Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update: Review of Higdon's Violin Concerto

Hilary Hahn Earlier this month, Hilary Hahn (pictured) premiered a new Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon. Both of these artists whose careers I tend to follow. If they are not at the top of the Classical World, they are both certainly headed there.

Tom Aldridge of Nuvo wrote a review from the concert. Here are some of the highlights:
Why is Higdon's concerto successful when so much contemporary music comes out of the woodwork, gets a hearing and disappears from whence it came? For one thing, Higdon handles the Modern orchestral style with a mastery that eludes a majority of her colleagues. All too many new works: (1) contain too few tonal references or common chords, (2) fail to balance the various ensembles such that one section (often the percussion) tends to predominate or the soloist is drowned out and (3) represent a compendium of compositions that are either revealed only by musicians studying their scores or containing repetitive figures that "groove" the listener in. The unity/diversity factor so audibly prevalent in great works from earlier centuries is all too often absent.

Everything new that Higdon incorporates is tasteful and in balance such that the entire orchestra remains articulate, containing many tonal references while sharing special sonic colors modern orchestras can provide (for example, Higdon's use of knitting needles as percussion sticks). Her three movements are titled "1726," "Chaconni" and "Fly Forward"- the first one enigmatic. It represents Higdon's "mystery" number, for which she will reward the first few who correctly guess its meaning. "Chaconni" is an Italianized play on the plural of chaconne - a French word meaning variations on a short chord progression, whose plural expectedly would be chaconnes. "Fly Forward" is a short tour de force showing Hahn at her virtuosic best - but that is her least special attribute.

As Higdon soon learned, Hahn can play anything her colleague can write, but so can most marquee players touring these days. What Hahn showed us in the two earlier movements is her almost unique ability to create beautiful tones from any note progression. In this respect, she's at the top of the current heap; merely hearing her draw her bow across one or more strings creates magic, no matter what she's playing.

As reverenced in the other review on this concert, Higdon and Hahn are shinning stars - even if the premiere of this piece got somewhat lost in the news cycles of an awards filled weekend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to see and hear a performance of the Higdon/Hahn Concerto in Toronto last week. Needless to say, I was stunned by Hilary's ability to make this piece soar.

Higdon's rough edged piece of new American music is a stand up piece of work, but it's core is so reliant on Hilary's interpretation that when it comes to another player's approach, I'm afraid they may have their work cut out for them.

You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned Hahn's ability to make beauty out of any progression of notes. Although I'd give a kidney to cozy up to said virtuoso, it is most definitely her signature bow to string touch that leaves the most indelible impression every time.

W.