Hahn-tastic concert at Disney Hall

The new season of performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall saw its latest, dazzling success on Friday, January 31. Disney Hall was filled to the brim as the audience enjoyed a unique and rousing selection of musical works from Scandinavia. The program was performed by The Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Russian guest conductor, Andrey Boreyko. Friday included the United States premiere of “King Tide,” composed by Anders Hillborg as well as a violin concerto composed by Danish Carl Nielsen and performed by American Hilary Hahn, the world-renowned 34-year-old violinist. concluding the night with an unforgettable taste of Finland in the form of Jean Sibelius' Symphony no. 2.

Composed in 1999, “King Tide” is an experimental and atmospheric piece somewhat reminiscent of Philip Glass’ and Gyorgy Ligeti’s music. As Hillborg stated in an interview with fellow composer Jeff Dunn in 2006, “My way into music is through timbre, through sound. I don’t make a piece if I don’t like the sound. It’s not enough with [only] a structure or contrapuntal idea." The beginning sounds of the work were like a fog of sustained notes held by the violins, violas, and cellos creeping their way to the rafters of Disney Hall, and in the process giving chills to all those present.

Hillborg was able to evoke visions of high tides through a powerful auditory experience. The first half of the piece was a giant crescendo that rose until the ultimate climax, which was then followed by ebbs and tides of various frequencies. The combination of these sounds and styles is simply unforgettable, Hillborg creates a synthesis that is at once eerie and stimulating; original yet familiar; expansive while introspective.

After Hillborg’s “foggy tides” dissipated, a poised, elegant woman strode through the wooden stage doors in a dress that was stylish and elegant. Thus arrived Hilary Hahn, the two-time Grammy winner who has recorded with the world's great orchestras, including our own L.A. Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel.

Hahn’s performance of Nielsen’s 1911 Violin Concerto was flawless and her approach towards the piece had surgical precision.

Hahn’s technical prowess between a left hand that articulates every single note and a right hand that controls the bow like an extension of her will was something to behold as a reminder of why nothing comes close to a live performance. There were absolutely no scratches in her sound.

Another one of her qualities is a pitch-perfect intonation. Like other notable violin concertos, the Nielsen has many passages that require the artist to perform lightning-fast runs, hopping/skipping around the fingerboard, and “double stops” that can stretch the fingers like a rubber band. Hahn seamlessly glided through them all.

Moreover, one of the joys of watching Hahn perform is her indomitable grace and boundless energy. It is a delight to see how Hahn bonds onstage with her 1864 Vuillaume violin. Much like Russian violin legend Jascha Heifetz, Hahn never once looked like she was breaking a sweat.

Hahn is a bridge between the refined world of classical playing and the embodiment of a hip, young identity that should make classical music more accessible for younger listeners.

After Hahn's performance the L.A. Philharmonic performed Jean Sibelius' Symphony no. 2. At the time it was written, Finish patriots dubbed it "The Independence Symphony" because of the Russian Empire's attempts to suppress Finish culture and language. The different themes throughout the symphony evoke Nordic mythology and the vastness of the sea.

A unique feature of Sibelius’ second symphony is that it has three movements as opposed to the usual four. It is a very grand composition and uses a lot of brass that pierces through the frenzy of the string instruments. Throughout the symphony, it becomes easy to lose yourself in the grand themes and motifs that Sibelius presents.

The third movement is particularly distinctive; you could almost say that it blows the other two out of the water. Between the incredibly fast sixteenth-note runs played by the stringed instruments and the resonant calls of the triumphant horns, there were long, sustained passages reminiscent of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings.” The chord progressions in these sections are incredibly beautiful. It should be noted the major influence of a composer like Sibelius on the great modern film composers such as John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

This was an evening of wondrous sounds and impressive virtuosity from both Hahn and the L.A. Philharmonic. Hopefully Santa Monica College students will give Disney Hall a chance because there is so much artistry, vitality, and fertile emotional ground to discover within the walls of this “living room for the city,” as its creators aptly called it.


*Sebastian Carrasco is a Colburn-trained violinist who is currently in his senior academic year at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica.