Hilary Hahn releases Bach’s Partita No. 1 and Sonatas 1 and 2 on October 5, 2018
When Hilary Hahn Plays Bach came out on Sony in 1997, critics were astounded that a performer would choose solo Bach for her debut album; they were further confounded by her elegant approach to this music’s technical and interpretive challenges at such a young age. Bach expert Nicholas Anderson wrote in BBC Music Magazine at the time, “Bach’s six unaccompanied solos - three each of partitas and sonatas - have long been regarded as the pinnacle of violin writing and the most elusive of goals for the aspiring performer... Hahn's affection for Bach's music becomes apparent at almost every turn; and the concluding movement of the C major Sonata is a tour de force. I long to hear more.” Stereo Review wrote, “I would go so far as to say that I've never heard this legendary, impossible piece of music played on a higher level, technically and musically, than it is on Hahn's debut CD. This is simply a magnificent performance, completely true in all its parts and possessed of a depth and wisdom that belie the performer's age. Unlike most of the violinists who play this music, she is truly its master, and that frees her to play it with soul.”
“Not a week has passed since then without an audience member asking me when I’ll record the rest of the set,” Hahn says, having released her first album, Hilary Hahn Plays Bach, when she was 17 to great critical and popular success. Now 38, she completes her recording of the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin in an album that will be released on Decca Classics on October 5, 2018. The new album includes the first partita and first and second sonatas.
Hahn’s relationship with Bach goes back to her earliest studies of the violin, which included practicing or performing one movement of the sonatas or partitas every day. She continues to work on solo Bach nearly every day, also programming a sonata or partita in many recitals, offering movements as encores after concertos, and presenting Bach in her spontaneous “mini concerts” for babies and their parents, knitting circles, and yoga studios. Most of all, she continues to love the music and to turn to it as a source of both reflection and challenge.
“You can’t get away with anything in Bach,” Hahn explained in a Gramophone magazine cover story in 2000. “You can’t focus on the technique and forget about the phrasing, and you can’t focus on the phrasing and forget the technique because neither will work. You also have to balance voices. It’s a challenge to phrase each voice individually, to play everything the way it should be played technically and make the multiple voices sound like one piece. It’s takes a lot of thought and a lot of playing to get to where you can feel comfortable with it.”
Just as Hahn knew that her first album should be Bach, despite skepticism from more experienced people in the music industry, she also knew that now was the moment to record the rest of the set. She explains, “What you hear in this completion of my solo Bach set is therefore the best recording that I feel I can offer at this point in my life. I love these pieces. Indulging in the freedom of the moment is the only way to attain an honest performance, and the moments and grand gestures that Bach gifted violinists through these works are magically infinite.” She adds, “I used to envision this recording as my link to a long chain of traditions. But now that this album is finished, I see that the best way to honor the continuum that Bach’s solo violin works embody is to simply appreciate these pieces when they are needed — whatever that means to you. Whether you experience the sonatas and partitas as a violinist or a listener, alone or in community with others, I hope that they will bring the depth, emotion, humor, and reverie to your life that they do to mine.”
Three-time Grammy Award-winner Hahn has released twelve albums on the Deutsche Grammophon label and five on Sony, in addition to three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated movie soundtrack, an award-winning recording for children, and various compilations. This will be her first album on Decca. Her first Grammy came in 2003 for her Brahms and Stravinsky concerto album, followed by a Grammy for her pairing of the Schoenberg and Sibelius concerti, which spent 23 weeks on the charts. In 2010 Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto, which was written for Hahn and which she recorded with Tchaikovsky's concerto, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent Grammy came for In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores, a multiple-year commissioning project to create a new body of violin encores.
Her last album was a retrospective collection that also contained new live material and art from her fans, in keeping with a decades-long tradition of collecting fan art at concerts. Hahn is known for her natural ability to connect with fans, from the art projects, to her YouTube interview series, to her violin case's comments on life with a concert violinist on Twitter and Instagram. Her curiosity extends far beyond music, and she was an early blogger, sending her fans “postcards” from the road. She recently created the Instagram project #100DaysOfPractice for which she posted videos of herself practicing for a hundred days straight, openly sharing her behind-the-scenes work with her fans to break down perceived barriers around the creative process.