Violinist Hilary Hahn Remembers Her Earliest Influences : Deceptive Cadence The internationally celebrated soloist convinced violinist Klara Berkovich to teach her when she was just five years old. Student and teacher join NPR's Arun Rath to reflect on their relationship.
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Violinist Hilary Hahn Remembers Her Earliest Influences

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Violinist Hilary Hahn Remembers Her Earliest Influences

Violinist Hilary Hahn Remembers Her Earliest Influences

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now, let's take a 180 from that sad story and hear a testament to what's possible when a young person gets the right kind of support and guidance.


RATH: That's Hilary Hahn, who is thrilling concert audiences before she was in her teens. She's paying tribute to two of her earliest mentors through the works on her new album, Mozart's 5th Violin Concerto and the lesser-known Vieuxtemps' 4th.


RATH: The Vieuxtemps was assigned by Klara Berkovich. Hilary Hahn was just 5 years old when she started learning for Mrs. Berkovich. By the time she was 10, she'd graduated to Jascha Brodsky.

HILARY HAHN: It was really a pivotal year for me because Mrs. Berkovich taught me my first full recital, which I played that year in Baltimore. And it was really a time when I started to realize that it would be possible, if I kept working at the violin and kept challenging myself and being challenged, that I might eventually become a professional violinist.

RATH: And Klara Berkovich is with you there.


RATH: Klara, Hilary says that - writes that she convinced you when she was 5 years old to become her teacher. How did she do that?

HAHN: I'm not sure it was all me.


BERKOVICH: Yes. I realized that she is not one of the many others. She's different. What made her special - her ability to concentrate to her ability to focus on what she is doing. This is very important. The second factor is tremendous support of her parents. They made everything to help her to develop to well-rounded person. She had ballet, piano lessons, gymnastics, rowing. This is a girl with a book, always with a book. Every time after good recital, not with cakes or candies, but she was happy to get a new book. Yes, I was fortunate to have Hilary as a student. It was big experience for me as well.

RATH: What did you learn from Hilary?

HAHN: (Laughter).

BERKOVICH: That's good question. What did I learn from Hilary? That children are very different. And let me tell you one thing - she was progressing so fast, so one day I was worrying. I ask her father - I feel maybe I am pushing her too fast. I don't want to harm her. Next lesson, he came and he told me. We spoke - I spoke to Hilary, and we decided so this is good enough. We will continue in the same way.

HAHN: You told me it's very nice to get good comments, but it's very helpful to get critiques...

BERKOVICH: To listen, yes.

HAHN: ...Because then you can learn.

BERKOVICH: You can learn.

HAHN: Yeah.


RATH: This is beautiful. I'm loving this.


HAHN: Me too.

RATH: Hilary, you've said that Klara encouraged you to look outwards. And I get a sense that means beyond music. What do you mean?

HAHN: Well, the things that she mentions I was interested in with ballet and other classes I took, with reading, she also made sure that I realized that all of the art forms are connected. I remember some images of great paintings and masterworks at the Hermitage that she would show me, and I think even though at the time I didn't always know what to connect, you wind up interpreting what the artist is doing, how the artist made that work and what they're conveying. And nowadays when I go to museums, I'm always noticing how the artist expresses at least my version of what I think the artist is expressing.

RATH: And Mrs. Berkovich, why did you teach Vieuxtemps to this young violinist?

BERKOVICH: Because she was emotionally enough advanced - enough matureness - to understand the idea of this music. Plus, she was enough equipped technically to be able to express this idea of this concerto.


RATH: Hilary, I'm curious that, you know, obviously, as Mrs. Berkovich described it, you had the chops to play these pieces when you were very young. What is it like, though, playing this now? How are you different? How do you feel that as you're playing both Mozart and the Vieuxtemps?

HAHN: I think when a teacher says that you're ready for something, it means you're ready to learn it. It doesn't always mean that you are completely capable of doing everything that's inside the piece. So I remember with the Vieuxtemps Concerto No. 4, I remember trying to sort through some of the technical things. There's a sort of syncopated, twisting scherzo pattern. And I remember I could do one of three things - I could either memorize the notes, play it musically or not think about the rhythm. (Laughter) And I couldn't do all three at once. I kept getting tangled up, so I remember just trying week after week to get better at it. And one thing that Mrs. Berkovich always emphasized was it should never be just about the technique. You should phrase through the technique. And that's harder than just playing the notes. But...

BERKOVICH: The technique - this is just instrumental.

HAHN: Oh, the technique is the instrument, but the music...

BERKOVICH: For expression, yes.


HAHN: I think the things that I learned that stick with me are things you often repeat, even today, which is never stop learning.

BERKOVICH: No, don't hesitate to ask questions.

HAHN: Exactly.

BERKOVICH: That's right.

HAHN: Always ask questions.


HAHN: And asking for suggestions, it's often very helpful to pick people's brains because everyone thinks differently than you do.

RATH: Well, this has been a pleasure. The two of you feel fortunate for finding each other, and as a music fan, I feel fortunate you found each other because wow (laughter).

BERKOVICH: Thank you so much.

RATH: It's been fantastic. Violinist Hilary Hahn and one of her first music teachers, Klara Berkovich. Ms. Hahn's latest recording is the Vieuxtemps' 4th and the Mozart 5th Violin Concertos, both tributes to former teachers. Ms. Hahn, Mrs. Berkovich, thank you so much.

HAHN: Thank you.

BERKOVICH: Thank you very much. Thank you.

RATH: If you'd like to check out the Mozart, go to our classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. That's at


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