BY HILARY

Welcome to By Hilary, one of my creative outlets! Click around to explore my current Postcard posts, Journal archives, Stories from my travels, my Favorites lists, and Interviews with colleagues, as well as Answers to dozens of questions I am frequently asked and Links to lots of further information. I don't write the News, but you can find it in this section as well. Happy browsing!

Postcards from the Road

Montreal, Canada

6 April 2012

Dear Readers,

There can be a lot of bureaucracy traveling between countries. Going to and from Canada is pretty straightforward, though there was a form to fill out on the plane (see my airplane neighbor, a Swedish-born teenager, in action in this photo) and I stood in line at immigration, during what must have been the airport’s equivalent of rush hour, for an hour and a half on the way in. On the way out — American customs on the return trip is on Canadian soil — they’ve got it down pat. Between the airport helpers efficiently scanning boarding passes and luggage tags every step of the way, and my 8 am arrival at the airport this morning, all I had to do was fill out a form, walk, and send my stuff through the security checkpoint x-ray machine. They had the old metal detector machines, too, which take no time to do their work. Super fast experience in all.

I was surprised to see a pilot ahead of me in the security line with a giant bottle of water; the guards didn’t even blink and he took it to the gate with him. No one on the flight crew had to remove their liquids and gels, either. I guess I could see how there would be double standards, but I had not seen it blatantly before. I was also surprised, when I got to the passport official (American), that he was not familiar with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. I don’t expect anyone to have heard of most orchestras, but this is a big orchestra with a large local following, and it is in the same city as the airport. Don’t you normally hear about organizations that are a recurring part of the city’s cultural life, even if you don’t go to see them? I can imagine how that might happen, though. Maybe he was feigning ignorance to catch me out, or perhaps he just moved here. Maybe the language barrier kept him from noticing the OSM’s presence before. Maybe now he’ll recognize it, the next time he sees a banner or an ad for a concert. He could be a new audience member soon, you never know.

I was surprised one more time when the same passport official pointed to his computer screen and asked, “Are these your bags?” There, at the end of his finger, were two very clear pictures of my luggage! Amazing! I’d never seen that before. It was impressive.

Hilary

Montreal, Canada

5 April 2012

Dear Readers,

This will be more like a letter than a postcard.

A while ago, I hit some photography roadblocks, and my down time was getting entirely consumed by new-record production, computer issues, general off-the-road busy-ness and tour prep, and other forms of communication (YouTube interviews, article authoring, and snail-mail postcard writing).

Recently, though, the photography and computer situations were resolved, and I’ve finally loaded a bunch of images from the past months onto my somewhat new computer. I look forward to sharing what I remember of their context, as well as the pictures themselves, in the next series of Postcards from the Road. I’ll go backwards and forwards a bit, but we’ll land in the present eventually.

A happy update, to keep this postcard current: Packing for travel is no longer distressing. I usually avoid unpacking once I arrive in a city; if I put something in a drawer, I am liable to forget it there. For some reason, I hadn’t realized that by taking things out of my suitcase, I was unpacking after all — into chaos. I admit that to live on the road, it is important to take things out of the suitcase to use them! What’s changed is that I now return things to the suitcase as soon as I’m finished using them. I’m packing in increments, without even noticing. If I’m ready to go at the drop of a hat and my belongings are organized, packing doesn’t hang over me all week. After the last concert in a city, I can unwind by watching a TV show or reading or making a phone call, as opposed to spending unneeded time preparing to leave. The result is that I don’t feel sad when it’s time to take off. It’s the same principle as keeping the house clean in case you want to have guests over. Take out the stressful part, and the interesting aspects can be fun again. Isn’t it funny that a little change of routine can make such a difference?

I have to thank my cousin for this little improvement. We were talking about cleaning house and she made a good point about the connection between an organized environment and an organized mind. Smart cookie!

After tonight’s concert, the final one of this visit, I had a nice late snack, worked, and watched a TV show online. And wrote what you are reading. How is this possible? My suitcases are sitting by the door, packed.

