Violinist Hilary Hahn, pianist Robert Levin to perform tonight

by Betty Kim | 3/31/17 12:00am


Robert Levin, a pianist, will perform on March 31st with renown violinist, Hilary Hahn.

by Courtesy of the Hopkins Center / The Dartmouth

Tonight at 8 p.m., world-famous virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist, musicologist and composer Robert Levin will perform a rich selection of repertoire in Spaulding Auditorium. The performance will be Hahn’s first concert in the Upper Valley.

The program features both major classical sonata repertoire and modern pieces. According to Levin, he and Hahn arranged the program based on each others’ strengths and with their respective interests in mind; Hahn received acclaim for performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s renowned works, and Levin is known for playing music from the Classical era, so their program will also contain pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert.

“Bach and Mozart are also central figures in my life as an artist, and the Schubert has been one of my favorite pieces for violin and piano,” Levin said. “From my point of view, this is an ideal program.”

In addition to the relatively standard repertoire of Bach’s “Sonata No. 6 in G Major,” “Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E-flat Major” and Schubert’s “Rondo in B Minor,” which are all chamber works for violin and piano, Hahn and Levin will perform modern solo works specifically written for the performers themselves.

Hahn commissioned Spanish composer Antón García Abril for six partitas, pieces of music for one instrument, from him after he wrote “Third Sigh” for her 2013 Grammy Award-winning project, “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.” Each polyphonic partita includes a single movement, and the titles spell out her name: “Heart,” “Immensity,” “Love,” “Art,” “Reflexive,” and “You.” The last partita, Partita for Solo Violin No. 6, “You,” premiered in 2016 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with Levin.

Hahn frequently commissions works from modern composers. During the creation of her “In 27 Pieces” project, Hahn held a contest in which composers submitted encores for piano and violin to be recorded and performed on tour by her.

“My initial goal was to expand the encore genre to embrace works of different styles,” wrote Hahn on her website. “Because I was planning to play the commissioned pieces myself, it was important that the composers’ writing spoke to me in some way.”

According to Hahn’s website, her goal in holding the contest was to increase visibility of modern encore pieces.

“She’s extraordinary because she obviously has a brilliant musical technique, but also because she really stands up for contemporary composers,” Margaret Lawrence, director of programing for the Hopkins Center of the Arts, said. “She really takes a stand for new work and supports living composers.”

The story behind Levin’s solo piece — “Träume (Dreams)” for solo piano by Romanian composer Hans Peter Türk — is a particularly moving one. Levin and Türk met at the Mozart Festival in Cluj, Romania, and immediately became friends when Türk gave Levin a melody on which to improvise. They were highly impressed by each other’s compositional and improvisational talent, respectively. When Türk’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, Levin offered her immense moral support via text message. When she died a year and a half later, Türk composed “Träume” for Levin in her memory in 2012. Levin debuted Türk’s composition in 2014.

The title of the piece evokes the dreams and hallucinations that Türk’s wife experienced in the last days of her life, according to Levin. It is an atmospheric, dolorous, lonely, lamenting piece with an outbreak of heartache at a critical point, ending with the tolling of the bells she heard in her final days, according to Levin.

Regarding the difference between performing solo repertoire and performing in a chamber setting, Levin said that chamber music is particularly stimulating because of “the interaction of personality and ideas about music.”

“Each performance will have a particular character,” Levin said. “The greater sense of risk and spontaneity makes a performance a lot more exciting for the listener because they can get a sense that there’s something improvised about the character of the performances.”

Levin also gave advice to student musicians, saying that young musicians should make an effort to “look into their hearts” and “develop their personal voice.”

“Their responsibility is to make this music so immediate, so powerful, so full of suspense that the listeners realize that the reason that one should play the music of dead white men is because it’s about us,” Levin said. “It holds a mirror up to our own faces and tells us things about ourselves that we desperately need to know.”

However, benefits of seeing classical concerts are not limited to classical musicians or even musicians in general. According to Lawrence, the Hop has been attempting to reach out to students who may not be accustomed to attending concerts like Hahn’s and Levin’s for any number of reasons, especially an unfamiliarity with the rules and convention of attending classical performances.

“From knowing nothing to knowing everything, there’s a place for everyone in classical music,” she said. “For an hour, it can really provide a whole different world outside the rest of your worries and your studies and your stressful deadlines … you can just enter in this beautiful auditorium, sit in a comfortable seat, close your eyes and be completely transported.”

Since she has been on campus, Hahn has given a class visit to Music 6, music professor Matthew Marsit’s “Masterpieces of Western Art Music.” She explained the basics of the structure of the violin, answered questions about her performing life and demonstrated techniques such as polyphony, which involves musical textures and multiple melodies, by playing parts of her program.

The class visit was arranged through the Hop, which helps give students the opportunity to see the “human” behind the music, Marsit said.

Levin will also be leading a post-performance discussion after tonight’s concert.