Establishing personal context:
Seeing Hilary Hahn perform with the Utah Symphony last year, I was in complete awe. The entire time, I kept thinking of questions I would ask her if I were ever lucky enough to talk to her. I was one of the first on my feet after the final note of her Brahms Violin Concerto performance echoed through the hall. I had been thoroughly entranced and enthralled, and I was further delighted when she chose unaccompanied Bach as her encore. I recalled a prior year's post on Facebook, where I had filled paragraphs raving about this modern violin icon, who has been aptly described by my friends as a "total rock star" or a "violin goddess." I smiled as I recalled how, after reading my enthusiastic comments to my husband, I noticed him smiling and asked him what was funny. He said, "It's just nice to see you being all fan-girly for once . . . ."
It's unlikely that I'll ever be able to interview Hilary, but it doesn't matter, because someone already has! And not just Hilary Hahn, but other violin superstars from both older and newer generations: players like Joshua Bell, Augustin Hadelich, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maxim Vengerov, Elmar Oliveira, Gil Shaham, Anne Akiko Myers, Nathan Cole, Aaron Rosand, Ray Chen, and (as some of my young students would appreciate) Lindsey Stirling.
I've learned so much from reading about the lives of these players. Some get creative in order to stay in shape physically. Hilary Hahn maintains her finger callouses by playing the ukulele. Some have specific topics they are particularly passionate about, ranging from preserving the authenticity of Baroque music (and instruments predating the violin) to recording the work of modern composers. Some players espouse the benefit of participating in symphonies, while others enjoy the benefit of kicking back and playing video games.
Some sanction shoulder rests, while acknowledging there is room for individual adaptation. Others advocate for reintroducing a particular type of shifting. Ruggiero Ricci acknowledges that, like it or not, we are all ultimately influenced by the players we hear. Knowing the truth of this, it was meaningful to me to hear about some of these player's personal role models. For Rachel Barton Pine, it was Maud Powell (1867-1920), a famous violinist I was unfamiliar with.
I was particularly impressed, reading about something Ms. Powell used to do. According to Rachel, between large concert engagements at major cities, rather than take a day to relax, Powell would drive to a small town in between and give that town its first-ever classical concert. She didn't do this to gain larger audiences. That tends to not even be an issue for world-renowned soloists. And world-renowned she was! Rachel called her one of the "most renowned artists of her generation;" this, coming from Rachel Barton Pine, a similarly successful soloist who would practice her solo repertoire for up to eight hours a day as a teenager! No. Pine said Powell didn't give these obscure concerts to gain a following. She just felt it was her calling in life to spread music to as many people as possible! This, in fact, "is what she felt like she was put on this earth to do." Wow.
I'm only partway through these fascinating books. They take on a very personal feel, somehow, as if I'm a fly on the wall, listening to an after-dinner conversation in an average person's living room. And yet these interviews are with folks who are anything but average! This book series strikes me as a remarkable find from an unlikely source, a commercial-looking mass-appeal website. But I guess violinist.com has been so successful for a reason. It's not the advertising. It's the quality of Niles' writing, her meticulous awareness and untiring dedication to her work. Despite some minor editing errors, which are, quite honestly, easy to overlook in the context of such quality, I wouldn't change a thing. I look forward to reading more!