Arts concert review

Hilary Hahn steals the show at the BSO

The BSO performs Thorvaldsdottir, Mozart, and Brahms

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Hilary Hahn performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with the BSO

Week 20: Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s ARCHORA, Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) 

Conducted by Andris Nelsons 

Hilary Hahn on Violin 

Boston Symphony Hall 

April 18, 2024 

The BSO concert on Thursday, April 18, was memorable not only because of the program’s diverse and rich sound palette but also for world-renowned violinist Hilary Hahn’s stunning rendition of Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Despite it being a weekday night, Symphony Hall was packed, the atmosphere buzzing with excitement and energy in anticipation of Hahn’s performance. 

The concert opened with contemporary composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s ARCHORA, a minimalist yet captivating piece. Although the composition consisted of long notes interspersed with atypical melodies, the creative use of instrumentation made ARCHORA shine. The woodwinds employed breathing techniques that made the notes short and fluttery, akin to chirping birds. The percussion section was small, but the gong and the light sliding of a bow on the large brass drum created sounds like a gust of wind. 

While the piece sometimes sounded empty and flat, the atonal lines and gradual glissando from the strings section created a suspenseful and eerie atmosphere. Toward the end of the piece, the melody seemed to be on the cusp of hope and renewal, transitioning to a less dissonant and more familiar sound. The orchestra, however, finished with a long pianissimo ending close to complete silence. The strange closing made the audience hold their breaths, uncertain of when the piece would actually end. When conductor Andris Nelsons finally lowered his baton, the audience broke into warm rounds of applause. 

What followed ARCHORA was Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 in B Flat Major, a piece dominated by the strings section but characterized by rich sounds from other instruments (horns, bassoons, oboes). The first movement, Allegro assai, had pleasant homophony from the strings, which made the sound jovial. The horns and oboes had a bright timbre that contrasted well with the violin’s merry sound, as they helped accentuate the main notes in the strings’ melody. The oboe was the highlight of Andante moderato for its serene expressive solo, and the reedy sound added vibrancy to the movement. 

In Menuetto, the unique phrasing of legatos punctuated with staccatos made the piece enthralling for its light, dance-like qualities. Even Nelsons let the melody take over him, his hands gently swaying back and forth as he conducted the piece. The symphony ended strongly with a delightful dialogue between the oboe and the strings in Allegro assai, while the bassoons had a distinctive buzzy sound that complemented the high pitches. 

After intermission, Hilary Hahn stepped onto the stage. The Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major began with a mellow oboe opening, followed by tremolos in the strings section that built up anticipation for the start of the violin solo. Hilary Hahn’s performance was engrossing as she played the sixteenth notes masterfully in quick succession. Her ability to make significant note shifts smooth and connected was impressive. The energy of the arpeggios undulated from her violin, creating a dizzying effect of ascending and descending notes. Her body moved with the violin naturally, as if she and the instrument were one body.

Hahn also made the solo sound seamless with the rest of the orchestra. For instance, in Adagio, the ethereal sound of the violin paired well with the oboe’s sweet melody, offering the audience respite from the energetic Allegro non troppo. Hahn returned to play the violin with great intensity in Allegro giocoso, dazzling the audience with her flawless cadenza: the scales were perfect, and the playful staccato was amusing. The concerto’s ending was engrossing because the violin solo gradually slowed down, as if it would conclude the piece. The movement, however, ended with the entire orchestra playing the last notes of the finale in great unison. 

Immediately after the performance, everyone in the audience stood up to give a standing ovation, a sight I have only seen a handful of times in my entire life. The applause went on for minutes, with cheers and whistles from the audience. In response to the overwhelmingly positive response from the audience, Hahn played Bach’s Sarabande from Partita in D Minor, a slow but moving piece. 

Her playing finely captured the sorrow and melancholy in the piece, the trills like quavers in a voice filled with vulnerability. While short, the encore was just as memorable as her performance of the Violin Concerto in D, leaving the audience to marvel at music’s ability to express emotions that words cannot.