Musician and Vocalist Artist Interviews

Interview: Concert Violinist Hilary Hahn's Tonsillectomy


Hilary Hahn was not having an easy time of it. On November 12, 2006, just 17 days before our phone conversation, the about to turn 27-year old violinist underwent an emergency tonsillectomy.

Ordered to remain silent by her doctor, her recovery compounded by a severe cold, she was forced to cancel the third performance in her 14-year professional career. Now, finally able to eat, and still getting her voice and energy back, she found herself challenged to think straight as she segued from two non-stop hours of being followed around by German Variety Fair to a half-hour phone conversation with this up-against-a-deadline critic.

Hilary Hahn Astoundingly, with the same poise and equanimity that she exhibits during performance, she spoke with such unassuming directness and clarity that I couldn't help wondering how articulate she must be when everything is in working order.

In December, 2006, Hahn performed the Korngold Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and guest conductor David Zinman. A month, she embarked on a 16-day, nine city recital tour. Our conversation included discussions of all the works she was slated to perform.

Less than a week after this interview took place, I had the privilege of attending Hahn's opening night performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony. Though I had heard her live once before, seated a distance away in the dry acoustic of Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall as she played Mozart Sonatas with pianist Natalie Zhu, I was unprepared for the sheer size and generosity of her sound. The notes were so big, so full and rounded, and so glowing with health that even the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony were astounded. At the work's conclusion, they did something I had never seen them do before. Instead of "applauding" silently (as is the custom) by waving their bows and instruments up and down in approval, virtually every musician put their bows and instruments aside and clapped loudly with both hands. Hahn's playing was that tremendous.

After the performance, when I went backstage to thank Hilary for her amazing artistry, When she again apologized for her difficulty communicating during our interview, I told her there was no need to do so. For proof of that statement, read on.