Hilary

Paris, France

Dear Readers,

It was so hard to pack today. In the past, a few years ago, I didn’t mind packing, but now it has gotten to the point where I can’t focus when I’m trying to gather my things and I feel sad and can’t get out the door. I almost missed my first flight. I had plenty of time, and I had a packing list and everything, so that wasn’t the issue. For some reason, these days, I don’t enjoy leaving in general. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or where I’m departing from. For example, I am on my way to Paris, one of my favorite cities. I am excited to go, I am looking forward to the place and to the collaboration, and this week will be great! But I did not want to get on that first plane. Once I’m in the cab, it’s fine.

This is my first international trip since the concert season started last week. This is a thrilling time of year; it is gala month. Last week was very intense for me, after three months off: a performance at NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, two interviews, three rehearsals, getting back into playing-with-orchestra shape, doing the business side of this career, writing two articles for publication in the fall (one for Gramophone, one for The Strad), making sure my new gowns are ready, learning a piece to perform with OrchKids, and playing the gala season opener with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop. But it kicked me back into the saddle, and here I am! In an airport, on a layover, contemplating buying an ice cream snack from the stand in the middle of the concourse as I try to keep track of everything else I should be doing at the moment.

Hilary

Madison, WI

Dear Readers,

To set the record straight: This is not a blog. This is, in fact, a non-blog. Anyways…

I am up in a plane. Surprise! This time I have earplugs and am on my way out from Wisconsin. I had a little trouble this morning remembering where I was. I love Madison and have enjoyed being there for two days, but I have been in so many other places lately that I had to run through a mental checklist in order to confirm that I was indeed in Madison. There is a certain blissful feeling that comes from being in contextual suspense. It never lasts long, because curiosity gets the better of me. But it is liberating to be both anywhere and nowhere, for a few seconds at least. This morning, it was so sunny that I thought I might be in L.A.

Last night brought my first recital in the 2010-11 season. It is great to be back in the saddle. Afterwards I had a pleasant ice-cream-social meet-and-greet with students from the university, a good way to round out the evening. I am happy to report that a helpful stage crew member timed the concert last night, and the verdict is in: our program this season is shorter than is my wont, so it is verging on a normal length that won’t exhaust audiences. It is also a really fun bunch of pieces to play. We are currently working up some encores we haven’t performed in a while. That is the current challenge – as is keeping my strings in shape. Two of my strings were in the process of breaking yesterday afternoon, but they held through the concert. Today will bring fresh reinforcements.

This flight started bumpy and is apparently going to be bumpy when we land. A small, demure man seated next to me, in a jacket reading “Sharon”, was gripping the armrest half an hour ago. Everyone is pretty relaxed now, though. Many people are reading about the protests in Madison this week. From what I can gather, the governor has been trying to pass a bill against collective bargaining, and the unions are mobilizing to prevent it. I heard that 50,000 people marched on the capitol building today. Teachers have been calling in sick in order to protest, and lots of supportive car-horn honking has been ringing through the streets. On my way to the airport, I saw hundreds of people carrying signs.

Note: I have lost both my camera lens cap and my memory card reader in the past few weeks. “The road” is like a sieve. When I find or replace those items (the lens cap was last seen in a snow drift somewhere up north), I will post pictures again.

Hilary

New York, NY

February 16, 2011

Dear Readers,

I am up in a plane without my earplugs again, my head wrapped in a scarf to block the sun streaming from the window in the aisle ahead. The pianist Simone Dinnerstein is a few rows back, studying a score. She introduced herself in the airport in New York an hour and a half ago, before we boarded the same flight, at the very instant I opened a salad container that threatened to spill onto the floor. She is going to Madison, WI to play with the orchestra; I am going to play a recital with Valentina – tomorrow.

I am a little frazzled. I have been juggling lots of repertoire in the past month or so, while being ill with that laryngitis/fever/flu/cold/sore throat thing that has been going around (thank you, restaurants and airports!), and this switch today is the most mentally challenging. The Curtis Orchestra and I played the Higdon Concerto in Philadelphia two nights ago and in Carnegie Hall in New York last night.

