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Hilary Hahn transitions from young phenom to established soloist
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Violinist Hilary Hahn, 25, is one of the stars of the classical music scene. She performs with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra this weekend. (Photo by Kasskara, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon)
Violinist Hilary Hahn is just 25, but she's one of the biggest names in classical music. Time Magazine has named her "America's best young classical musician." She's a Grammy Award-winner, and her work as a violin soloist on the soundtrack for the movie "The Village" is up for an Academy Award. Hilary Hahn is in the Twin Cities this weekend to perform with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

St. Paul, Minn. — When Hilary Hahn was just 10 years old, she asked her parents if she could have more "down time." Hahn was home-schooled in Baltimore, and crammed in music lessons and ballet classes between her academics. She says she wanted more time to pursue her artistic goals. So she decided to audition for the Curtis Institute, a prestigious music conservatory in Philadelphia.

"I got accepted into Curtis without even expecting it," Hahn recalls. "Someone just recommended that I audition there. I thought, 'Well, I'm not going to get in, because I had friends that had gone there to audition who were better players and who were older, and they had not gotten in."

But she did get in. For Hilary Hahn, studying at a world-class music school represents "down time." She says her parents made many sacrifices for her to be able to study at the Curtis Institute.

"My dad and I shared an apartment in Philly during the week. On the weekends we would go back and visit mom, because mom works at a pretty involved job in Baltimore and she really wanted to stay in that job," Hahn says.

Under the guidance of her teachers at the Curtis Institute of Music Hahn, made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony when she was 12. Her first CD, "Hilary Hahn Plays Bach," came out in 1997, when she was 17.

The Bach CD spent weeks as a bestseller on the Billboard classical charts. During the early days of her career, journalists and classical music marketing people highlighted her youth.

Hahn says she understands people are looking for a "hook" -- a quick way to identify and categorize artists. It did get a bit tiresome, but now she's enjoying the transition from young phenom to established soloist.

"It's been a very interesting transition. I think it developed in a slightly different way than I expected," she says, "because I kind of thought, once you hit 18 then the 'youth thing' doesn't crop up any more. But actually it was a factor until, like, even last year. It seems like since I turned 25, it's different."

When asked if her playing has changed over the years, Hahn says she isn't so sure.

"I guess it has changed. But I don't hear much more of a difference ... in a way I would play things differently now, but in a way, every night is different in a concert series," Hahn says. "You're always evaluating yourself, and always evaluating your playing and thinking, 'What could I improve?' And I think that's a very important process and one that really never ends."

Hahn's new CD is dedicated to her parents. She says the combination of pieces by Elgar and Vaughn Williams is a tribute to her parents' British heritage. One of the pieces she included on the CD is The Lark Ascending.

"I love the piece. I remember my dad once made a tape ... for my mom of all these different recordings he'd collected of The Lark Ascending. And she would listen to them every night as she was going to bed. And she listened to it so much the tape broke," Hahn laughs. "I always grew up thinking of it as a standard piece. I guess not as many people perform it, so I wanted to record it. Also with the Elgar, it made a lot of sense to put it together."

Hahn says her first memory of the Elgar Concerto goes back to hearing it on the radio during a long road trip with her father. She says during her appearance with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, audience members will hear a piece that's not performed very often.

"I'm playing Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, which again is a slightly unusual piece. I guess more people play the second concerto, but I didn't realize that -- I thought it was standard repertoire," says Hahn. "I've been surprised lately when people have told me they haven't done it. In fact, the orchestra has never done the Prokofiev before. It's kind of exciting."

Speaking of exciting, Hahn is waiting to hear if her work as a featured soloist violin on the soundtrack to the film, "The Village," will win an Academy Award. Until then, she has engagements with orchestras around the world and is working on her next recording, which will feature violin sonatas by Mozart.

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