New program, old favorites

Hilary Hahn waltzes into Macky

Peter Alexander | Boulder Weekly

Hilary Hahn wanted to be a river guide.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve had many alternate careers in my mind,” says the Grammy-winning violinist. But even though she will be in Colorado next week, don’t look for her on Clear Creek or the Arkansas River — not now nor next summer.

“I love white-water rafting,” Hahn says. “I seriously thought that would be a fun thing to do, but then I realized … ‘Mmm. I’m not sure if I could deal with a dislocated shoulder.’ … I guess if I weren’t playing, I would enjoy it very much.”

So instead of leading a river trip, you will find Hahn playing a recital with pianist Valentina Lisitsa at 7:30 p.m. next Monday in Boulder’s Macky Auditorium. It may not be whitewater rafting, but the program is plenty adventurous in its own way.

“I try not to have a formula when I do a recital program,” Hahn says. “I come up with a few things that we want to do and try to find a way to put them together musically with other things that are interesting as well.”

Since Hahn has very wide-ranging tastes, “interesting” usually turns out to be an understatement. Her current touring program includes such staples of the violinist’s repertoire as Tartini’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli, J.S. Bach’s B minor Partita for solo violin and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata in F major, op. 24.

But with these evergreens she will play two littleknown American works from the early 20th century:

the Sonata No. 4 by the Americana iconoclast Charles Ives, subtitled Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting; and even further outside the experience of most concertgoers, the Sonata No. 1 of George Antheil, who famously titled his autobiography The Bad Boy of Music.

Ives’ music has attained enough respectability to be played from time to time, but few if any in Hahn’s audience will ever have heard a single note by Antheil performed live.

But Hahn, who plays just about everything she can get her hands on, had already encountered Antheil’s four sonatas when she was a teenager.

“I had thought about programming an Antheil sonata a long time ago,” she says. “I revisited the idea because I read Antheil’s autobiography. … I was curious to listen to the sonatas again and see what I thought of them, and the one that I wanted to hear was this one.

“It’s a fantastic sonata. The piece is like rock ’n’ roll minimalism, and yet neither one of those had really taken off at that time. It’s very, very contagious music.”

What is Hahn’s advice for listeners encountering Antheil’s music for the first time?

“I think you just listen,” she says. “With any piece,  you’re going to have a
very different experience from anyone who would describe it to you. So
you listen and see what strikes you, and there’s no wrong impression.”

While the Antheil will be new to the audience, the Beethoven Spring Sonata, familiar as it is, will be new to Hahn’s repertoire.

“The Spring Sonata is something I used to read when I was in school. … I didn’t wind up performing it for whatever reason, so I just learned that one last year. So … it’s also brand new to me.”

Sometimes, Hahn says, “It’s harder to learn something that you know by ear at least, because you have to undo everything you think you know and actually learn stuff from the ground up. It’s easy to coast through thinking that you’re doing what you hear in your ear, but that’s not coming across. You have to really listen to what you’re doing.”

On the other hand, Hahn is quick to note that pieces that are completely new to a performer — like the Antheil — offer a different kind of challenge. “I find it very challenging to work with something brand new, because you’re starting from scratch, but it’s a very, very, very, big realm of possibilities. … If you’ve never heard it you can go in any direction, and anything is fine. Where do you start?

“It’s like that blank page and writers’ block. It’s never easy.”

Clearly, Hahn relishes both challenges. As she is doing on the current tour, she consistently programs pieces that are part of the established repertoire — think Bach and Beethoven in this case — and pieces that have to be considered unknowns for her audience — Antheil and likely Ives. In either case, her advice is probably best: just listen.

On the Bill

Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa play Macky Auditorium on Monday, Feb. 21. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets start at $11. For more info, visit index.cfm/box-office. 1595 Pleasant St., 303-492-8423.