Music
7:20 am
Sun November 13, 2011

Hilary Hahn Revives The Classical Encore

Originally published on Sun November 13, 2011 12:28 pm

When Grammy-winning classical violinist Hilary Hahn plays in front of an audience, you can expect classics from Beethoven and Bach, performed with a flair and energy that's uniquely her own. Now, Hillary Hahn has a new project in the works: She wants to bring back the encore.

No, she's not demanding a standing ovation at every concert, with fans begging her to come back on stage. She's trying to get composers to write more encores — short pieces of music that are a staple for violinists. She's recently commissioned a couple dozen of the short pieces as part of her project In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.

"About a decade ago I noticed that there were a lot of collections of popular encores being recorded or printed, and people were really focusing on the pieces that people recognized," Hahn tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish. "I just found myself wondering, 'Where are the new ones?' Because I knew people were writing new short pieces, but I was not seeing them being performed."

Hahn is currently on tour playing Bach and Beethoven as well as 13 commissioned encores. She performed one called "Whispering," by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, at a benefit concert in Bethlehem, Pa. last month. Hahn says the piece is meant to illustrate that there is virtuosity even in quiet.

"There's an idea of the encore being a virtuosic showpiece," Hahn says. "I found that a lot of composers in this project wanted to redefine the term 'encore.' They wanted to create a different kind of virtuosity, or they wanted to create a lyricism or a thoughtfulness that they had missed in certain kind of encores in the past."

Hahn says she understands why encores that are established hits get a lot more play than newer ones.

"You go to a restaurant and you want ice cream for dessert because you know you like ice cream," she says. "Who doesn't like hearing something they already know they love? ... I can definitely see why that is done, and why it should continue to be done. "

However, Hahn says she hopes performing these shorter pieces will give her a chance to introduce people to composers they might not be familiar with, and perhaps even create some new favorites.

"Something new has the chance to speak to someone immediately," she says. "There isn't this expectation of what they're about to hear, so people can be really captivated, really quickly."

Hilary Hahn is currently accepting submissions for the final encore of her In 27 Pieces project. For more information, visit her website.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn is trying to bring back the lost art of the encore.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC)

CORNISH: No, she's not demanding a standing ovation at every concert. She's trying to get composers to write more encores, short performances pieces designed to cap off concerts. And they were once a staple for classical music writers. Hahn recently commissioned a couple dozen encores for a new project called "In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores."

And she joins me from member station on WYPR in Baltimore, to talk more about more about the project. Hilary, welcome to the program.

HILARY HAHN: Thank you.

CORNISH: So why did you decide to make the whole project devoted to just encores?

HAHN: Well, about a decade ago I noticed that there were a lot of collections of popular encores being recorded or printed, and people were really focusing on the pieces that people recognize that they love; that are really great pieces of music and need to keep being played. And I just found myself wondering where are the new ones? 'Cause I knew that people were writing these short pieces, but I was not seeing them be performed. So I just thought it would be nice to work on a commissioned project of encores.

CORNISH: One of these encores is called "Whispering," and you did one performance at a benefit concert in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania last month. We have a little clip of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WHISPERING")

CORNISH: Hilary, can you describe what we're listening to and describe the sound of it, what you like about it?

HAHN: Well, this piece by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. And he's written some really beautiful music for violin in different combinations of instrumentation. And I love the lyricism of this particular piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WHISPERING")

HAHN: It's called "Whispering" and he writes about that title, that he wanted to show that there is virtuosity even in quiet passages. There's an idea of the encore being a virtuosic showpiece. And I found that a lot of composers in this project wanted to redefine the term encore, and they wanted to create a different kind of virtuosity, or they wanted to create a lyricism, or a thoughtfulness that they had missed in certain kinds of encores in the past.

CORNISH: It's a very common for peace is to be commissioned by an artist? I mean, these were written specifically for you, but how does the process work?

HAHN: Actually, it is an integral part of the classical composition scene, that there are commissions because that is in essence how the composer initially gets paid...

CORNISH: It seems like this business model hasn't changed then for a couple hundred years.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Sounds like, right?

HAHN: It may not have.

CORNISH: I mean, this is how it's always been in classical music.

HAHN: Yeah, but I think now that the commissions are coming from the presenters and the musicians. I think initially they came from patrons who would have pieces performed at their events.

CORNISH: Who do you think people aren't doing encores as much?

HAHN: I'm not sure why there hasn't been as much focus. But I think the encore form, people have generally wanted to hear things they know already. Sort of like you go to a restaurant and maybe you want ice cream for dessert because you know you like ice cream.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HAHN: So you or your favorite flavor of ice cream.

CORNISH: We hear this in the other arts, as well; this idea that essentially you want to draw in audiences with big, pretty things that they're going to know.

HAHN: It could be. I mean, who doesn't like hearing something they already know they love? I mean I like going to things that I love. So I can I can definitely see why that is done, and should continue to be done.

The shorter pieces give me a chance to introduce people to a lot of composers that even I wasn't may be so familiar with before I started my research for this project but whose music I love. And I hope that I can create some new favorites.

CORNISH: Can you give an example of someone that you're performing now that you consider a new favorite?

HAHN: Well, one that seems to be coming across well to a lot of the audiences has been "Mercy" by Max Richter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MERCY")

HAHN: He wrote this really evocative, slow, lyrical piece. But it's also - it's interesting. He based it on the concept of plainsong; the sort of chant-like writing that's been around for centuries. Yet it sounds very modern as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MERCY")

HAHN: Something new has the chance to speak to someone immediately because there isn't this sort of expectation of what they're about to hear, so people can be really, really captivated, really quickly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MERCY")

CORNISH: Hilary Hahn is searching for one more composer to create the final encore of "In 27 Pieces" project, and it could be you. To learn more about the contest or to watch video of her latest performance here at NPR, go to NPRMusic.org.

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news. I'm Audie Cornish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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