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Violinist Hilary Hahn to visit past, present and future in Mondavi recital

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From page A1 | October 27, 2011 |

Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn will perform in concert with pianist Valentina Lisitsa on Saturday evening at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Hahn is known not only for her musical virtuosity, but also for her playful use of social media, including YouTube and Twitter. Peter Miller/Courtesy photo

Hear her live

Who: Violinist Hilary Hahn, accompanied by pianist Valentina Lisitsa

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Tickets: $35-$72 general, $17.50-$36 students, www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787

Violinist Hilary Hahn will touch on past, present and future aspects of her career when she visits the Mondavi Center for a recital on Saturday.

Hahn will open the concert with the first sonata for unaccompanied violin by Bach — G minor, BWV 1001, dating from before 1720. Hahn began her recording career back in 1997 with an album of  Bach solo violin works, while she was still in her teens — a move that raised a few eyebrows, since some musicians (cellist Mstislav Rostropovich being a famous example) wait until midlife or even late before taking Bach’s solo works into the studio.

Hahn has described Bach as one of her life’s constants: “I’m always working on Bach,” she told The Enterprise in a late September interview, “and I haven’t played the First Sonata for a while.”

Hahn will follow with an early Beethoven sonata — A Major, Op. 12, No.2, from 1798, and dedicated to his composition teacher Salieri. And then she’ll play a Scherzo penned by Brahms in 1853 — the earliest surviving piece of music that he wrote for violin and piano. (This is the first time Hahn has toured with this particular Brahms piece.)

Hahn will then turn to some music from an album that she has yet to record. She will perform an assortment drawn from the 27 encores that have been written for her by composers ranging from recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon, Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, and others.

Hahn decided about 10 years ago that she would like to make an album made up of new short works that would be suitable as encores, after she notices that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. So she invited composers — some of whom she knew, others whom she hadn’t met but respected — to write her some new pieces.

“I was surprised at their positive response. They were nice, and it wasn’t like I had to do fundraising (to get them to participate),” she said.

On her current tour, and again next year, Hahn will be trying out the new encores on stage, getting to know them and presenting them in different order. Then she’ll go into the studio and record them for an album to be titled “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.”

Hahn is also interviewing the composers and posting those interviews as video on YouTube. The first two interviews, with composers Max Richter and Bun-Ching Lam, can be found on Hahn’s website, www.hilaryhahn.com.

Hahn also has a new album, just released on Oct. 11, featuring the four violin sonatas of American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954), music that Hahn has toured with for the past few years. Ives was a very wealthy businessman who is still a legendary figure in the life insurance industry. But he was also a composer — unconventional and idiosyncratic and largely ignored during his lifetime, but now highly regarded.

Hahn advised that when she plays at the Mondavi Center, “I may work some Ives into the program —not one of his sonatas, but you may hear something else by Ives in there.” (Oct. 20 was the 137th anniversary of Ives’ birth, and Hahn posted a message on her website to commemorate the occasion.)

Hahn, who has two Grammy Awards under her belt, and performs regularly with major orchestras around the world, is at the point in her career where she can pick the projects that she wants to work on, both musically and otherwise.

She likes to post unusual video messages on YouTube — ranging from advice to aspiring violinists about picking a chin rest to a September 2011 conversation between herself and a betta (or Siamese fighting fish) in a small aquarium. (“So, um, what made you decide to become a fish?” was Hahn’s opening question).

There’s also a Twitter feed containing terse, wry observations that are attributed to her violin case, described as containing “rants, raves, snippets, tidbits, insider info — the full case study.”

“The violin case has a mind of its own,” Hahn said with a barely suppressed giggle. “Sometimes it gets online and tweets. These things happen. If I censored it, it would rebel, and who knows what It might say. Let it have its time online.”

But Hahn does not intend to follow the path taken by violin soloist Joshua Bell, who is now a conductor with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Hahn made it clear that she’ll be sticking with the violin.

“Conducting is not on the horizon for me,” she said.

For her current tour, Hahn is performing with pianist Valentina Lisitsa, who was born in Ukraine and has been working with Hahn for several years. Lisitsa played with Hahn on the new album of Ives sonatas; she was also a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony in July, and has recorded several albums, as well as accumulating tens of millions of views for her YouTube music videos.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055.

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