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

Pittsburgh, PA



Dear Readers,

Ah, the things people do in airports. This man went where he shouldn’t have during a layover, and I just happened to have my camera on and pointing in his direction!

Now that my island hopping is over for the time being, I am back in the States for some work on home soil. This week I played in Pittsburgh, with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and conductor Manfred Honeck. I realized when I arrived that a lot of my former classmates are in the orchestra! It has been a number of years since I was last here, but I used to play with this orchestra a lot. The first time was when I was 14, with Lorin Maazel, whom I had been introduced to by the concertmaster Andres Cardenes not too long before. That was more than half of my life ago! As a result of that long connection with this orchestra, and with their concert hall, I feel very comfortable with how they play – their style and approach – and with Heinz Hall (named like the food company; the Heinz family was supportive of the arts). This week was an old home week of sorts, and I got to catch up with nearly everyone I’ve known for so long. Now, I’m off to Dallas. Warmth, here comes summer!

Hilary

Reykjavik, Iceland



Dear Readers,

Greetings from Reykjavik! I am, as this city would indicate, in Iceland! This is my first trip here, and I seem to have arrived in an in-between season: not right for Northern Lights, dogsledding, trips into the interior of the country, etc., but there is still so much to experience, and I am glad to be missing the vast majority of tourists.

I went to a dinner at the American Embassy, got a tour of the Icelandic Parliament, hung out with musicians, visited a recording studio, saw Europe’s largest-volume waterfall and my first geysers, rode on an Icelandic horse (small and furry), and went snorkeling for the first time – in a drysuit in near-freezing water in the very rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. When I got out of that water, my face was so cold that my mouth, lips, and chin wouldn’t work, which was a strange feeling; and then my guide and I went to hop off of a little cliff back into the water we’d just snorkeled in. That was funny because we inflated our suits beforehand with oxygen from a tank so I bobbed up like a cork as soon as I hit the water.

Surprise, surprise – it was snowing! The shore areas of Iceland aren’t typically so much colder than the rest of Europe due to the Atlantic currents, but the wind was fierce and the snow blew almost horizontally much of the time. With all of the volcanic rock on the ground, the landscape was barren and beautifully rugged, just black and white this time of year. It was interesting to see everything on the surface of the ground so cold when a wealth of thermal energy is practically boiling right under everyone’s feet. There are hot springs and pools in nearly every town, and the hot water and all of the heating in the buildings and houses come straight from the ground.

I had a great time here. The main purpose of my visit was to work with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and conductor Benjamin Schwarz. They were wonderful colleagues. I am so glad I made the trip.

From the road,

Hilary

Stuttgart, Germany



Dear Readers,

This has been a week of steps forward in my professional life. I performed the Menotti concerto for the first time, here in Stuttgart, and it has entered my set of current-favorite pieces to play. I am very excited about the concerto: it is pretty and dramatic and lyrical, and fits the violin so very well that it doesn’t get in its own way or in the way of anyone trying to interpret it. For some reason, it is rare to come across a piece so inherently natural to the instrument for which it was written. Although I don’t have any more Menotti concerts in the coming months, I can’t wait to perform it again next season.

On another front, my next album, Higdon and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos, is progressing nicely; I am at this very moment sitting in a lounge in the Copenhagen airport taking a break from listening to the Higdon in its post-production state. There is still a lot to do with the album – package design, finalizing the text content of the booklet, polishing the balances and mastering – but it is well on its way, and I can hardly believe that this album will be finished soon. It will be my twelfth feature album. Steady work really can accomplish many things!

Looking out the window of this lounge, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ole Bull’s picture on the tail of an airplane; he was a famous Norwegian violinist who lived from 1810-1880. He would probably be astonished to encounter an airplane, not to mention his photo on one, but it is nice to see a country taking pride in its musical history.

