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Hilary Hahn and the encore: What's that again?

October 29, 2011 |  7:00 am

Hilary Hahn playing in 2010 with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducting
One of the more common problems for concertgoers is not being able to hear a performer announcing an encore. Violinist Hilary Hahn will doubtless have a microphone when she introduces the 13 encores she will be performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday.

But more often, as she said for an Arts & Books feature on encores, she’s reduced to shouting them out after a recital or concerto.

“It seems like when I announce encores, I get asked what I played,” Hahn said. “When I don’t announce them, people don’t ask. It’s very strange. Some people still can’t hear you when you shout. I’m not sure what I should do about that.”

The encores at Disney will be showcased in a main program that includes works by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. They are part of her ongoing project, “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” -- 26 encores she commissioned for acoustic violin and piano from contemporary composers, with a 27th  to be chosen next year from an online contest.

Hahn said she has tried using the Shazam! iPhone app to identify classical music on the radio, “but it just gets so confused.” The Shazam! company advertises the app’s ability to identify recorded music from a database of more than 10 million tracks, including classical. According to its promo material, it needs only four seconds of sound to identify the song, artist and even album art on your iPhone.

Baritone Thomas Hampson called himself “a tech freak,” but he also spoke of the “obscenity of bothering other people” with electronic devices. “If you do take out the phone or camera,” he said. “Well, you can take out the most expensive recording equipment on the planet, and it’s still going to be one step off.”

Conductor Valery Gergiev, who uses both the iPhone and iPad, agreed. “Technology will never replace the live sonority, the live impression from the human voice, beautifully heard in an opera house.”

Hahn sees a “common misperception” that all artists are playing the same piece the same way. “But we’re not,” she said. “We can take completely different speeds, linger in certain places and interpret the mood differently.”

And that’s why, Hahn added, logically-based Shazam!-like programs will probably never be able to identify a live encore. “It would be pretty funny if it could,” Hahn said. “But how would a phone pick up an encore from the back of the hall? You can imagine this rush of people coming to the stage sticking up their iPhones -– a mosh pit for Shazam!”

-- Rick Schultz

Photo: Hilary Hahn playing in 2010 with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducting. Credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times

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