The Higdon violin solo part takes a unique (to that work) combination of complex mindset and muscle memory. The recital program I am playing starting tomorrow is varied, with different requirements for each piece. Antheil’s first sonata calls for a clinically logical approach to memorization; I have to adopt my best guess at the composer’s thought process in order to remember it. Of course, the music in the Antheil is really fun to play, so that is a separate part of the experience. Charles Ives’s fourth sonata needs a certain kind of rhythmic memory alongside musical expressivity, because the piano and violin parts are simultaneously uncoordinated in a way that has to be precisely worked out while conveying emotion. Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata is classical and lyrical through and through. Kreisler’s “Variations on a Theme by Corelli” is a short character piece that is at once showy and charming. And Bach’s Partita #1 in b minor comes in four pairs of movements, so the concentration it draws out of performer and audience is hypnotic and intense. And that is only my perspective! In a recital, the pianist adds a whole other dimension, because we are an integrated duo – it is not just my preparation that leads into the performances, it is also hers and ours together. So that is what I am trying to wrap my head around at this moment.

I don’t normally change so abruptly to a recital tour from a concerto engagement, but in this case, the Curtis Institute was a co-commissioner of the Higdon and part of the inspiration for its creation, the wonderful conductor Juanjo Mena is busier than I am, and Carnegie Hall is in constant demand. We wanted to perform the Higdon together this concert season, but this Monday and Tuesday were the only two days all year that were possible for everyone combined. The orchestra did a great job. They were so prepared, and the many solos written into the orchestra parts sounded terrific. Juanjo was going back and forth between Philadelphia and Baltimore during rehearsals: on Friday he had a concert in Baltimore; Saturday two rehearsals in Philadelphia and a concert in Baltimore; Sunday a concert in Baltimore in the afternoon and a rehearsal in Philadelphia in the evening. And now he is rehearsing in Baltimore again, as I write. But he was completely focused and committed in our preparation, and he worked from the start on musical elements of the piece that often don’t get addressed until the last minute.

I am very glad we did those performances. It brought an experience full circle for me: when I was a student at Curtis, barely into my teens, I made my Carnegie Hall debut – in the Curtis Orchestra, at the back of the second violins, next to the anvil being used in the New York premiere of Ned Rorem’s “Piano Concerto for Left Hand”. I warmed up in the same room the orchestra warmed up in last night, and I was as excited as many of the students were yesterday to play in that hall. It didn’t feel much different last night, except that I now know the acoustics rather well and am 18 years older. Some of the students onstage this week weren’t even born when I played that concert.

Last night in Carnegie Hall, I had a new experience. During an orchestral tutti (when they play without me), I was looking out at the audience when I saw a flash of white fly diagonally down from my left to my right and out of sight. I thought that maybe something had caught the light and created an optical illusion, until I looked over and saw that Juanjo’s hands were empty and everyone in the first row was smiling and craning their heads in the direction of the flash. His baton had gone flying, as it turned out, and only inches in front of me! In the middle of the second movement, during another orchestral tutti, I looked over to my right and noticed the baton in an audience member’s lap. She appeared to be sound asleep. I must have seen wrong, as I met that audience member at the signing after the concert, and she was very much awake.

I also broke a bow hair last night, but that is relatively normal.

I can’t remember if I related the tale from Lucerne of my breaking a string during the final movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto and, as per Leonard Slatkin’s suggestion in that moment, finishing the performance on the concertmaster’s violin. This has been quite the season for unexpected occurrences.

Hilary

Leipzig, Germany

January 21, 2011

Dear Readers,

There is nothing like the feeling that your heart is going to pound its way out of your dress while you are playing the violin onstage in front of thousands of people. It is rather exhilarating. This happened to me the past two nights. A couple of times each night, I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to remind myself to breathe. Stage fright? No. It was a combination of “daytime” cold/flu medication and the hypersensitive adrenaline rush that naturally occurs when I am performing something somewhat unfamiliar. The piece in question is Vieuxtemps’s Concerto #4, a work I have known longer than most: I first learned it when I was nine. But I have not performed it often with orchestra, and in performance is when I get to know something inside and out. You can only practice to a certain point and then you have to begin garnering stage experience.

