Charles Petzold

Hilary Hahn, Again

December 29, 2005
A Rainy Roscoe, NY

We drove into the City yesterday to hear violinists Hilary Hahn and Jaime Laredo perform the Bach Double Violin Concerto with the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, but the rest of the concert was first rate as well.

The New York String Orchestra is like a rare flower that only blooms twice a year. Each year (since 1969) a select group of music students are chosen through competitive auditions from high schools, colleges, and conservatories in the U.S. and Canada. They come to New York City for 10 days in December to rehearse for 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall. This year, the 61 members of the orchestra ranged in age from 15 to 22. (Approximately a quarter of the musicians were from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Korea, which is a strong indication how the Western music tradition will be preserved now that the American Entertainment Establishment has found it insufficiently profitable.)

The whole enterprise sounds terribly risky, of course. How can a cohesive orchestra be created in 10 days? But the results are astounding, and it's great to see so many young people enjoying an important moment in their careers.

Ms. Hahn returned to the stage for the 8th Violin Concerto of Louis Spohr, an early 19th century Austrian composer who I don't think I'd ever heard before. It was a short piece, in four movements but played without interruption, that was supposed to imitate a scene from an opera. The program also included Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and Beethoven's 7th Symphony, during which some of the players were practically hopping out of their seats with excitement. It was very unprofessional behavior, but it was fun to watch and the enthusiasm was contagious.

This is the second time in two months we've seen Hilary Hahn. Last month she did a violin and piano recital at Carnegie Hall with her longtime accompanist Natalie Tzu (with whom she recently recorded some Mozart violin sonatas). Last year, after I determined that Ms. Hahn had made an insufficient number of appearances in New York, we had to take Amtrak to Baltimore to hear her perform the first Prokofiev violin concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop.