said that she doesn’t have a problem with people electrifying classical music or setting it to a beat.
Toward the end of the hour-long audience, she shared a story about “boring the Pope…and the nuns” when she performed live on television at the Vatican for the pontiff’s 80th birthday, an outcome she attributed to her adding too much hymnal music to the cadenzas of the Mozart piece she was performing. She concluded: “You try what you want to do, and you learn from it.”
Tickets for tonight’s performance are $31.50 general; $21.50 Occidental faculty, staff, alumni; and $11.50 for students and seniors. Tickets will be held at the Will Call window and will be available the night of performance.