“And now, some Bach!”
Something that became sort of a running joke of the night, but the night in question was a fund-raiser for something that was anything but a laughing matter: The disaster in Japan. This event was the last of four shows (Held in different parts of the country: Maryland, Virgina, Georgia, and New York) that Hilary had put on in lieu of her canceled Japanese tour. Rather than performing in Japan, she was performing for them.
The Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO (Being a native of NY, I’m embarrassed that I was unaware this was a regional acronym), Brooklyn, was the best place to have this show for several reasons: the artistic and worldly atmosphere, its clientele, and the acoustics. I was pleased to be in its presence.
The show, in general, was a cultural mash-up of acoustic music, its instruments consisting of violin, guitar, mandolin, and vocals.
Hilary Hahn performed unaccompanied classical violin (Bach’s Partita #1 in B minor, BWV 1002, broken up into 2 halves), and also accompanied the folk stylings of singer-songwriter Caleb Stine (Like Hilary, a Baltimore native and a longtime fixture of that region’s music scene) as well as turning over the spotlight to him and the other players of the night, Josh Ritter and Chris Thile.
If I had to list my favorite moments, all of Hilary’s are on the list, given the only spotlight music she had planned was the 1st Partita (Played brilliantly), and the Sarabande from the 2nd Partita. It almost seemed like Hilary was a guest performer at her own show, but eventually I took that more as a message that the night wasn’t just about her. And she was very wise and modest in purveying that message.
The other sets were all great. Chris Thile, incidentally, is a powerhouse if you’ve never seen him live. He plays like a man possessed, and perhaps invokes a Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin. Other highlights were Josh Ritter’s “The Curse” (Accompanied masterfully by Thile, in the Hilary Hahn role this time around), and, what was sure to be a time-warp moment for me, Hilary and Chris Thile’s duet of Bela Fleck’s “Down In the Swamp”.
They’d played this together previously at the CD release party for her Paganini Concerto CD (And simultaneously for Thile’s “How To Grow a Woman From The Ground” CD) also held in NY back in 2006. It was quite a great thing to see a classically-trained violinist playing fiddle music, and it was equally great to see her do it again, this time wearing high heels.
A few silly moments:
a) Hilary getting up on tippy-toes to make the intro announcements into the mike (The stagehands never seem to remember she’s a bit smaller than the boys. Similar moment came at the Metropolitan concert w/Josh Ritter when she went to speak, she joked that they should have gotten her a hydraulic lift).
b) Hilary introduced the Partita with “And now, some Bach”. Chris played a mandolin version of the E Major Preludio,
prefacing that with “And now, some Bach” (Even though she was sitting directly above me on the 2nd level, Chris wanted Hilary to leave to spare him from embarrassment in playing Bach badly in front of an expert! Hilary responded “Just play it!”; For the record, he did a great job). When she came back to the stage, Hilary proceeded with the 2nd half of the b minor Partita and announced “And now, some more Bach”.
c) Josh Ritter’s segment had him joking that in the lake under the floor there were poisonous fish. When Hilary came back on to play with Chris, she made reference to the recently-escaped Egyptian Cobra from the Bronx Zoo, and that she hoped it wouldn’t be charmed out of the water by the duet performance.
Hilary did bring the mood back to reality at the show’s end with words from the heart about the disaster, and she spoke about her experiences in the nation of Japan, and what the culture and artistic community of that country mean to her (As well as educating us about Direct Relief International, the fund to which the show’s proceeds went), and followed that up with the Bach D minor Sarabande as a tribute to the victims.
One last encore: Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In the Wind”, with Thile, Stine, and Hahn. Hilary could be seen singing a little bit at the end of the song. Caleb had been encouraging her to do this, and I don’t know if this was in response to that, or this was her getting the song in her head the way that “Der Erlkonig” gets into her head when she plays that as a solo violin piece. In any event, it was beautiful to see it happen.