Calling all composers! Win up to 5 minutes on a Hilary Hahn recital! And be recorded!
No, this is not an appeal on the back of a cereal box, although it’s definitely got that gee-whiz feeling.
Leave it to Hilary Hahn, the nimble-witted concert violinist and Deutsche Grammophon recording artist, to announce that her Hilary Hahn Encore Contest is open to all composers. She broke the news in a whisper on YouTube, by candlelight, late last week.
It’s the latest egalitarian move by a musician who makes her professional career a shared project with legions of adoring fans around the world. Hahn has lately commissioned 26 composers of all ages, styles and nationalities to write short encores — a style she thinks has gone out of fashion and hopes to revive.
And now Hahn has announced she’s keeping a slot open for the 27th encore, inviting composers she may not even know for a chance to make the list. If you’re interested and can submit 1.5 to 5 minutes of acoustic music for violin and piano by March 15, here are the rules.
Hahn is a breath of fresh air in the violin world. She’s loaded with Skype savvy, has her own YouTube channel, and possesses a quirky, self-deprecating charm. She went viral on the Internet when she interviewed a kindred spirit in a fishbowl, a betta, that swam around while she asked it the kinds of questions she herself is endlessly asked: “Do you have any advice for people who would like to become a fish someday?” Start watching Hahn’s YouTube videos, and time flies.
Hahn began her recent stop in Chicago with a small “Hello” and a little wave at the wrist before embarking on a ferociously challenging duo recital with pianist Valentina Lisitsa that included 13 of the new encores. She introduced them casually in twos and threes, along with hearty doses of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The audience stayed wide-open and responsive.
It will take Hahn and Lisitsa another year of national touring to get all 26 commissions ready to record, not counting whatever the contest turns up. (The current tour with the first 13 encores started in Cincinnati in October and winds up in Ft. Lauderdale Nov. 6.)
Hahn promises to choose one Encore Contest winner and up to 10 honorable mentions with possible chances for inclusion in her future plans. Meanwhile, here is a sneak peek at the first 13 composers and the titles of the works they wrote — in the Chicago order of performance — in case you envision giving this contest a try:
1. Nico Muhly, age 30, American
- The encore: “Two Voices” gave the impression of a tethered arabesque, with the violin stretching away from, and turning back toward, a piano’s repeated tones.
- In the second YouTube interview that Muhly did with Hahn, he talks about how important one’s musician friends are to a composer: “Awards are great, but they don’t necessarily mean your music is going to get played.”
- Other listening: “Seeing is Believing,” his concerto for electric violin, is captured on a YouTube rehearsal with the composer in attendance.
- Coming up: Contempo will feature the Chicago premiere of a work by Muhly on Nov. 15
- Composer’s website: Muhly’s biography and musings
2. Somei Satoh, age 64, Japanese
- The encore: “Bifu” (Breeze) is calm and beautiful against a rippling accompaniment. The composer likens it to “the wind in our body,” called emotion, sometimes stormy. “I wish for the wind to remain a breeze. “
- Other listening: “Birds in Warped Time,” performed by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers
- Background: Satoh’s mingling of traditional Japanese instrumental timbres with romantic, impressionistic and modern styles shares something of the temperament of Toru Takemitsu.
- Composer’s website: Spare and minimal, like the composer’s music, with quotations, photos and discography.
- The encore: “Speak, Memory” takes its inspiration from a quote of Vladimir Nabokov, “The cradle rocks above an abyss…” and features high harmonics, a sense of timelessness and a vividly impressionistic piano part.
- Other listening: Here is one of her piano preludes in the mood of the encore.
- Background: Also a celebrated poet, Auerbach has written a ballet “The Little Mermaid.”
- Composer’s website: Includes a poetry blog, additional music clips. upcoming concerts and a biography.
