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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 1, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 22
Hilary Hahn's wild side?
Arts & Entertainment
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Hilary Hahn's wild side?

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

VIOLINIST HILARY HAHN WITH HAUSCHKA
NEPTUNE THEATRE
May 29


Several differences, apart from the medium, marked this live concert from the corresponding CD. Those differences made the concert, for me, unpleasant, while the CD is quite enjoyable. First of all, the concert was way too loud, bordering on painful. But the CD, of course, can be adjusted to any desired volume. Ironically, the CD has a greater dynamic range than the concert, which began loud and pretty much stayed loud. (The music was improvised and thus different in each version.) Second, the Neptune Theatre was too hot. I stripped to my T-shirt but was still uncomfortable. Third, the loudness seemed to encourage talking during the music - the couple next to me wouldn't stop.

The nature of the music generally made closing one's eyes and drifting with the sounds a good way to maximize enjoyment. Thus, the visual aspect of being at the concert became almost a negative. It was of some interest, however, to see modifications being made before our eyes as Volker Bertelmann (a.k.a. Hauschka) put items directly on the strings of the concert grand. (These were partially visible on the mirror-like inner surface of the raised piano top.) There were certainly no aural benefits to being there in person, for the sounds were all highly amplified and purposefully electronic-sounding, no different from listening at home on a good system. And the sound on the CD is generally cleaner, and thus clearer, than what we heard live. So, I'm going to write mostly about the CD, which I find quite engaging.

In the sense that there is generally no melody and a lot of repetitious patterns, the music falls very close to what might be called 'new age.' But it avoids the clich├ęs of that genre and incorporates many experimental improvisations that are quite daring. Quarter-tones, dissonances that are sometimes hammered home in loud crescendos, complex ever-changing rhythms, and even some strange perhaps-never-heard-before sounds from the modified piano - all distinguish this music from the more relaxing sounds associated with 'new age.'

Even though this rather avant-garde music shows us another side of Hilary Hahn, whose recent recital at Benaroya Hall I reviewed, I find it rather mechanical and peculiarly technical, revealing less to me of Ms. Hahn's personality than her more formal recital. (One of the techniques employed is that of recording a passage and then playing it back while adding improvisations on top of the recorded loop.) Another advantage of the CD is, of course, that it can be listened to many times. I'm wondering if repeated auditions will reveal more feeling, and thus more about her unique personality, than these initial encounters. Certainly there is new language to be learned here before one can fully absorb what is going on. Repeated playing of the CD will allow one to 'learn' that language.

The newest incarnation of the Neptune Theater allows the audience to drink alcohol, served on the premises. I pondered whether or not such mind-altering drugs might speed one's entrance to this new musical world. Certainly there were many people in attendance who enjoyed the concert more than I did. The atmosphere was indeed a little like what one might imagine European coffee houses (minus the cigarette smoke) were like when daring young composers played their daring new music and were applauded above all because it was so NEW. What we heard at the Neptune was challenging and different enough to recall descriptions of concerts by the great, openly Gay composer John Cage. Perhaps experiencing that atmosphere was the most satisfying gift this concert could give.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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