The famed Gewandhaus and its orchestra have undergone many transformations over the years. An earlier incarnation found Vieuxtemps himself performing this very concerto, about a century and a half ago. I am violinistically related to Vieuxtemps, and I found it significant that so many years after he died, one of his student’s student’s students (me) has the chance to come together with such a historical orchestra to play a work he wrote for himself and for violinists of his future. I wonder what he would have thought of modern concert life: the clothes, the advance planning, the programming, interpretations, and technique.

The Gewandhaus orchestra has a warm, recognizable tone. It was wonderful to be on stage with that group and to listen to them in surround sound. I don’t know if audience members realize how vivid and distinct an orchestra’s notes are from the inside. It is an experience completely different from the integrated wall of multicolored sound heard in the hall.

Next I return to Menotti. I practiced it this morning in a security-restricted area of the airport, and now I am in the airplane turning over the Higdon concerto in the back of my mind.

Hilary

Paris, France

January 15, 2011

Dear Readers,

As I leave Paris for Leipzig, I am in a small plane with a view of a peach-and-rose sunset. This week has not felt like winter. The weather has been more like early spring. But one thing that reminded me that this is January was the sales (“Les Soldes”). All over France, at certain times, clothes in nearly all stores are 30 to 50% off. It is like one day everyone wakes up with the same idea to clear out old inventory. Shopping areas teem with eagle-eyed bargain hunters. Products lie waiting in bins. The whole scene looks, in a commerce sense, somewhat sordid. But of course I joined the masses, and it was a fascinating cultural experience, and I exercised my French, and my suitcases gained weight.

I was in Paris for three rehearsals and one concert of the Menotti concerto with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and conductor Pietari Inkinen. Pietari and I have done quite a few concerts already this season: a tour with the NZSO in the fall covered more than a dozen European cities. I have also been working with the OPRF every couple of years for half my life. Plus, the extra rehearsal this week was a luxury. As a result, the concert felt terrific. The audience asked for two encores!

In my down time between musical activities, I ate tasty dinners, walked miles through Paris (easy to do), practiced, listened to the first stage of post production of my upcoming Ives sonatas album, and went to the Pantheon and saw the pendulum Foucault installed, as well as the tombs of Hugo and Voltaire and Rousseau and the Curies and many others, and read about other revered figures in French history. I visited a bookstore. Cooked. Rested. Had good fun and good times.

Hilary

Lyon, France/Lucerne, Switzerland

January 10, 2011

Dear Readers,

Happy 2011!

I am in a train from Basel. The dusky view out the window is greying with fog, and I am tired. Yesterday I had two concerts in Lucerne with the orchestra from Lyon and maestro Leonard Slatkin. Afterwards we were treated to a wonderful gourmet dinner at the private home of a musician, and I went to bed rather late. Earlier in the week, we had also played a couple of concerts in Lyon. The repertoire was the Tchaikovsky – the last time I’ll play that piece for quite a long stretch. Looking at the itinerary for the rest of the season, I see Menotti, Vieuxtemps 4, Mozart 5, Higdon, and many recitals. For extracurricular activities, I will be working on the post-production of an album of all four Ives sonatas I recorded with my recital partner Valentina Lisitsa last year. Lots to keep me busy.

It is a strange feeling to bid temporary adieu to this concerto. My time with it over the past few years has been rather intense: returning to it after a decade-long break, performing it, and recording it. The actual sessions came kind of in the middle of this span of time, so that the piece for me is not defined by the recording. But the recording certainly brought it to a different focus. I am a little sad to be putting this piece aside, but other things await and I am excited to get to them. In addition, when I put a piece away for a while, my concept of it changes during that time, so that when I do pick it back up, what I experience is a surprise. For that reason, repertoire breaks are necessary and intriguing.

On to Menotti now, in the centenary year of his birth. I had no idea I’d timed that concerto so well in my calendar. I simply wanted to learn it and perform it, and then everyone was talking about a hundred-year anniversary. Kismet!

