I heard Midori in recital at the Green Music Center on April 23 and Hilary Hahn in recital at Davies Symphony Hall on the 26th. On the 29th, I'll be in San Francisco again to hear a concert conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado featuring Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9.
At the Midori recital on the 23rd, I sat in the seats behind the stage for the first time. They are closer to the performer than I realized, but it's easy to forget how directional the sound projection of a violin is. I remember noticing sharp changes in dynamics at concerts by Kyung-wha Chung (who virtually dances while playing, frequently turning from side to side). Midori, mostly facing away from my vantage point, was sometimes hard to hear, especially during the opening piece, a Bach sonata for violin and piano that lacked impact. However, I very much enjoyed her performance of Schubert's C Major Fantasy for Piano and Violin (although it always seems a little longer than it needs to be) and her performance of the Brahms Piano and Violin Sonata No. 1, in G Major). Two pieces by Tchaikovsky rounded out the program—The Valse Sentimentale and the Valse-Scherzo. Midori also played an encore, a song by Grieg, as she told us in the lobby after the performance. She was accompanied on stage by pianist Özgur Aydin.
The program was varied, earlier music in the first half, more modern music after intermission. It began with Mozart's Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano (Cory Smythe accompanying) followed by the Bach Sonata No. 3 in C major for Solo Violin. Hahn played the Bach absolutely purely, absolutely correctly—every note articulated and right where it was supposed to be—without sounding in the least cold or distant, somehow being utterly confident and charismatically present yet almost transparent, the music seeming to flow through and out of her. Her performance was mesmerizing—probably the most convincing performance of one of the Bach solo violin pieces I've ever heard, its only possible rival in my experience being one by Itzhak Perlman I heard as a college student in the early 1980s in Columbus, Ohio. Hahn was deeply moving. The entire audience immediately rose to its feet after she finished and brought her back on stage to acknowledge the applause several times before letting her go and starting the mid-concert leg stretch. She wore a beautiful floor length skirt—black with embroidered metallic discs.
She was equally impressive in a selection from Anton Garcia Abril's Six Partitas for Solo Violin (which I'd like to hear more of), in the Copland Sonata for Violin and Piano that followed, and in Tina Davidson's Blue Curve of the Earth, which is one of the 27 pieces Hahn commissioned for her recording In 27 Pieces (Hahn played this as an encore at the May 25, 2012 concert with Osmo Vänskä that I attended, so I've heard her perform it twice now).
For an encore, Hahn played the world premiere, she said, of Catch, by Aaron Severini, one of the honorable mentions among the 400 or so pieces she received as entries in her encore competition. She spoke directly to the audience in introducing the piece. After the concert, signing autographs for the longest line of people I've ever seen at Davies Symphony Hall waiting for a signing, she kindly wrote the name of the piece in my program for me. She gives the impression of being an extremely gracious, down-to-Earth person. When I asked her to date the CD cover she signed for me, she didn't know what day it was. It must be hard to keep track sometimes when you travel as much as a touring performer does.
[Update: The concert on the 29th was wonderful. Heras-Casado was overflowing with energy and so was the music. The program included Dance Suite by Bartok, the world premiere of Auditorium, by Mason Bates, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Symphony No. 9, by Shostakovich. ]
Photo of Midori courtesy of the Green Music Center website. Photo of Hilary Hahn courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony website.