From the road,

Hilary

Belgrade, Serbia



Dear Readers,

Greetings from Belgrade, as I leave it, and here endeth my European tour with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Stephane Deneve. There is snow everywhere I look, as I pass through a national park outside the city. This has been a very busy, enjoyable tour. Now I am heading to yet another city to do some press in connection with my new Bach album’s recent release: a short TV feature, two radio interviews, one newspaper interview, a phone interview, and a special CD signing. Due to all of the travel and the tight performance schedule, I was unable to do many signings on this tour, which I regret. But I really wanted to be well prepared for every performance, and I feel good about how the concerts went.

The orchestra was a great entity to collaborate with; they and Stephane were reactive and lively. Lots of ideas were going around onstage as we performed. Now they and their instruments are on their ways home, as I continue onwards.

From the road,

Hilary

Vienna, Austria



Dear Readers,

So, this is my postcard from Vienna. Where it is – you guessed it – snowing!

Last night I played Prokofiev’s 1st violin concerto, and now I am on my way to Belgrade. I forgot to mention in my Paris postcard that on this tour, I am wearing a dress I bought in Paris years ago, in a boutique not too far from the Theatre des Champs-Elysées. The dress I had planned to wear needed emergency repairs; while that one is being fixed up at the gown hospital, this one was yanked out of retirement for another tour of duty.

It is interesting to me that being comfortable with one’s clothing actually makes a difference onstage. Similarly to getting to know a piece of music, getting to know a dress is something that takes time. (Please pardon me if my English seems strange; German is permeating my thought process.) Unfortunately for this particular hem, I now wear shorter heels than I used to, so I have not gone a concert on this tour without treading on the fabric – but playing in this dress is very comfortable and familiar and nice.

Today is the 20th anniversary of my first full recital. Tonight will also bring my Serbian debut. There will always be places and pieces I have not played, cities I have not yet visited, and that is something I am glad of, as I will never run out of things to do in my career. In honor of this anniversary, I’m going to prepare as an encore a piece from that first recital program: the Siciliano from the g-minor solo sonata by Bach.

From the road,

Hilary

Munich, Germany



Dear Readers,

I’m again in transit, on my way out of Munich. Last night we played at the Gasteig, the Philharmonic hall where I made my German debut half my life ago. When I woke up this morning, there was a thin layer of snow on the ground, and traffic was inching along. A driver with glasses a college professor would wear was finishing up a giant chocolate bar as he paced stiffly outside his taxi. I’m used to Germany being cold, but I have rarely seen it decked in snow. It seems like every concert season, I hit consistent weather: one year I’ll experience all the warm snaps in the countries I visit; another year it rains every week I travel; or some other year it’s consistently unseasonably cold.

I think this year may be my snow year (that became apparent in Nashville, with three straight days of snow – unheard of in those parts). Of course, such a year can only last until spring, so perhaps that title is a bit ambitious. But I have never had a snow year before, so for at least another month, allow me the indulgence.

From the road,

Hilary

Paris, France



Dear Readers,

Greetings from Paris! Tiny flakes of snow are falling outside my window. Last night I played the Sibelius concerto at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées. Having endured an encounter with some sort of stomach flu, I gave the concert my best shot. There’s nothing like the combination of adrenaline and a fever to rev up a performance!

I’ve brought another concerto on this tour: Prokofiev 1. When my teacher, Jascha Brodsky, was a student of Eugene Ysaÿe in Paris in the ’20s, he entered a competition in this city. He was required to provide a repertoire list with his application. Ysaÿe urged him to include that Prokofiev concerto, which was very new at the time. When Mr. Brodsky protested that he didn’t yet know the piece and, moreover, had never heard it, Ysaÿe said not to worry, that the judges would simply be impressed – they’d never select it for him to play in the competition.

Of course, once Mr. Brodsky got through to the final round, they asked him to perform the Prokofiev with orchestra. This left him just a few days to learn the whole concerto (no mean feat!). When he peeked out at the audience from backstage before the concert, he saw no one less than Prokofiev himself sitting in the front row. Despite the shock, Mr. Brodsky got through the competition. Afterwards Prokofiev introduced himself. He and Mr. Brodsky liked each other, and they wound up working together a couple of times during Mr. Brodsky’s stay in Paris. This particular concerto of Prokofiev’s became one of Mr. Brodsky’s favorites, and he made sure to teach it to me. Since I can’t actually go back in time (if I could, I’d pick Paris in the ’20s and early ’30s), the next best thing would be to play that concerto here. That would be a great sentimental moment for me.