- The encore: “Coming To” was envisioned as a music video telling the story of a mortally ill ballet dancer who hallucinates that he rises from his bed, seduced into his death dance by a beautiful female violinist. The piece is overtly virtuosic, starting as a waltz and ending in a frenzy of pizzicati flourishes.
- Other listening: You can get a good sense of Hatzis’ string writing in this YouTube clip from his String Quartet #1, a response to a rash of suicides among Inuit youth.
- Composer’s website: Includes his writings on religion, spirituality and music as well as sound files and a list of upcoming performances.
5. Jennifer Higdon, age 48, American
- The encore: “Echo Dash” is a perpetual motion piece for both piano and violin, with plenty of playful challenges and strong ties to the European classical tradition.
- Other listening: Hahn interviewed Higdon on YouTube at the time she performed the premiere of Higdon’s violin concerto. Higdon talks about the difference between the way a piece sounds in a composer’s head and how it sounds in the hall.
- Coming up: Higdon is writing an opera based on the novel “Cold Mountain” for the Santa Fe Opera, to premiere in summer 2015.
- Composer’s website: Includes more upcoming dates, including a reprise of the violin concerto with Hahn and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.
6. Bun-Ching Lam, age 57, Chinese (born in Macao)
- The encore: “Solitude d’automne” is a slow beauty with haunting lone tones, gently dying phrases and the effect of wind chimes, delicately jostled, in an expanse of quiet.
- Background: In a Youtube interview with Hahn, Lam says she envisions it as the middle movement of an Autumn Sonata and that it is intended to explore inner virtuosity rather than surface flash. She also talks about how composition is a very slow process for her, “like planting a tomato and seeing a new leaf every day.”
- Other listening: Here’s Lam’s energetic flipside, a piece called “Run,” for the Chinese pipa, which becomes quite syncopated and jazzy.
- Composer’s website: Includes in-depth interviews, a biography detailing her upbringing in Macao, and more samples of her work.
7. Gillian Whitehead, age 70, New Zealander
- The encore: “Tōrua” is a meditative work with soft melodic lines evocative of the natural landscape, and a mesmerizing phrase that the composer says was inspired by her native bellbird.
- Background: Whitehead wrote it in the immediate aftermath of the devastating Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand last February, 2011. The title is a Māori word meaning a change in the windflow or current.
- Other listening: Here is another work inspired by her bellbird, “Arapatiki,” on YouTube
- Composer’s website: Includes photos of New Zealand, a discussion with a film director on ways of looking and listening, and descriptions of her process. “Sometimes you hear a finished thing but other times you only know the kind of soundscape or the sound world you want and you have to find the way to get to it.”
- DCNZM, a new acronym: In 2008, the composer became Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead, which makes her a Distinguised Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
8. Avner Dorman, age 36, Israeli
- The encore: “Memory Games” is great fun, a quirky series of dizzying sequences that dance around a couple of melodic patterns. It bubbles and bounces.
- Background: The composer says it draws inspiration from the old sequential memory game “Simon.”
- Other listening: This piece for the percussion duo PercaDu, called “Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!” has some of the same pulsating color and rhythm.
- Composer’s website: Includes more videos and details of upcoming European and American performances of works for instruments including mandolin, oud and percussion
- NPR interview: Dorman talks about his early compositions, at the age of 9, created by mixing together sound from walkie talkies, a radio and his own banging on a piano.
9. Einojuhani Rautavaara, age 82, Finnish
- The encore: “Whispering”: A powerful song in a grand arc, very beautiful and simple. Someone will want to put words to it, or orchestrate it, or illustrate it.
- Background: Rautavaara says, “It whispers: ‘It is possible to be virtuosic without being noisy!'”
- Other listening: Here’s a Youtube clip of the third movement from his masterpiece, “Cantus Articus,” inspired by grand vistas of bird life near the Artic Circle. The final movement is called “Swans Migrating” and seems to take up the whole sky.
