By Megan Westberg
Hilary Hahn has spent a lot of time thinking about her new edition. A lot of time. I get a sense of how deeply she’s been in the weeds by about 10 minutes into our conversation, as she animatedly describes the phrasing choices of pianist composers (sometimes involving perplexingly long slurs), which composers allow a great deal of freedom to the performer while others expect strict adherence to the markings in the score, and how (and if! and where!) to indicate the choices she’s made in her recently released In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. It is to be expected, given the amount of time that Hahn has spent with this music—almost a decade since she first commissioned the pieces for her popular encores project, with a subsequent recording released in 2013—and this dedication to every detail has undoubtedly earned many of the accolades trumpeted throughout the composers’ program notes (included in the edition) about the violinist. These pieces clearly have an active and wholehearted advocate.
“I’m really proud of how user friendly it seems to be,” Hahn says of her new edition. “I’ve made a lot of decisions to make it very readable, to maintain the integrity of each piece.” It is readable—almost luxuriously so. The pages are tidy and uncramped, the notes ambling across each page in a typeface big enough to save players the need to squint or reach for glasses. Hahn was especially careful about what appeared with the music, and how it was presented. “I really tried to make sure that anything I wrote wasn’t breaking a composer’s indications, and that I was very conscious to keep things organized as possible as far as things that I added to it so that you could still see the character of each piece.”
Her own performance notes are in the front, meant only to convey information—choices she’s made over the course of premiering these words, things she’s picked up from the composers—but never, she stresses, to influence a player’s interpretation. “I tried to provide an experience where people have what they need to jump into the content of the work rather than the logistics of the work,” she says, “and yet they’re not told how to play it, so that they can still have the experience of discovery.”
And who does she hope charts this new realm of discovery? “I kept in mind three kinds of players—or three categories of music enjoyers, shall we say—in the course of making this edition,” Hahn says. The first group: “people of the future,” which includes music lovers who may not actually play themselves. For this group, she hopes the edition serves as a historical reference, because, she says, “I’m not always going to be reachable; the composers aren’t always going to be reachable.” Though she maintains that this edition is not an urtext (all of the music is available directly from the composers in its original form as well), she hopes that future players and music lovers will find this a useful resource.
Students—some even as young as ten—who haven’t played a lot of new music before make up the second group she kept in mind. She admits that some of the pieces are quite advanced, but thinks that some are playable for students at tempo, some feasibly at a slower tempo. The terminology included in the front is mostly for this group, who may not be familiar with all of the symbols found within the music, and could otherwise have found themselves unsure as to where to find the answers.
The third category is made up of professionals. “For professionals, you don’t want to get in the way of their process. You want to let them make their artistic decisions—let them be able to write in a fingering without having to scratch out every single one of your markings,” Hahn says. “So I tried to keep it as clean as possible, as professional a layout as possible, just really making it sleek and useable immediately.”
And thus she made a lot of choices that focused on providing a lot of information, but keeping the music clean. It was the volume of choices she faced that was the biggest surprise during this process. “I just had no idea what goes into an edition,” she says, citing house style, how music is proofed, printing terminology, industry standards, and all the considerations that go into laying out a page. “I would not be able to put my finger, before, on what wasn’t working for me about a page, and it didn’t occur to me that it was a choice that someone made at some point.”
Making this stream of choices while maintaining an international career as a violinist has made this project Hahn’s constant (and longtime) companion. “It was something that lived with me for years as I worked on it, and I would keep chipping away at it everywhere I was,” she says, her voice bright with enthusiasm. “I’m proud of it!”