Paris is my favorite city to walk in. I feel like I can go forever, on and on and on, through back streets and neighborhoods and museums and along the Seine, and get lost, and just keep walking, and it won’t matter: there will be yet another street to turn down, yet more architecture to admire. A couple of days ago I almost made it to Montmartre before turning back for rehearsal. To see everything I’m interested in seeing in Paris, I’d probably have to spend a year exploring. I’m happy to take it a couple of days at a time.

From the road,

Hilary

Mystery – Glasgow, UK



Dear Readers,

As some of you may know, I have had my own YouTube channel for over a year now. At times, I mediate little games and hold question-and-answer sessions there. I’ve also been interviewing (through my computer’s built-in camera) a fair number of my colleagues and composers, and you can find those interactions on that channel as well. Inept though I may be at learning anything technological, I enjoy the chance to communicate through a visual media, in addition to the writing I do for this site.

I’d like to try something corny here that the YouTube site enables me to attempt: I’d like to host a little identify-this-picture game! At the end of some of the next few postcards I will post on this site, I will tack on an extra, ambiguous photo I took in that particular city. Anytime within the week that follows, you can post your guesses as to what it might be, on my YouTube channel’s comment page. I will then, after that week has passed, read some of the most memorable and accurate guesses in a video post, along with the correct answer. Some of the answers will be very obscure!

I am excited to give this a go. There was something similar in a children’s magazine that I received every month when I was a kid, and I would get a kick out of figuring out what the picture showed. I’m curious to read what you come up with. This, here, is our trial run; the game can only work if you pitch in, so please guess away!

Here is the first photo, from Glasgow last week. The deadline is midnight, Wednesday, February 17. Go to www.youtube.com/hilaryhahnvideos to post your conclusion.

Good luck!

Hilary

Paris, France



Dear Readers,

Welcome to 2010 and to the new decade!

When I began this particular writing project in my mid-teens, it consisted of snail-mail postcards sent from every city I visited for nearly an entire school year; the class of third graders in upstate New York that received the postcards would then learn about every city I sent one from, as part of their social studies curriculum. At the end of the year, their teacher – a family friend – compiled all of those postcards into a booklet, giving a copy to each student as a souvenir. When I got my copy, I was surprised at how much content was crammed into those short messages. Reading through them, I was reminded of many things that I had forgotten. It was fun to revisit those trips.

When the third graders became fourth graders and their teacher retired, I wanted to continue writing postcards, but in some way that would reach more than a single classroom. My idea was to post them on my website for several elementary school classes to read, so I “sent” digital postcards: I posted a single picture from each city I visited, accompanied by a short text. I was happy for kids across the United States to see what it was like – in little glimpses – to be a traveling musician, and also what it was like for someone not so much older than they were to be out and about in the world. In each postcard, I would try to add details that caught my eye, because I was pretty sure those were the things that they themselves would notice, had they been traveling alongside me. I called that part of my site, “Postcards from the Road.”

After a couple of months of posting these digital postcards, grown-ups started coming up to me after concerts and telling me that they too were following the postcards. I was bowled over! Now that we’re well into the 21st century, that reaction may seem naïve, but the Internet was still a new thing to me at that time and the word “blog” didn’t even exist. I had not realized how accessible a single artist’s website could be.

From then on, I wrote for everyone. Over time, I added more pictures per post and the texts grew longer, until eventually the entries could hardly be called postcards. They were more like letters. Or a travelogue. Or a journal, with photos. So I renamed this section of my site, “Journal.”

I would now like to return this feature to its roots, to the postcard format. I hope to post more often, and keeping the content short and sweet will make that possible. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing long-format journal entries – and will probably revert to that from time to time – but I have missed the postcard aspect that these writings had, say, a decade ago.

I think you will enjoy this new take on the old form. Bon voyage, one and all!

From the road,

Hilary