Hilary Hahn Plays Tchaikovsky with The Philadelphia Orchestra

In 2004, I went to see M. Night Shyamalan’s newest movie, The Village. Throughout the movie, I found myself paying more attention to the score than the film. The emotive playing of a single violin elevated a mediocre movie to a profound experience. Shortly thereafter I purchased the soundtrack. 

That was my first introduction to Hillary Hahn, and I have followed her career since. To say my expectations were high going into tonight’s performance would be a gross understatement. Her tone, precision, and emotive yet technical playing are showcased in each of her multi-Grammy winning recordings. Her YouTube channel contains some jaw-dropping displays of the highest skills seen on this instrument. Could this performance live up to those expectation? 

The fact that she, one of the world’s premier violinists, accepted the invitation to be the Philidelphia Orchestra’s resident artist in 2017-2018, and continues to return regularly, is another testament of its place among the elite, classical ensembles of the world.

The concert began with the orchestra performing Coleridge-Taylor Parkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1. While beautiful, I found this piece lacking some of the complexity of other classical works—until the third movement when the piece made great demands on the speed of the musicians. The bowing of these professionals showcased impeccable synchronicity. 

William Eddins conducted this evening’s performance. His style is far more engaging and active than Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s more reserved style. I think this communicated more to the audience about the piece, but I preferred Nézet-Séguin’s style that seemed easier for the musicians to follow and honed their precision to a razor sharp edge. 

After a brief break, we were treated to Debussy’s La Mer. Here Eddins’ expertise shone as his dynamic choices for this piece enhanced the piece over any of the recordings I heard prior to this concert. They choose to emphasize specific runs and riffs section by section, which enhanced the flowing watery nature of the piece. His expertise in the interpretation of this piece carried me out to crashing waves and rolling waves in an undertow of nuanced conversation between the various orchestral sections. 

I already gushed about the sound quality we experienced sitting in the last row of the first balcony in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center during the Lang Lang review. This hall is going to ruin me. It is hard enough to go to high school band concerts and musicals in acoustically dull or echoing assembly halls, but Verizon Hall has become my favorite place to listen to great music. Period. 

This time we sat in row S of the Orchestra level. Which location would I recommend? That depends on your preference! The sound quality was equally inspiring. From the balcony we saw more sections of the orchestra and could appreciate the bigger picture of the performance. From the orchestra level, I was privy to the expressions and intensity of the musicians in a more intimate setting. I think my dream seat would be on the first balcony behind the orchestra where I could see the whole orchestra and the conductor as seen by the musicians. 

What can be said of Hillary Hahn’s performance of one of the most beloved and recognizable violin concertos? I could not ask for more. Her technical skill was so mesmerizing, I consistently forgot she was playing with an orchestra until her rests. Her performance had a similar feel as a master class. It is obvious that the stories of her intense work ethic and practice regimen are true. 

She regaled us with two encores. I believe both were pieces she commissioned. The first demonstrated a gentle touch with its lullaby-esque nature, while the second reminded me of a classical folk dance. 

The audience brought her out a total of ten times before Ms. Hahn finally waved us off to bed with a smile. 

Hilary Hahn’s performance was part of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2022-2023 Season. You can learn more about upcoming performances and purchase tickets for yourself by visiting them online.

*we were invited to facilitate a feature, all opinions are my own*

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