It’s always a burning question. When the performer walks back on stage, what encore will she play? Something slow and meditative, like Bach, or maybe flashy Paganini at breakneck speed? Encore pieces are a revered repertory, which according to Hilary Hahn were “shaped by the performers who preceded us”. So, this stellar violin virtuoso has asked a different question: what should today’s encores sound like?
Her answer came in an ambitious project: commissioning 26 composers to write encore pieces, plus holding an open competition to find a 27th. The result is a ripper, two-disc compilation with one of the most profoundly contrasting arrays of compositional style and language you could imagine. You’ll find older, more established writers, like Finnish master Einojuhani Rautavaara, with newer voices thrown into the mix. Each piece explores a different sound world, and posits a unique idea of what an encore should do. Some works are slow, lyrical and open, others fast, dissonant, and impossibly demanding when it comes to technique and flair. Everyone will have a favourite, but Israeli composer Avner Dorman’s Memory Games is an outright thrill to listen to.
Hahn’s performance is stunning in every encore. She is often lauded for her rich tone and flawless technique, and you can expect nothing less in this eclectic fare that will entrance lovers of new music, and entice those with more traditional tastes as well. Her bravura is matched perfectly with Cory Smythe’s solid accompaniment, which is frequently just as complicated as the violin. Some of these encores have more ‘wow’ factor than others, but this begs another question: does an encore need to be showy? There’s not a hint of ostentation in Hahn’s set of 27, demonstrating that today, ‘virtuosity’ means something more than just flashy fireworks.