- In an interview with the pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenzay, Rautavaara confesses that he doesn’t think he invents music. It’s more like he discovers it — an idea he shares with Picasso.
- Publisher’s website: Detailed list of upcoming performances worldwide.
10. Søren Nils Eichberg, age 38, German-Danish
- The encore: “Levitation.” Funny how a title guides you to listen. This well-made work of lingering sadness and solace does indeed seem to lift off in a meditative way.
- Other listening: Eichberg’s more overtly virtuosic writing for violin is on display at the Queen Elisabeth Competition.
- Stylistic flipside: Eichberg also writes a great deal of digital music, as in this aptly titled work for multi-percussion and electronics called “Antithesis.”
- Composer’s website: Includes many audio and video clips, discography, biography and news updates.
11. Tina Davidson, age 58, Swedish-American
- The encore: “Blue Curve of the Earth” is another work inspired by a naturalistic vista, with rippling piano effects, free-floating violin pizzicati and high harmonics, and a slowly twisting melody.
- Other listening: You can hear Davidson’s distinctive tonal palette of ringing harmonics combined with plucked and stopped string sounds in her “7 Macabre Songs for Piano.”
- Composer’s website: Includes a description of her collaboration with a Philadelphia mural artist on a cityscape imbedded with tubular chimes, and information about works in progress.
12. Paul Moravec, age 54, American
- The encore: “Blue Fiddle” is one of the works on Hahn’s program that unabashedly embraces the violin’s capability for flash and pizzazz along with the sultry, bluesy plushness of its lower register. It’s most entertaining.
- Other listening: “Morph,” for string orchestra, gives you a sense of Moravec’s confidence in writing for all aspects of the fiddle.
- Background: Moravec recently participated in an NPR project of new works based on words of American presidents. He intertwined words of Eisenhower’s Cold War era with music of William Billings, whose patriotic song “Chester” was a battle cry of the American Revolution.
- Composer’s website: Includes audio from the work that won him a Pulitzer – “Tempest Fantasy.”
- The encore: “Mercy,” a lullaby smiling through tears, contemporary yet very old at the same time.
- Background: In a YouTube interview with Hilary Hahn, Richter talks about the experimental music recordings of composers like Philip Glass that fell into his hands compliments of the neighborhood milkman, “a real new music geek.” (Like so many taxi drivers and waiters in New York City, the milkman supported his passion for the arts with a day job.)
- Other listening: “November,” from the album “Memoryhouse,” similarly showcases the violin in an aura of minimalism and Baroque sensibility.
- Movie connection: If you saw “Shutter Island,” you may remember the mesmerizing music at the end, Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.” It was a remix with Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.”
- Composer’s website: Includes plenty of information about Richter’s projects in film, ballet, classical, experimental and post-rock traditions.
Photo captions and credits: Top right: Hilary Hahn (photo by Peter Miller). Descending: 1. Nico Muhly (Michael Schmelling); 2. Somei Satoh (composer website); 3. Lera Auerbach (F. Reinhold); 4. Christos Hatzis (composer website); 5. Jennifer Higdon (Candace DiCarlo); 6. Bun-Ching Lam (composer website); 7. Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (Angela Busby); 8. Avner Dorman (composer website); 9. Einojuhani Rautavaara (Heikki Tuuli); 10. Søren Nils Eichberg (Claudia Gianvenuti for Civitella Ranieri Foundation); 11. Tina Davidson (composer website); 12. Paul Moravec (composer website); 13. Max Richter (FatCat Records) Below: Hahn and Lisitsa (Sam Jones)
Tags: Avner Dorman, Bun-Ching Lam, Christos Hatzis, competitions, contests, Deutsche Grammophon, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Gillian Whitehead, Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Higdon, Lera Auerbach, Max Richter, Nico Muhly, Paul Moravec, Philip Glass, Somei Satoh, Soren Nils Eichberg, Tina Davidson, Toru Takemitsu, Valentina Lisitsa