Pianist-composer-improviser Donal Fox is performing this year at the 34th annual Skaneateles Festival.
Known for some incredible work in both jazz and new music, Donal has also been very active as a collaborator and experimentalist in merging styles. Besides his solo appearance at the upcoming festival on Thursday, August 15th at 8 PM, he’ll be playing with none other than a longtime favorite of The Glass and a veteran of this festival, Hilary Hahn, on Saturday the 17th at 7:30 PM at a special evening devoted to a collaboration never before seen by the public, and something that promises to be a real treat for both fans of jazz and classical. Hilary will also be appearing on Friday the 16th playing a solo recital at 8 PM.
Donal had a few minutes to talk about the show.
CM: Who had the idea of putting you together with Hilary Hahn for a concert at Skaneateles?
Donal: The directors of Skaneateles brought me into it, they knew of my work from Tanglewood and several other projects–hats off to Elinor Freer and David Ying for exploring and expanding the programming. I’ve actually never heard of this festival before, and one of the first things that was asked was “Okay, we want you to come here and do something with your jazz trio”, and there was a number of string players that played with us in the past, and Elinor gave me the names. She said “If you’d like to do something collaborative, who would you like to play with?”, and Hilary happened to be on the list–At that time she’d just put out Silfra, and I’d followed her music for a while, particularly her Bach recordings, but I thought Silfra was marginally different–I know she had tip-toed into some pop stuff here and there, and she had the Charles Ives night at The Stone. But if you take Anne Sophie-Mutter or Joshua Bell, it’s hard to see that happening through them, right? There’s something genuine for Hilary trying, not just to reach audiences, but where she is in this maze of being an artist in the 21st century.
Of course I’ve played with Regina Carter, Maya Beiser and done some things with them, but with Hilary, I thought “Here’s a great opportunity”, which is partly the excitement of the mentoring part of saying “Let’s branch our horizons”–this is the perfect place for us to collaborate, and see where it could go, and open up more doors. And then we had the Bach as the central player. Elinor was excited about the Bach idea, but she asked if we could do it straight and then do the jazz thing, but I didn’t want to be corny about this, so I said we’ll do something so the audience could see how this develops. So, that was how the idea for the show started, and we’re excited about it.
It’s the unknown that’s a bit of a tightrope! You can’t completely succeed with it, you might not succeed, but that’s what the element of surprise is, which we need more of.
CM: I’ve seen Hilary Hahn play other music in person with people like Josh Ritter and Chris Thile, and she’s described experiences like these in some interviews as “flying by the seat of your pants”, which, I guess means it’s really exciting for her, and then she went on to do Silfra with Hauschka which was one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time, considering that was an improvised record. I wrote a review for the album, and I’m wondering if possibly she’d seen it and read the part where I said “She’s tried everything except jazz”.
Donal: Oh, I don’t know, but I’m not having her play jazz-–this is important to know, because, I don’t want to put Hilary in a position where I would tell her she’s to be like Stephane Grappelli or Regina Carter. That wouldn’t be fair to her, and that wouldn’t be fair to the music. It’s about having a place where she can completely be herself, and then have room to go into the unknown, but she doesn’t have to follow some preconceived style. By using the Bach, I’d give Hilary part of the Bach melody, given she does have some improvisational skills, and the trio’s holding the rhythm, so the rhythm itself is genuine Afro-Cuban expression, right? And she’s doing something with that, then we have an organic thing, so I’m really looking for an organic thing versus going “one, two, three, four, here we go, swing!”–Then it would not be organic.
CM: It sounds like what you’re saying is you probably want it to be something where she’s going to bring her own identity to it?
We’re in a paradigm in a way that music is connecting to people and where artists want to be connected. The walls between the categories are broken down, and those walls were put up artificially by record companies and media, and other forums to sell their products–they make the artists the commodities, and the bigger the commodity, the more they sell, but the corporate paradigm of record companies is basically trashed–Unless you’re Lady Gaga or Beyonce, they’re not interested in your music at all.
We have the digital age with iTunes and everything if you want a CD, you don’t have to go anyplace to buy it physically, except maybe the library. You go online and download it. What people download–It could be John Coltrane, it could be Donal Fox, it could be Hilary Hahn, because they’re digging it at that moment, and not actually putting a category to it. I’ve just been doing this a long time because that’s how my brain works, but now that I’m in this part, I’m able to make a living, the audiences are getting more diverse that way, and it’s about moving people with your music, and if you’re honest and true with it, and it connects, you’ve done your job. Preconceiving what it is by categories is becoming less and less important.
Click here to buy tickets for the concert featuring the Donal Fox Inventions Trio with Hilary Hahn (You can also purchase the tickets for Donal and Hilary’s separate concerts as well on the respective dates)