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An Evening of Elegance and Expression: Hilary Hahn Shines with the BSO

Hilary Hahn performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Hilary Hahn performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. By Courtesy of Winslow Townson / Boston Symphony Orchestra
By Allison S. Park, Crimson Staff Writer

The seats of Symphony Hall were completely filled on April 18 as the audience eagerly waited in anticipation for three-time Grammy Award winner Hilary Hahn to perform alongside the Boston Symphony Orchestra and their music director Andris Nelsons. However, even before Hahn graced the stage, viewers were first treated with two other orchestral works: Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “ARCHORA” and Mozart’s “Symphony No. 33 in B-flat, K.319.”

The BSO opened their concert with the contemporary piece “ARCHORA,” giving the audience the opportunity to envision “a world both familiar and strange, static and transforming, nowhere and everywhere at the same time” according to the Icelandic composer’s program notes. Through their performance, the BSO was able to perfectly capture the essence of the composer’s intentions. The work’s ephemeral quality seemed to suspend time itself. The orchestra’s nuanced delivery also enveloped listeners in a soundscape where every note resonated with an intense, otherworldly ethos; at the same time, elements familiar to our own world, such as the earthiness of land, were captured by the frequent use of col legno in the score.

After such an imaginative, newly composed piece, the program transported listeners a few centuries back to the Classical era in music for Mozart’s “Symphony No. 33 in B-flat, K.319.” The BSO’s charismatic rendition seamlessly bridged the stylistic gap. Although the original program had listed Mozart’s symphony as the opening piece, a last-minute program insert updated attendees on the revised sequence.

While the orchestra was able to collectively bring out the joy and vivacity of the symphony, there was one musician who stood out for his remarkable expressiveness: Keisuke Wakao, BSO’s assistant principal oboe. Throughout the work, Wakao exhibited so much joy and passion that it was nearly impossible not to be captivated by his vibrant presence.

Following an intermission, Hahn finally performed her rendition of Brahms’s “Violin Concerto in D, Opus 77.” Donning a striking gold dress, Hahn stood elegantly for the exposition of the piece; when the moment arrived for her solo, she fully embraced the concerto’s drama, delivering a passionate and compelling entrance that captured the essence of the music.

Hahn and her violin were unified as one throughout the work, as she exhibited a spectacular amount of control over her instrument. Especially through her meticulous vibrato, Hahn embodied the beauty of Brahms’s only violin concerto, which served to convey the feeling of devotion that is familiar in many of Brahms’s compositions.

One of the most mesmerizing aspects of Hahn as a soloist was her ability to freely command the stage with so much conviction. She was never fixed to any one part of the stage — she would choose to take a dynamic step forward on a particularly decisive passage, for instance.

The cadenza of the concerto’s first movement showcased Hahn’s exceptional technical skill, a hallmark that has earned her widespread acclaim in the music community. Audiences held their breath, reluctant to disrupt the sublime performance, in which her left hand moved with great facility up and down the fingerboard — something that can only be achieved with incredible discipline and practice.

The concerto, lasting over 40 minutes, earned Hahn a standing ovation and prompted an encore performance, in which she performed “Sarabande” from Bach’s “Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004.” Much like the cadenza, the opportunity to hear Hahn play on her own without the accompaniment from the orchestra allowed listeners to admire her beautiful tone and diligent phrasing.

Hearing such a renowned violinist perform live in Boston with the BSO was truly a memorable experience, and Hahn is set to captivate crowds once more for the BSO’s opening night concert at Tanglewood this summer on Friday, July 5.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra and Hilary Hahn performed this program at Symphony Hall from April 18 to April 20.

—Staff writer Allison S. Park can be reached at Follow her on X @allisonskypark.

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