The Classical Station’s interview with Hilary Hahn for Preview!

Hilary Hahn
Photo ⓒ Peter Miller

Interview with Hilary Hahn
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © )


Hilary Hahn is an internationally recognized violin virtuoso, and she’s well-known for both her evocative performances and her dedication to classical music education. She has taken to social media to spread classical music to new audiences in engaging ways, such as starting popular challenges on Instagram to make practicing a collaborative event.

On her new album, ‘Eclipse’, Hahn features violin concertos by Dvořák, Ginastera, and Sarasate. She shared a little about the experience of choosing each piece in her interview with Naomi Lambert.

HAHN: This was my first recording of all those works, but it was also my first time performing the Ginastera and the Sarasate. I became obsessed with Ginastera several years ago. Ginastera’s Violin Concerto, Op. 30, was written in the 1960s, but it never quite took off as core repertoire, partly because it’s almost impossible to play. It also needs complete commitment from the musicians and the conductor. You need a little bit of extra rehearsal time, and if you don’t feel it, it doesn’t come together. Once you show what a piece can be, then it takes off. I really wanted to step into that role with that work. 

I have loved Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy since I was a kid and I knew it by ear. I had just never performed it, and I didn’t quite have the impetus to add it to my repertoire, but I always told myself I would do it someday. The Sarasate was programmed a lot in the season leading up to the recording sessions, but everything got canceled, so I was looking at playing those pieces for the first time in a very intense situation, coming back from all of those months of cancellations–which were on top of a year’s sabbatical. I was coming back at the end of my second year away from performing right into a “frying pan” situation. I was going to be working with exactly the right colleagues to navigate this. I just needed to trust that I had evolved into the musician I wanted to be in that time away.

She also spoke about the struggles of preparing an album in isolation.

HAHN: As a performing musician who’s always working with different colleagues each week, you’re always touring different halls and seeing different audiences. You see what you like to keep, you see what you want to shed, and you continue on that path. It’s different to be practicing as the only musician in your household and as the only person you’re hearing play music for months on end, and to be preparing something in a linear way alone. There’s no feedback for what’s working for you, what isn’t, what new thing you want to try, what you want to drop. You really have to self-motivate yourself without a sounding board. You’re finding your way through a forest without any paths and without a compass, and you’re just going where you think you’re supposed to go. For a lot of things that would normally cement quickly, I felt like I was like Teflon; the work that I was doing would slide away from me the next day.

It was a little disorienting. I have done a lot of work by myself, and I have prepared for a lot of things myself, so I just relied on that process. I trusted it was still happening, even if I wasn’t sure.

During the recording process of ‘Eclipse’, Hilary Hahn worked with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, old colleagues of hers.

HAHN: I’ve worked with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony for decades. We’ve gone on tour to different continents. We’ve had hangouts outside of work during rehearsal breaks. We’ve worked together at a lot of different halls. I know a lot of those musicians from tours and from different experiences, and it’s such a fantastic thing: you’re on airplanes and on trains and at hotel breakfasts together, you bump into each other at the gym, you’re spending all day backstage at some hall in Japan and bonding. Musically, that shows. 

Andrés and I have worked on a lot of projects together. We’ve worked together enough that we’ve developed our own style. We’ve worked through some differences in approach and found our way together out of those differences. That means you really can read each other when you’re performing and you really have a conversation on stage; you can tell when someone has an idea that they’re throwing at you and you can tell if they’re taking your idea or they’re not taking your idea. You really work in an improvisatory way, and that’s so special. That experience is not something that you want to take lightly.

Returning to Ginastera’s Violin Concerto Op. 30, Hahn gave some advice on how to listen to such an emotional, hard-hitting piece.

HAHN: It’s important for us to listen to music that is unfamiliar, to listen to music that challenges us, because what music does is tap into the emotions that we don’t always want to pay attention to. It gives us a place and permission to feel those emotions and look at them from outside of ourselves. Ginastera frames emotion differently from what you’re used to hearing or relaxing to. In this case, the concerto partners with the performer and with the audience to bring you through the experiences that you’ve personally experienced in your life, to bring you through reminders of those emotions, and to arrive at a resolution and move forward into something new and beautiful together.

Hahn is also known for her appearances in videos by TwoSet Violin, a classical violinist duo that has been instrumental in making classical music accessible to people through their comedy videos on YouTube. 

HAHN: There’s a real give and take with the audience in this particular field; the audience is an equal interpreter to the performers, so we’re all in these life experiences together, in all of the moments that we experience: in our cars listening to the radio, or listening to the music around us as we’re commuting, or in those moments when everyone else is asleep at home and we’re listening to music. We’re all part of the same big, connected story.

Hilary Hahn’s interview airs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 20. Join The Classical Station for Preview! every week at 7 p.m. eastern. You can listen online at, on 89.7 FM, or on the App.