Fiddler on the rise
From every city in which she performs, violinist Hilary Hahn makes a journal entry and posts about 150 photos for "Postcards from the Road," a popular feature on her website (www.hilaryhahn.com). She takes pictures of everything from swans and street signs to fallen leaves and dogs in cities from Zurich, Switzerland, to Dallas, to Boulder, Colo.
"Playing the violin takes me to places around the world where I really want to go," Ms. Hahn says in a recent phone interview from New York.
Named "America's Best Young Classical Musician" by Time magazine earlier this year, Hahn has played the violin since she was three years old. She has performed with top-rank orchestras (the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic) and has recorded the three "B's" - Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms - and many other composers.
On her fourth recording for Sony Classical, Hahn plays the violin concertos of Brahms and Igor Stravinsky. "I like pairing things like Brahms and Stravinsky because they are very different on the surface," Hahn says. "They are very distinctive, and there's nothing like either one of them in the violin repertoire."
Hahn, who lives in a Philadelphia apartment when she's not traveling, doesn't remember her early days of picking up the violin, but her dad tells it to her this way: They were walking through their neighborhood in Baltimore, and he saw a sign that read "violin lessons for 4-year-olds." They entered the building and watched a little boy play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on a tiny violin.
It wasn't long before Hahn fell in love with the instrument and signed up for lessons. Now 22, she has been playing ever since. Hahn was labeled a child prodigy, but she's never thought of herself in those terms.
"I always felt a little funny being called one," she says. "I stayed in school as long as I wanted to. I didn't have tons of concerts. I didn't go to a record or management company until I was 16, and I feel like I had a real chance to develop musically and personally before getting into a very busy schedule."
An only child, Hahn began attending the highly respected Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at age 10. For eight years now, she has played an 1864 Vuillaume violin, which she carries everywhere with her. So, is her violin with her right now?
"It's within reach," she says, laughing. "If anything were to happen to it, I would feel absolutely awful. It's like having a child. It's irreplaceable."
With many young musicians "crossing over" into other genres, Hahn has chosen to stay devoted to classical music.
"Classical music is great on its own," she says. "There's so much of it that I haven't learned yet. So much more to experience in it that I think I'll just probably stick with it for a while.
"It's really like having a taste of history in your hands. It gives you a chance to find out about people throughout the ages, and you can tie it into studies of history."
While on the road, Hahn applies her own makeup and picks out her own clothes. She's a "one-person operation." She'll also occasionally design her own dresses and hire a dressmaker to complete her vision. (One thing she found she can't wear during a performance is spaghetti straps - "they fall off my shoulder.").
How important is "image" for today's performers? "For me, I always try to do what I feel like doing and what feels right for me. I would not enjoy [projecting] an image of someone other than who I am. I pick the pictures that I like and wear what I feel comfortable wearing. Nothing is ever forced on me."
Between Hahn's new recording, touring, and her virtual postcards, it seems that she has everything she wants, except for one thing - a dog. "I have a special affection for dogs. If I get to stay with a host family, and they have a dog, it's absolutely heaven," she says. Since she's too busy traveling to have one of her own, she just "settles for taking pictures of them."