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Hilary Hahn Revives The Classical Encore
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Hilary Hahn Revives The Classical Encore


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news. I'm Audie Cornish.

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