Hilary

Portland, OR



Dear Readers,

I have just left Portland, Oregon, after a marathon week. It started with my Vegas concert last Thursday, continuing to Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday concerts. On top of that, on Sunday morning I played an informal spur-of-the-moment fundraiser for the organization Mercy Corps, which is based in Portland. Last night, the Oregon Symphony and I played in Salem, at Willamette University.

It was great to work with this group and their music director Carlos Kalmar for these four concerts. This was actually my Portland orchestral debut. Funny that it has taken this long – but that’s advance scheduling: sometimes it works logically and other times it has its own plans. The orchestra and Carlos were really on their toes, and that made the concerts a real joy to be part of. It felt like all interpretive possibilities were open, and that in turn left lots of room for imagination and spontaneous ideas.

Side notes:

After the first rehearsal, a musician brought her 3-week-old baby backstage and was presented with a handmade blanket from a group of women in the orchestra: each had knitted one square and then one of the violinists had sewn all of the squares together. That was a sweet moment to see.

I broke more bow hairs in this Portland engagement than in any other week I can recall. It must have looked dramatic, but I have no idea why it happened.

Now I turn to Sibelius. The new album will keep the Tchaikovsky percolating for the time being.

Hilary

Las Vegas, NV



Dear Readers,

Greetings from Las Vegas, where fortunes are made and lost and classical music sometimes finds its way into the calendar. I was here this week to work with the orchestra of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The audience was very enthusiastic and the students magnified that energy, giving our performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto their all, and we had a great time.

I enjoy coming to Vegas, although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a clubber or a gambler. The weather is always warm, the people-watching is superb, the accommodations are fittingly campy, and the shows (particularly Cirque du Soleil) are superb. It’s like a zoo with exhibits of free-range people. There are so many good musicians here; I like eavesdropping at the lounges and listening to the bands or the jazz singers or pianists. This is a town of professional entertainers. And shopping. The sales are on this week, but I can only look at so many products before I begin to feel hypnotized.

This week I gave myself a bit of a mental breather, focusing my musical life only on the rehearsals and concert. In my spare hours, I explored, wandered, bought half-price cardigans, and watched movie after movie. It was nice to take those luxuries of time.

Hilary

Salt Lake City, UT



Dear Readers,

On my flight to Salt Lake City a few days ago, I was seated next to a sweet old woman. She would turn to me every so often with a beatific smile to ask a question in Spanish or to offer a cookie or a cracker or her spare snack napkin. Towards the end, she pulled the biggest pout I have ever seen when her daughter wouldn’t let her undo her seatbelt as we landed. Now, on my flight out of Salt Lake, I am surrounded by people sleeping or reading. I am – unusually – the only one with an electronic device. This is Sunday. Maybe everyone is in relaxation mode.

I was in Salt Lake for concerts with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. I had initially thought of visiting state parks in the days before rehearsals, but the release date for my new album was set for Tuesday the 21st so I put my attention to pre-release activities. (I took a long hike with the grasshoppers yesterday to get my dose of nature.) Composer Jennifer Higdon and I held a release party on Monday at Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City, and we did interviews around town before I left for Utah. Something new seemed to be happening every day. On Wednesday after this week’s first orchestra rehearsal, I listened to my first segment on NPR’s “All Things Considered” over the hotel clock-radio. The album hit the ground running. Now I’m back to the ’10-’11 season.

This is the start of the concert season, so I get to play in gala kickoff concerts for a few weeks. I love these events. The public is enthusiastic and the musicians are fresh off their summers. This week, Thierry Fischer began his run as music director and conductor of the Utah Symphony, so that brought an added wave of invigoration. He and the orchestra put a lot of effort into the preparation and performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, and we all had a great time.

Hilary

Lanaudiere, Quebec



Dear Readers,

Happy August!

I am flying out of Montreal on my way from the Lanaudiere Festival in Quebec. It is an open-air amphitheater-style venue, very much like – for those of you in the Cleveland area (hello Encore students!) – the Blossom festival but smaller. There is a covered audience seating area and a lawn space beyond, stretching up a natural hill. The sound is as good at the very top of the hill as anywhere else in the venue. Remarkable acoustics!

