On June 25th 2012 ‘Silfra’, the debut album by American double Grammy winner Hilary Hahn and cult German pianist Hauschka is released on Universal/Deutsche Grammophon.
Twelve stunning pieces of transcendental, avant garde beauty, these strictly improvised recordings have been captured in pristine fashion by producer Valgeir Sigurõsson, known for his work for with Björk, Camille and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.
At times joyous and at others grippingly unsettling, ‘Silfra’ can be adored on its evocative merits as beautiful instrumental music in the lineage of vanguard neo-classical pioneers.
From the serene moods set by self explanatorily titled pieces like ‘Stillness’, into the musically onomatopoeic ‘Bounce Bounce’, the album is engrossing and vividly visual. If given full attention, ‘Silfra’ has a transporting quality which will lead to the conclusion that it stands out as unique from anything else you may’ve recently listened to. The sparse ingredients achieve a sonic expanse, using simply violin, plus the notes and subtle click-whirr percussion of prepared piano.
‘Silfra’, named for the geographic feature near Reykjavik, Iceland, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, represents the breathtaking locale where the album was recorded but also signifies the unfamiliar terrain where these two distinct musical minds met to collaborate.
Spending ten days at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik in May 2011, “we felt that we could go anywhere we wanted within the music we created it in an environment that allowed us the freedom and independence to explore”, the pair explain in the album’s liner notes. That prepared piano and violin could sound so perfectly suited is surely indicative of the musical chemistry that their groundwork and setting created. Ranging from the exotic to the serene and from the atmospheric to the playful, Silfra is phenomenally intriguing and spans a breadth of emotions and styles.
Recognized as “one of the greatest violinists in the world today” (Washington Post) Hilary Hahn is highly established in the classical world but also likes the break the mould when it comes to expanding her musical palette, having collaborated with …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Josh Ritter, and Chris Thile. Thanks to seven acclaimed albums on leading UK independent label FatCat plus breathtaking live performances, the experimental composer and pianist Hauschka has won a mass of UK fans.
Hahn and Hauschka’s ambitious and innovative musical partnership began in early 2009. Their paths crossed on a suggestion from a mutual friend, folk musician and Hauschka labelmate Tom Brosseau. “Tom had mentioned Hauschka more than once as someone I must meet,” recalls Hahn, who appeared on Brosseau’s 2007 ‘Grand Forks’ album and performed on his subsequent tour. “And Tom doesn’t casually toss around ideas like that, so I paid attention,” she adds.
After a backstage introduction in Hauschka’s current home-town Düsseldorf and a brief guest appearance onstage in San Francisco, Hahn and Hauschka began to trade music and meet for
free-form improvisation sessions. When they eventually arrived at Greenhouse Studios, they did so without set artistic intentions or musical sketches. In fact, they weren’t even committed to the idea of releasing the resulting music commercially. Their goal was to challenge themselves to find their musical voice as a duo, integrating the prevailing mood and their spontaneous impressions into their recordings. Hahn offers, “You’re hearing exactly what evolved at the moment it came to life, in every second of this album. It was such a rewarding experience making the record that I get a little nostalgic when I hear it.”
Two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn has gained international recognition for her probing interpretations, compelling stage presence, and commitment to a wide repertoire as well as newly commissioned music. Hahn appears regularly with the world’s top orchestras and on popular recital series in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. In the fifteen years since she began recording, Hahn has released thirteen solo albums, in addition to three live performance DVDs, an Oscar-nominated movie soundtrack, and various compilations. In 2009, she released an album of Tchaikovsky and Higdon concertos on Deutsche Grammophon; ‘the Higdon concerto’, which Hahn commissioned, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Her last album on DG is a recording of Charles Ives’s violin sonatas. Hahn celebrated that release with a concert at John Zorn’s The Stone in New York City. Outside the classical world, Hahn has collaborated with Tom Brosseau, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Josh Ritter, and Chris Thile. She keeps a collection of her writings at www.hilaryhahn.com. Her ‘violin case’ Tweets from the road can be read at twitter.com/#!/violincase.
Hauschka, the musical alias of Düsseldorf, Germany-based Volker Bertelmann, is predominantly known throughout both the classical and experimental music worlds for his seven albums since 2004 that explore the possibilities of the prepared piano. By modifying the piano’s innards with an assortment of odds and ends such as gaffer tape, aluminum foil, bottle tops, bells and ping pong balls he transforms the pure tuned instrument into mini rhythm sections.
Inspired by prepared piano forefathers from Eric Satie and John Cage to contemporary performers like Max Richter and Yann Tiersen, Bertelmann is a prolific musician whose work has continually developed from his early solo improvisations to include electronic elements. Rather than striving for any purist academic perfection, Volker’s playing is as much informed by modern electronica or Indonesian gamelan as it is by any classical cannon.
No stranger to collaboration, Volker is a member of Music A.M. along-side Stefan Schneider (To Rococco Rot). He’s also worked with novelist and former Long Fin Killie frontman, Luke Sutherland, San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra and has recorded with members of acclaimed bands Calexico and múm, both of whom contributed to his last solo release, Salon Des Amateurs, his homage to electronic dance music.
In addition to his records, Bertelmann scored the feature film ‘Glueck’, produced by Constantin Film and directed by Doris Doerrie. His videos have been twice nominated for the UK Music Video Award and in 2010 he composed music for two major theater pieces at the Frankfurt and Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus. His evocative compositions have also been used in the world of dance: ‘Red Pencil’ was used by Ballet Austin in 2011 and Stephen Shropshire used his music in his piece ‘Dance Work Orange’.
‘Silfra’ is testament to Deutsche Grammophon’s commitment to new musical ideas and follows on from other landmark recordings including Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald’s classic ‘ReComposed by’ album.
Hilary Hahn and Haschka headline the Yellow Lounge, London on May 11th. Like the album, the concerts will be improvised and promise to be equally mesmerizing. www.yellowlounge.co.uk.
Hauschka: www.hauschka-net.de / www.facebook.com/#!/HauschkaMusic
Hilary Hahn: www.hilaryhahn.com / www.facebook.com/#!/hilaryhahn / twitter.com/#!/violincase