Violinist Hilary Hahn is absurdly good.
Eighteen years ago, Hilary Hahn played with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra on her 25th birthday in the Concertgebouw. This week she is back with the orchestra, Thursday in a well-filled Doelen in Rotterdam. she plays it Violin Concerto by Antonin Dvořák; a succession of virtuoso difficulties, which strike almost all of them on the bullseye with full force.
Hahn is the glowing center of the stage and of the evening. You can hardly take your eyes off her lightning-fast fingers, which show one technical feat after another. It is unbelievably beautiful how each note she plays sounds individually, takes on a full tone and reaches the entire hall with meaning and flawlessness. She starts tight, slides delightfully over the string at a few moments. A gaping treat.
pom pom pom
And that while Hahn herself looks so relaxed that it seems as if she is trying something for fun tonight. As if her hands just happened to be hers. Her constant attempts to maintain eye contact with conductor Lahav Shani are endearing, the smiles when she finds that eye contact again heartwarming. She also has such a smile for the first violin group, when she has the time to look, and a few times even for her own violin, as if she is the first listener to enjoy everything that is conjured from that instrument. When only the orchestra is playing, and she is not for a while, she stands with her hands in front of her lap, violin dangling down, nodding her head to the music she is muttering, pom pom pom.
Just as impressed as the hall is the Rotterdam orchestra, which, after a fiery introduction (Jörg Widmanns con brio from 2008), since Hahn’s rise, suddenly nothing more dares. Shani can drag and wave with his arms and prod with his index finger as he pleases, his musicians remain timid in the background. They’re forgiven because it’s so endearing to watch the violinists in particular, when not playing, peer longingly or crouched over the shoulders or under the armpits of colleagues so as not to miss Hahn’s movement.
The orchestra was sharper afterwards in the First Symphony by Brahms, although it is difficult to understand why Rotterdam programs such a safe Brahms symphony after such an impassioned and virtuoso first half after the intermission. Safe, or actually even a bit dull. With lots of mids and a buttery sound, Shani tries to provide an interesting counterbalance to the earlier feast, but it feels a bit forced. Shani models mountain peaks where the music really only has content for hills. One group nevertheless stands out remarkably, as if they are the only ones who still really feel Hahn’s brilliance: the horns blow a second half to pass through a ring.
Hahn had clearly drawn a lot of new audiences to the room. After the first and second part of Brahms, there was a merry clapping at the back of the hall. In the front of the room, just as concentration-breaking, there was loud grumbling andssshht.