Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter: An Uncommon Duo Their music might be vastly different, but when folk-rocker Josh Ritter and classical violinist Hilary Hahn share a concert stage, surprising connections develop between the two performers and their audience.

Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter: An Uncommon Duo

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Collaborations between pop and classical musicians aren't always harmonious. The musical results, sometimes called crossover, can often be a mishmash. NPR's Tom Huizenga has been listening to a pair of young musicians whose partnership has been blossoming in a very different way.

TOM HUIZENGA: Hilary Hahn is a top classical violinist. Josh Ritter is a folk-rocker. The two shared a stage at New York's Metropolitan Museum recently. She played classical pieces for solo violin, and he sang songs from his albums.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOSH RITTER (Singer): (Singing) All the other girls here are stars. You are the Northern Lights.

HUIZENGA: When Josh Ritter plays with Hilary Hahn, half the audience is used to hearing Beethoven and Bach. He's clearly more comfortable in pubs.

Mr. RITTER: It's cool to play without a bar sign behind me or anybody throwing bottles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RITTER: I like knife fights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: Hahn has a different challenge. She's learning how to improvise around Ritter's gentle rock songs.

Ms. HILARY HAHN (Classical Violinist): It's especially nerve-wracking before audiences that know something about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HAHN: At the same time, though, I don't want to write out a part. You know, I don't want to take a shortcut. So sometimes you have to take the risks and try new things, and sometimes they fall flat in a concert. But some nights it really clicks, and it's those nights that click that you can keep in mind and try to learn from.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) Peter said to Paul, you know, all those words we wrote are just the rules of the game, and the rules are the first to go.

HUIZENGA: The concerts Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter give together are experiments. They each play their own music and come together only on a couple of tunes throughout the evening. It's not a crossover project marketed by a record company. Hahn and Ritter think of it more as a double bill. They first performed at a club in Montreal, where he invited her to improvise with his band and play a classical tune on her own.

Mr. RITTER: She's like standing next to a tornado when she's on stage and playing. You know, it's something that I don't get the chance to see. I feel like I'm standing inside music.

(Soundbite of music)

HUIZENGA: When Josh Ritter backs up Hilary Hahn on a classical piece, he has to do something he's not used to: read notes from a music stand.

Mr. RITTER: We do a piece together at the end of the night, the "Cantabile" by Paganini, and that has just been - that was the best, the biggest musical, like, summit of my life so far.

(Soundbite of music, "Cantabile")

Mr. RITTER: When that song is over, I just feel this, like, weight lift off me, you know?

HUIZENGA: Ritter and Hahn ask a lot from themselves, and they ask a lot from their audiences. Half come for her, the other half for him. By the time it's all over, Hahn says, a few discoveries have been made.

Ms. HAHN: There are a lot of people who I've met after a show with Josh who have said well, you know, I'm not really a classical person. I don't listen to a lot of classical music, but I really loved that stuff you played.

Mr. RITTER: Our motive for this was to see if two types of music that were done very differently could be brought together for a single evening. But we really didn't want to really meet each other on each other's grounds because I can't play what she plays, but she can't play what I play. We want to, like, trust that the audience is going to appreciate both of those things.

HUIZENGA: Tom Huizenga, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear the entire concert, Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at npr.org/music. A special thanks to the music division at member-station WNYC in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) Heaven is so big there's ain't no need to look up. So I stopped looking for…

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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