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Hilary Hahn: Tiny Desk Concert

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11 min 13 sec

October 21, 2011 The classical violinist blends Bach and Charles Ives with flair, then tops it off with a fedora.

Perhaps classical violinist Hilary Hahn could have a second career in design: She has a keen sense for combining opposites and making them shine together. She intersperses Paganini and Bach into her concerts with singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, while on CD, she pairs Schoenberg with Sibelius and Tchaikovsky with a 21st-century work. For this solo Tiny Desk Concert, Hahn does it again — Bach and Charles Ives, side by side.

These two composers have bookended her recording career so far. In 1996, Hahn was only 16 when she made her first CD, a highly praised album of Bach Partitas. And in this performance, she starts with the jaunty Bourée from the Partita No. 3 and moves straight to the more introspective Siciliana from the Sonata No. 1. Hahn's tone, from her 1864 Vuillaume fiddle, is luminous and rich.

Earlier this month, Hahn released an all-Ives disc featuring the composer's four violin sonatas. Ives' fiercely unconventional American idiom is not exactly a slam dunk for your average listener — just another example of Hahn's curious mind and uncompromising vision.

Typical of Ives' everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style of composing, he weaves into his sonatas various snippets of Americana, little quotes from old hymn tunes and folk songs, but they emerge slightly fractured through his particular lens. Hahn took four of those tunes — "Shall We Gather at the River," Jesus Loves Me," Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" — and created her own medley.

"I've actually never played this before, and it doesn't really exist," she admitted before launching into the tunes. "You may recognize them. Maybe after hearing these, if you hear the sonatas, you'll be like, 'I know that part!'"

Then she mentioned, almost as an afterthought, that she would try to accompany herself. And, boy, did she, adding sweet two-part harmony by playing just the right double stops (two strings at once). And, in one more random act of design savvy, she spied Bob Boilen's fedora on the desk and popped it on her head, saying, "I'm not sure if it's supposed to be worn with a bun and a headband underneath, but we'll give it a shot."

Set List
  • Bach: Gigue (from Partita No. 3)
  • Bach: Siciliana (from Sonata No. 1)
  • Ives/Trad.: Medley
Credits

Mito Habe-Evans, Michael Katzif (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle

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