Hilary Hahn on the “story” behind the music

I think the back stories [behind the creation of a work] are interesting … But for me the first aim is to look at the notes, and see how I might interpret them … No offence to the media, but I’ve seen stories told about people I know – and about me – that are kind of true, in that they might be based on fact, but the person telling the story is not the person who experienced it, so the story is an interpretation of what actually happened. The problem I have when reading about composers is that I can’t get inside their heads enough to know whether what happened in their lives influenced their music.

I do trust history. But not as guidance to what’s going on in people’s heads. For me the history can only be an interesting check on my original hunch about how a piece should be performed. Also, working with living composers, I see that if someone is having a sad time in their life they might write music that is completely the opposite in mood. They may not necessarily be writing their life into their work.

…I don’t express my life in my playing … I don’t go on stage when I’m having a tiring or unhappy day, and play tired or unhappy. Your first job is to do the music justice, irrespective of what is going on in your life … It’s a matter of respect. After concerts I will meet audience members, and they will say things like: ‘this concert was my birthday present’, or ‘I’d been looking forward to hearing you for months’. That makes you realise what a responsibility you have as a performer. Or there are people going through a really tough patch in their lives, and the performance is their only relief. For them you must put aside what’s affecting you and give the best you can.

– Hilary Hahn, violinist

Richard Morrison, “Peak Practice”, BBC Music Magazine, October 2010, p.29.