Sameer Agrawal, a CMPI Violin Fellow, describes his experiences at a CMPI masterclass with violinist Hilary Hahn.
On December 11, 2021, I was one of three CMPI violin fellows who had the incredible opportunity to play in a masterclass for esteemed violin soloist Hilary Hahn. Ms. Hahn is the current Artist-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and through the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute collaborates with local organizations such as CMPI.
The class was held on a Saturday morning at Symphony Center’s Buntrock Hall with a small private audience of CMPI fellows and families in attendance. First, thirteen-year-old Kai Isoke Ali-Landing played the third movement of Max Bruch’s violin concerto. She worked with Ms. Hahn on building her sound and shaping some of her phrases. Next was sixteen-year-old Esme Arias-Kim, who played the first movement of Erich Korngold’s violin concerto. A focus for her was interpreting the composer’s markings, and the sound quality of her articulations. Finally, I played the first movement of Antonin Dvořák’s violin concerto.
Before the class started, I found myself feeling uneasy and worried, even though I was really excited since Ms. Hahn is a violinist who I’ve been inspired by for a long time. I anxiously practiced scales and my piece slowly backstage before the class started. However, when Ms. Hahn came into the room to begin the class, her presence and talking to us changed the whole environment from very still and formal to friendly and warm.
Unlike most masterclasses I’ve participated in, Ms. Hahn engaged with each student briefly before we played, asking us about our experiences and thoughts about the piece we were playing. Perhaps as a result of this, I found myself hardly nervous during the initial performance, and instead comfortable and excited to work with Ms. Hahn. After the performance, Ms. Hahn helped me create and refine different sounds and moods throughout the Dvořák, using both a technical and artistic approach. I found myself able to construct sounds that I had never known how to create in my violin playing.
After the masterclass, Ms. Hahn talked to the audience about a variety of topics, such as how she practices and her career as a musician. She spoke very openly about how much she had struggled through the pandemic with so many of her performance opportunities canceled. It was very eye-opening to learn about her experiences, especially as she is a huge inspiration to so many of us. In addition, she also described her commitment to championing more compositions from underrepresented composers, both new and old.
After the masterclass and also hearing Ms. Hahn’s incredible CSO performance the night before of the same Dvořák concerto, I found myself with a deeper understanding of Dvořák’s violin concerto, as well as violin playing in general. This opportunity is definitely one which has had a great impact on my journey as a musician, and I am so thankful to CMPI, the CSO, and Hilary Hahn for making it happen.
Top: Hilary Hahn and Sameer Agrawal. Photo Credit: Anne Ryan and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra