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“Hilary Hahn: A Portrait” is a 2005 DVD release on the
Deutsche Grammophon label which is a delight, in more ways
than one. Filmed between December 2003 and June 2004, it
provides a snapshot of violinist Hahn’s (1979 – ) professional
life at that time, providing excerpts from her concert
performances and a sort of travelogue of the concert
venue locations.

The documentary portion of the 58-minute film also follows
her as she takes us on a guided tour of the Curtis Institute
of Music in Philadelphia, among other places. This tour is
complete with input from its then-director, pianist Gary Graffman.
A relaxed, informal atmosphere prevails throughout, as Hahn
reminisces about her alma mater, where she began studying
when she was 10-years old.  Her unpretentious attitude is
underlined as she recounts how she used to be the
pumpkin-carver at Curtis for Halloween!

This down-to-earth approach permeates the entire
documentary, giving it a very “human” touch, while also
including a discussion of artistic matters such as Hahn’s
career, and her thoughts on music. The “tour” continued in
Europe at places such as the “Yellow Lounge,” where she
benefitted from performing Johann Sebastian Bach in an
informal environment. Footage of a visit to the famed Abbey
Road Studios in London showed her recording the Ralph
Vaughan-Williams tone poem, “The Lark Ascending,” with the
London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Sir Colin Davis.

Other rehearsal and performance clips include Hahn rehearsing
Mozart’s “Sonata for Piano and Violin in G Major K. 301,” with
her frequent collaborator and fellow Curtis alumna, pianist
Natalie Zhu, and excerpts of her performance of Erich Korngold’s
“Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35,” with the Deutsches
Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Kent Nagano. These
documentary items are narrated by David Kehoe, with a lot of
input from Hilary Hahn.

The second part of this DVD consists of wonderful concert
performances of the two aforementioned pieces, with great
camera work and stunning sound engineering. Despite her
relative youth, I found Hahn’s tone and overall musicality to
be among the best that I’d ever heard on her instrument.
Nothing was the least bit forced, and the music flowed from
her in a natural way that I found enchanting and quite
beautiful. Both Maestro Nagano and pianist Zhu were ideal
partners to Hahn.

The Korngold “Violin Concerto” is from 1945 and written in a
lush, fin de siècle musical style, frequently using themes from
some of his movie scores. I’ve never enjoyed this work so
much. The Mozart “Sonata for Piano and Violin” is a lesser
known piece. If not “top-tier” Mozart, it was still nice.

Bonus features included short interview clips with Hahn and
Zhu, individually and together, as well as a Hahn photo gallery
and discography. All in all, this was a delightful portrait of a
wonderful violinist that was shot in an informal, engaging
fashion. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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