Well, I believe that I have been truly blessed by an angel.
Natalie Zhu, the longtime recital partner of Hilary Hahn is coming back to play with her for a few shows in South America in September this season–That unto itself is a blessing! But the really incredible side of this is that I got to talk to her for The Glass!
While she’s been away from Hilary, Natalie has keeping busy with her family, continuing to play piano (She has recorded a solo piano CD titled Images which can be purchased online–I highly recommend it!), and becoming involved with
The Kingston Chamber Music Festival, of which she is the Artistic Director.
CM: I understand that you’re going back on the concert circuit with a certain soloist this season!
Natalie: Yes! Hilary asked me to do this South American tour next month, which is very exciting, doing a recital together again!
CM: You have to understand that I’m a huge fan of Hilary’s and have been for many years!
Natalie: Yes, I heard! [laughs]
CM: You heard?? I’d be interested to know what you heard versus what I’m telling you! [laughs]
When you were playing with her up until 2005 or so, not too long before that was when I started listening to her. That concert at Carnegie Hall (11/17/05) was wonderful! It’s great to hear you play Mozart with her, but I also loved hearing the Enescu Sonata #3!
Natalie: Yes, that’s right! That was a great program!
CM: That was exciting, and she just blasts everything out with what she does! If I could define what a violinist does, I feel like I still haven’t really nailed it. She has this beautiful instrument, and she knows what to do with it!
Natalie: She’s one of the best violinists in the world, and it’s really great to work with her! We have been playing for many years, and we’ve had a great, great time together!
We talk often whenever she’s free. We talk about how she was doing on tour, her family and everything.
CM: So, why did you have to leave her?
Natalie: I think the reason I left her was because, you know, everybody has their changing life–my change was that I was thinking about building a family, and I was ready to have a family.
CM: I could hear your kids in the background!
Natalie: [laughs] Yeah, she’s going to be 3 next month! That was nice to have a very stable kind of life, not so much traveling on the road. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of festival stuff. I have the Kingston Chamber festival that I’ve been involved with for the past 5 years, and it’s been great! We have a lot of fine musicians coming there, and of course, Hilary would be my biggest star–hopefully, she will come one day!
CM: So, how did the idea of going back to play come about?
Natalie: About half a year ago, I mentioned to her that my kid is going to pre-school soon, and it would be nice to play together again, and the next thing I heard from her was “Do you want to play again? Do you want to come to South America?”, so that’s how that happened!
CM: I have to say that I almost teared-up when I saw your name on her tour page! I was like “Oh, my God, Natalie Zhu is playing with Hilary again!” It was really kind of nice, it was like old times!
Natalie: Yeah, I think some people were a little misunderstanding about us. I actually heard rumors about it, to which I was so shocked and surprised. They thought that we fought and broke-up, but it’s really not like that! It’s just because I was trying to focus on some things on my own.
CM: I heard that she butted heads with certain people, but it’s hard to really take it for fact when you don’t really know the people, or you don’t know the accuracy of the sources of that information.
Natalie: I don’t know what happened with other people, but we never, never had any unhappy things happen between us.
CM: Hilary comes off very nice and likeable, and you would never expect to hear that she’s ever been bitchy to anybody! [laughs]
Natalie: No! She’s super down-to-earth, and she’s super professional!
CM: And great that she’s returning to South America–I noticed that when she played with Valentina Lisitsa, they went to South America a few years ago, and now, I see an awful lot of people from South America love Hilary Hahn, they’re always tweeting about her! She seems to have left a really big impression over there, and she has a really nice following, so they’re probably excited that she’s coming back as she doesn’t get over there very often.
Natalie: I think that was the plan, in 2005, right before we departed, we were talking about a South America tour, but it didn’t happen back then, so it’s nice to go back over this year!
CM: What kind of program are you guys doing?
Natalie: We’re going to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F minor (Op. 4)–It’s a lovely piece! We’re also doing some of the contemporary pieces she commissioned, and some small pieces like Kreisler’s [arrangement of Dvorak’s] “Humoresque”, which isn’t too heavy–something really light and fun!
CM: Has it been hard learning the new pieces? Because a lot of the contemporary music is a new style to some soloists.
Natalie: Well, yes, in a way, but I think it’s much easier than the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion I just played this summer! I’ve been playing quite a lot of contemporary, recently! I’m going to record for Naxos for one of my composer friends in October, so, I’m not so weak on the contemporary pieces! It’s nice to play something different.
CM: Do you have any favorite composers, by the way?
Natalie: They are so different, and each composer has so many different characters. I really can’t say who is my favorite, I just want to learn different kinds of styles, and learn different composers’ work, so there’s not really any specific composers that I love to play. Each time it’s different. Sometimes I like to play certain composers. I think last year, I was so much into Russian composers like Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, but this year, I feel like I want to do more classical repertoire like Mozart sonatas or a little Brahms or Chopin, you know, something a little lighter this year.
CM: You own first CD Images is beautiful! It’s very nicely recorded, and I enjoy listening to Pictures at an Exhibition, it’s one of my favorite pieces!
Natalie: Thank you! You know the engineer is the same one that worked on Hilary’s Jennifer Higdon Concerto recording?
CM: Andreas, you’re talking about? Yes, his work is great–he engineered Silfra, too! Speaking of which, have you heard this recording she did with Hauschka?
Natalie: Oh, no, I haven’t yet!
CM: It’s a very, very different record for her! If you’ve heard his music, it’s very edgy indie music with a lot of rhythmic prepared piano! The story is they met, they worked together and decided to make a record, and they made it with Valgeir Sigurðsson at Greenhouse Studio in Iceland, and that’s the record! Some people just didn’t get it, but I was like “Oh yes! This is great! I’m glad she did it!” because sometimes–I don’t know how you stretch out, but she stretched out that way. She decided to try something new!
Natalie: Well, she’s very adventurous! And she’s very creative! I think that’s just part of her character is that she wants to try something different each time! And I think it’s very helpful for playing classical music, because you can sort of work with more out-of-the-box ideas.
I think it’s just that she’s trying to understand a different kind of music making. Just musicians learning from each other in general!
CM: Sounds like they learned quite a bit! She muted the violin on one song, she strums on it and hits really, really high notes that you would never hear her play on anything that you’ve played with her!
Natalie: Oh! Wow! I definitely going to check it out! Thanks for letting me know!
Mozart: Violin Sonata in G Major, K.301 (Hilary Hahn, violin; Natalie Zhu, piano; Munich, Germany, 12/12/05)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Hilary and Natalie are going to be playing together on tour in South America on the following scheduled dates
September 11th ~ Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 15th ~ Teatro Nacional del Sucre, Quito, Ecuador
September 18th ~ Teatro Municipal, Guayaquil, Ecuador