Note: Marin Alsop will replace Mikko Franck as conductor for this program, which will now feature Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture instead of the previously announced Two Serenades for Violin and Orchestra by Einojuhani Rautavaara.
Artist residencies with orchestras are anything but random. Because these temporary positions require close collaboration in terms of artistic planning and programming, they typically involve performers with a long-established connection to the ensemble. That’s certainly the case with famed violinist Hilary Hahn, now serving as the 2018-19 artist-in-residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.
She has performed regularly with the Paris-based orchestra since she was a teenager and has formed a strong bond with Finnish conductor Mikko Franck, who took over as its music director in 2015. “We understand each other very well musically and love working together,” she said. “So we have found some really fun things to do with the residency.”
Hahn spoke from Spain, where she is traveling with Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique as part of a four-country European tour. She is serving as soloist in Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47, which the Finnish composer wrote in 1904 and revised the following year.
After her final concert in Spain on May 10, she will travel home to the United States for performances of the same concerto May 16-18 and 21 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Furthering the continuity, Franck will serve as guest conductor for her Chicago concerts. “It’s always nice to explore a piece with someone who both understands that piece in a certain way and understands your own playing and kind of tie them together,” she said.
Hahn isn’t sure how she and Franck happened to be together in Chicago, but she is glad the musical pairing worked out. She likes regular collaborations “because if you like working together, you can keep an eye out for opportunities,” she said. “But ultimately, the invitation is from the orchestra, and you can’t force anyone on anything. It’s all a kind of big brainstorm, and every place does it differently.”
When she serves as an artist-in-residence, Hahn said, she tries to devise an over-arching theme or thread for her activities that is tied specifically to that locale or ensemble. “I have some ideas generally that I’m curious to try out, but I run them by the organization, and I say, ‘What can we do that really fits with your interests? And what are your interests that I can participate in?’”
In part because of Franck’s background, her residency with the Orchestre Philharmonique took on a strong Finnish flavor. Along with the performances of the concerto by Sibelius, Finland’s best-known composer, she and the orchestra presented the world premiere of Two Serenades for Violin and Orchestra in February at the 2019 Festival Présences in Paris. It was the final work of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died in 2016 at age 87. Composer Kalevi Aho completed the orchestration of the second serenade.
Rautavaara was one of 26 composers whom Hahn invited to take part in “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores,” with the final participant chosen via an online contest. With this imaginative 2011-13 commissioning program, the violinist sought to revitalize and redefine the often-overlooked short form. After presenting these short works on tour, she released a recording of them in 2013 with pianist Cory Smythe, which won a Grammy Award two years later.
Franck has been ardent champion of Rautavaara’s work, bonding with him after the composer attended one of the conductor’s early performances of Rautavaara’s music. About three years ago, Hahn joined Franck in a performance of Rautavaara’s 1977 Violin Concerto. Afterward, she mentioned to the conductor how wonderful it would if the composer could write a second concerto that they could premiere. Franck suspected that the composer’s ill health would not permit such a project, but he mentioned it to Rautavaara, anyway. After the composer’s funeral, his widow showed Franck the score for the nearly completed two movements of that concerto, which became Two Serenades.
“I felt like one of the greats had left the planet,” Hahn said.
TOP: Hilary Hahn returns to Chicago for four concerts with the CSO on May 16-18 and 21.| Photo: ©Dana van Leeuwen/Decca