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Photograph by Mathias Bothor/Deutsche Gramm0phon
Fiddle-dee-dee: Hilary Hahn, 27, says music was just the first of her interests to take off.

Hilary Hahn at UCSC Arts & Lectures

The poised young violinist is a wunderkind no longer.

By Scott MacClelland

What distinguishes the pre-eminent young women violinists in America today is not found in their notes. Rather it is their personalities that set them apart—from the crowd as well as from each other. Sarah Chang, Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg all enjoy the rarified atmosphere of stars in their firmament. And it doesn't take the accustomed ear long to recognize their differences. Chang's exuberance onstage jumps into your face immediately. Josefowicz creates complexities like a fine vintage wine that bloom in the ear. Salerno-Sonnenberg, the eccentric among them, comes up with the unexpected every time. Hahn tempers her natural musicality and impeccable technique with a probing intellect. Josefowicz and Salerno-Sonnenberg are no strangers to Santa Cruz, thanks to the Cabrillo Music Festival. The closest Chang has come is San Jose. Hahn makes her long-awaited local debut tonight at the UCSC Recital Hall. Her playing often seems redolent of great violinists from the past. Her solo Bach, in Carmel in 1999 (when she was still a teen), reminded me of Henryk Szeryng's Bach from a famous 1954 recording. In Bruno Monsaingeon's documentary, The Art of Violin, made the following year, she acknowledges Szeryng's influence.

She studied the recordings of such legends as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux. At the Curtis Institute, she became a pupil of Jascha Brodsky, the last surviving protégé of Eugčne Ysa˙e. Her concert at UCSC will include one of Ysa˙e's solo sonatas, along with sonatas by Ives, Brahms and Franck with pianist Valentina Lisitsa.

Her playing reveals such maturity that one might expect the wisdom of age in her conversations. But, as she says, "I still have tons of stuff to learn yet." (You can get a personal dose of Hahn at her blog-journal,, which she writes on the road to the more than 80 concert performances she gives each year.) Music, she says, "was not a particular decision," citing her many other interests. It "took off first and I've just followed it out." She began to study the violin before age 4, and played various other instruments. Reflecting back, she says of the violin, "It challenged me and allowed me to express myself in an abstract way." And even while her performances of particular repertoire have evolved over time, she is quick to recall the details of how she played certain works after only a few seconds of listening to her recordings of those pieces.

Hahn won a Grammy for her 2001 CD of the Brahms and Stravinsky concertos. Her other recordings for Sony Classical have also won various prizes. Now she records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon. While she is still performing mostly standard repertoire, she has also ventured into new music. Edgar Meyer, the virtuoso bassist and composer, wrote a violin concerto for her that she recorded, along with the Barber concerto, for Sony. Jennifer Higdon, a Cabrillo Festival composer-in-residence, is on tap to compose a concerto for Hahn, which she expects to premiere with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony.

Pianist Lisitsa, a native of Kiev, has made the United States her home since 1991. She attributes her transformation from dazzling virtuoso to serious artist to the influence of her life partner Alexei Kuznetsoff, originally a fellow student at the Kiev Conservatory. As a concert artist performing in this country, Lisitsa has attracted raves from major critics. She has performed at some of the world's most important auditoriums, including New York's Carnegie Hall, Vienna's Musikverein and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. In addition to performing with Hahn, she has appeared with cellist Lynn Harrell and violinist Ida Haendel. She has also released eight CDs, and DVDs of the complete Chopin études and virtuoso works by Liszt and Ravel. Samples of her playing can be found on YouTube.

HILARY HAHN and VALENTINA LISITSA perform at the UCSC Recital Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 8pm. Tickets are $40/$25 students and seniors/$20 UCSC students. Call 831.459.2159 for information.

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