A Very Hilary Blog-Post V: Hilary Hahn & The PSO in New York City

Hilary Hahn with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Avery Fisher Hall (Photo courtesy of  WQED Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, NYC
February 26, 2012

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center was the venue for the second of 2 shows featuring Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orcherstra, and violinist Hilary Hahn. Though Ms. Hahn is playing a work I have heard her play on numerous occasions, I had no doubt that in her hands, performing this piece on the program with this orchestra and conductor (both of whom she has performed brilliantly with before), that this would continue to be a great interpretation. The orchestra would be just as promising, and after attending quite a few new music performances, I was curious to see if the classical concert stage would have a different perspective. I think it did based on the fact that I have so much respect for the musicians, and they are just as dedicated, no matter how old or new the pieces are.

There was, in fact, a new piece on this program: Composer Steven Stucky‘s Silent Spring was given its New York City debut. Based on the Rachel Carson book of the same name, this tone poem in four sections has many highs and lows, and its brooding introduction is reminiscent of Debussy’s La Mer, another ocean-inspired work. Described by Stucky in the program notes as a “death scherzo”, the third section (Rivers of Death) was a fever pitch that had me particularly floored by the timpani. Overall, a great contemporary orchestral piece and an exceptional work for the repertoire.

Hilary Hahn entered in a massively stunning red dress and proceeded to give a powerful reading of the Prokofiev Violin Concerto #1. Even though I always felt this concerto was too brief, on this occasion it felt like it had the right length and temperament. One of my favorite parts of this piece is that part of the 1st movement with the furious section going into the brief cadenza, followed by a pause and a dreamlike restating of the opening theme with the solo violin, harp and flutes. This performance definitely helped me place that moment closer to my heart.
The Scherzo movement felt at one moment like Hahn and the orchestra were racing, but it didn’t place anyone out of sync. It was, as always, an exciting part of the piece.
Hahn was very much at her best for this concert, and rather brilliantly showcased her brand of unwavering, refined passion.
I must say that I witnessed something rather unusual at any of Hilary’s concerts (or any symphonic concert for that matter)–The audience applauded after each of the movements. Either the crowd was excited or there were many first-timers, or both. Whether or not that is considered inappropriate, this performance deserved it. The violinist was awarded with a standing ovation, and she responded in kind with more applause for the orchestra and the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita #2 as an encore.

After intermission, the concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 in E Minor. Even though my favorite symphony was always the fourth, this was the first time I’d heard Tchaikovsky performed live in person by a mature orchestra, and all of his splendidly loud, brassy glory was there. The 2nd mvt (Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza) is gorgeous throughout, and features both a lovely duet between French horn and clarinet, and a grand outburst of timpani and brass. The 3rd mvt (Valse: Allegro moderato) ends sharply and goes immediately into the thrilling final movement. Again, we experienced a premature applause from the audience, this time at the pause before the coda, but for me, it was forgivable. It was a really exciting performance that I feel I don’t always have from the symphony.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (pso.org)
Official website for the PSO

Hilary Hahn.com

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5 thoughts on “A Very Hilary Blog-Post V: Hilary Hahn & The PSO in New York City

  1. I liked your review. I have a similar website (www.atlantamusiccritic.com) where I review music performances in Atlanta, and occasionally, other places. I heard the PSO under Maestro Honeck a few weeks ago in Pittsburgh. I have heard them many times in the past, but he has managed to make them a power house. The brass, especially Vosburgh and Caballero, is incredible. I have read some say that the PSO brass are the best in the US right now. I believe it. On their recent European tours, the London critics were mixed on how Honeck lets the brass shine in the Tchaikovsky, but I find that it makes the hairs on my arms stand up, in a good way. I like when someone can take an over- heard piece and make it new again. Honeck can do that. Your review seemed to agree. I appreciate your work as an independent reviewer.

  2. Yes, Honeck obviously must be part Russian or something. 🙂 The brassy stuff reminded me of the Evgeny Svetlanov recordings of Tchaikovsky I used to have. It was a great concert overall. Hilary was splendid as well!

  3. Thanks Susan! I hope Hilary returns to NY as a performer this year. She doesn’t seem to get sell-outs there, so, perhaps that’s why she didn’t hold a meet and greet at this concert. Sad, because that’s the kind of thing that gets people to come to shows.

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