Hilary Hahn: In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores

Hilary Hahn is out to boost the violin vocabulary. Thanks to her commissioning effort, here are 27 short pieces you never heard before.

Hilary Hahn

In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores

Label: Deutsche Grammophon
US Release Date: 2013-11-11
UK Release Date: 2014-03-10
Label website
Artist website

This album is a highly specialized release. Over the years, classical violinist Hilary Hahn has been commissioning composers to write encore pieces for her. Encore pieces, for those who don't attend many classical performances, are brief compositions that soloists may save for the end of the night to show off a particular musical skill. Many encore pieces sneak their way into a musician's practicing repertoire where they learn them by rote, earning the ability to perform them anywhere and at any time. Hahn, a musician who likes to keep an eye on the modern developments of classical music while playing all the old stuff people pay to hear, noticed that no composers were chipping in to create new encore pieces for violin and piano. Hahn set out to right this wrong by reaching out to 26 established composers, asking for an encore composition apiece for her and pianist Cory Smythe to record. She then put out an open call to have a piece composed by a less established composer, taking the total number of composers to 27. In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores is a double album spanning close to two hours in length. Your opinion of it will depend upon just how hard you are willing to work to listen to the works through Hahn's ears.

The list of names Hilary Hahn solicited to make this album happen can spur some double-takes, in a "she called them?!" kind of fascination. Mark-Anthony Turnage, Elliott Sharp, Max Richter, Gillian Whitehead, Richard Barrett, Einojuhani Rautavaara and all the rest are a result of Hahn perusal through the back catalogs of these composers. The 27th name, Jeff Myers, was the winner of Hahn's open contest. With 27 different authors, In 27 Pieces ought to reflect 27 different personalities. The subjective observation that they don't may just be a reflection of the fact that violin and piano encore duet pieces don't guarantee variety. To the listener on the hunt for memorable themes and anchored musical forms, In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores is modern classical gone amok. Being a fan of contemporary music is not a prerequisite for this album -- one's predisposition to any form of classical music turns moot over the course of the 27 tracks. This is why absorbing the music through Hahn's perspective likely suits it better. They were written for her and are being performed by her. So who's receiving the dividends here?

Much happens within these short pieces. In "When a Tiger Meets a Rosa Rugosa" by Du Yun, it sounds like Hahn managed to play every note that's available on the violin. But as far as taking sharp notice of a figure and then processing the music as something more than histrionic exercises, I could walk away with only a few instances. Avner Dorman's "Memory Games" was one, though the piano part Smythe is required to play grows more obtuse as it goes along. One that has more success in standing out is "Ford's Farm" by Mason Bates thanks in part to an Aaron Copland view of the violin's ability to combine idioms. Mark-Anthony Turnage wrote a wonky square dance number with "Hilary's Hoedown", one that unorthodoxically combines a folksy form with odd harmonies. Even when there are threads to grasp, the elusive nature of the music keeps it a few steps ahead of you.

The rest of In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores requires even more effort, or at least it feels that way. Separating the sounds from academia is a chore that Deutsche Grammophon usually doesn't traffic in, but that's where the fun is to be had. When listening to In 27 Pieces, I unwittingly find myself setting up camp in the dying afterword of K. Marie Stolba's The Development of Western Music: A History where the professor laments the loss of more traditionally minded composition for the 20th century onward. You've got to believe me, it's not a place I want to be.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.