I am sad to be parting ways with the orchestra and their conductor Paavo Jarvi, but I have some souvenirs: interviews for my YouTube channel with Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie principal cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, one of their three concertmasters Daniel Sepec, and Paavo. While I had my computer and semi-decent lighting arranged, I filmed my answers to some viewer questions as well: about avoiding neck and chin pain with the proper chinrest and shoulder rest setup, and about my next recording: Higdon and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, to be released in the States on September 21. I then tried to upload Tanja’s interview but YouTube didn’t like my computer and wouldn’t let me upload any video. My grasp of technology is a work in progress.

Off I go, now, to join forces with an industrial designer to create a more ergonomic chinrest. Long-suffering necks, jaws, and chins, rejoice!

Hilary

London, England



Dear Readers,

I am currently in a swanky lounge in Heathrow airport. I am leaving London. My face is all sorts of shiny colors because I just spent half an hour painting various products onto it in the Duty Free mall. I was particularly enthusiastic with the bronzers. Even the back of my left hand is sparkling. Beyond my hand, someone is negotiating a deal via cell phone, and another man’s legs stretch shoeless over his suitcase as he naps. I notice that no one has chosen to sit in full view of his bare soles. In the aisle to my right, a little boy is giving a cowboy action figure a high-speed piggyback ride.

Why am I in London? Two nights ago, I played at the famed Proms festival in their traditional all-Beethoven program, with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. We had been on the road a week already, performing the Mendelssohn concerto in Hamburg (in sweltering heat) and in Kiel, and the Beethoven concerto in Bremen. I love working with this orchestra and its conductor Paavo Jarvi. Being onstage with them feels like such vibrant chamber music. It was a particularly vivid experience with them in Royal Albert Hall, in front of 6,000 people! We were all excited and energized, and what was really neat was that the orchestra didn’t become more cautious when their adrenaline was pumping; they dove right in to the music and played it for all it was worth.

Yesterday, after a good night’s sleep following a fun post-Proms reception, I donned my concert dress once again, for a photoshoot with no audience. Now I’m off to another continent.

Hilary

Tokyo, Japan



Dear Readers,

Konbanwa! I’m on the train on my way from a concert in Nagoya back to Tokyo, where I depart this country tomorrow evening. As you can gather, this was the last concert of a tour. The tour, specifically, was with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and we played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, which was just pre-released in Japan along with the Higdon. (The official worldwide release comes this fall.)

I spent a day at the beginning of my trip doing interviews, and then the orchestra arrived and we had concerts in Hyogo (near Osaka), in three different venues in Tokyo, and in Nagoya. It is wonderful that Tokyo has so many halls and such an interested audience; there are hardly any other cities in the world in which a tour can continue without leaving town. These Japanese audiences were strong, and so many people came to the post-concert signings afterwards – hundreds and hundreds each night! I think my signature got a little sloppy by the end of tonight’s session. As the lights speed by outside the train window, I am both tired and exhilarated. Tired because this is the end of a busy tour; exhilarated because this is the end of a truly satisfying concert season and tomorrow I go somewhere far away, where there are lots of birds and insects and very few people, for my vacation.

Hilary

Dallas, TX



Dear Readers,

Dallas is a city of buildings, museums, and parks. This week, I was out and about enough to get my first sun of the summer, which I had to cover up a little bit before walking onstage in my red strapless dress. Time to hit the sunscreen.

Artistically, this Dallas week was amazing. Jennifer Higdon’s violin concerto, which I recorded for release in the fall, won a Pulitzer Prize not too long ago, and these were the first concerts of that piece since then. Conductor Jaap van Zweden did a great job with it, as did the orchestra. It feels like the longer this concerto is alive, the quicker the musicians pick it up, although no orchestra knows it any better than the one before did. Maybe every piece has a certain ethereal presence that matures with age. At any rate, it was an invigorating set of performances to take part in.

The weather in Dallas was beautiful; this seems to be the pleasant-climates part of my concert season. I loved the constant snow a while back, but this is welcome too. Rain dumped on me only one day this week. Other than that, it was sun and warmth all the way.

Hilary