A penchant for new music, affirmed ‘In 27 Pieces’

Throughout her career, violinist Hilary Hahn has remained an advocate for new music. One of her biggest successes to date has been “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.” Launched in 2011, this commissioning program has sought to revitalize and redefine the often-overlooked short-form genre. For the project, Hahn recruited 26 composers, including Mason Bates, Jennifer Higdon, Nico Muhly and Einojuhani Rautavaara, and chose the final participant via an online contest. After presenting these short works on tour, she recorded them with pianist Cory Smythe. The disc won a Grammy Award in 2015. 

Capitalizing on a recent surge in interest in LPs, Deutsche Grammophon also released a vinyl version of "In 27 Pieces." “I’m all for that,” Hahn said. “I think it is a unique listening experience. I grew up very aware of vinyl as a major form of listening to music. It wasn’t just a trendy, retro thing. We had LPs in our house and a record player, so I have a sentimental attachment to that form, and I’m always happy when a record gets released on vinyl.”

Among other benefits, the encores exposed Hahn to a range of composers. She so was taken with the music of Spanish composer Antón García Abril that she and the Washington (D.C.) Performing Arts commissioned him to write a set of six solo partitas in a polyphonic or multi-voice style inspired loosely by the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. García Abril's six partitas belong to an unusual sub-genre of solo violin works that in addition to Bach’s famed six sonatas and partitas includes Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Six Polyphonic Studies for Solo Violin and Eugène Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin. (In March, García Abril died at age 87 from complications of COVID-19.)

These new one-movement partitas manage to be virtuosic and lyrical, Hahn said, and they are suffused with emotion. “So when he writes polyphonically, he’s writing a complete story into his music," she said. "The voices aren’t just counterpoint. It’s like a doing a one-woman show with multiple characters having conversations. It’s kind of a challenge but it’s also fantastic.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Sounds and Stories, the predecessor site of Experience CSO.