Triple Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn introduces a new single by Michael Abels. The world premiere recording of the aptly named Isolation Variation is released by Deutsche Grammophon on 29 April 2022.
“Isolation Variation was commissioned in 2020 as part of my virtual residency with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County,” recalls Hilary Hahn. “At a time when most of my concerts were canceled or postponed, we decided to seize the opportunity to present a truly global, online world premiere. We commissioned a new solo encore, something I could continue performing when in-person concerts would return. Michael Abels’s work is illustrative and dynamic. I was curious what he’d express in a short work for solo violin, and we got to know each other over video chat as the project progressed. The end result, Isolation Variation, commemorates and validates the experience of being a musician in a time of constant change and uncertainty – the hypnotic, repetitive, yet unpredictable nature of working indefinitely on something you love, a metamorphosis in progress.”
Michael Abels is best known for his original soundtracks for Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning film Get Out (2017) and for the same director’s follow-up, Us (2019), a score which earned him a World Soundtrack Award, among many other accolades and nominations. His film and TV work also includes scores for Bad Education, Nightbooks and the docuseries Allen v. Farrow, as well as Peele’s upcoming movie Nope.
The 59-year-old American composer and producer has also written extensively for the concert hall, and has worked as guest conductor with, among others, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Symphony. His many concert works include At War with Ourselves, for the Kronos Quartet; Emerge, commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony; Delights & Dances, and Winged Creatures, both of which appear on recordings released by the Cedille label; and the opera Omar, co-composed with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Rhiannon Giddens. Omar tells the story of Omar ibn Said, a Muslim African scholar who was kidnapped by slavers and brought to the United States in 1807, and whose autobiography remains one of the few surviving narratives by an enslaved person in the US. The opera will premiere on 27 May at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, with Jamez McCorkle in the title role.
“Isolation Variation is a very special piece to me,” says Abels. “In spite of its rhythmic complexity, writing it felt effortless. It seemed as if the music was already present in the ether, and I was merely transcribing it. I am not sure where this music came from, but it was clearly meant to be here for Hilary Hahn to play. I’m grateful that this music chose me to transcribe it.”
Hilary Hahn is currently Artist-in-Residence with both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Utah Symphony. Renowned as a passionate commissioner and performer of new music, she gave the first performance of Isolation Variation on 12 December 2020. Her credits include concertos by Edgar Meyer and Jennifer Higdon, whose violin concerto earned the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music, Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Deux Sérénades, six solo partitas by the late Antón García Abril, and the pioneering In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. Hahn’s recording of the latter, comprising works by twenty-seven leading composers from around the globe, was released by Deutsche Grammophon in 2013 and subsequently won the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. Always seeking to expand the commissioning landscape, Hahn co-founded the organisation DeepMusic.ai in 2020 with roboticist Carol Reiley. Weaving together the co-founders’ backgrounds in the tech and arts communities, DeepMusic.ai provides a platform for collaboration between composers and artificial intelligence. DeepMusic.ai launched in 2020 with three commissions from Abels, David Lang and Dana Leong, all of whom were assisted by artificial intelligence in composing new works.
Hahn is the creator of the long-running Instagram-based practice initiative, #100daysofpractice, which began in 2017 as a means of transforming the typically gruelling and isolating practice process into a community-oriented, social celebration of artistic development. Hahn has completed the challenge five times in the years since, while fellow performers, students and fans have contributed more than 700,000 posts under the hashtag, documenting practice routines ranging from musical performance to visual, performing and culinary arts, dance and trades.
Hahn is also a prolific recording artist; all 21 of her feature albums for Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and Sony have been Billboard top-ten bestsellers, while three have also been recognised with Grammy Awards. Her most recent full-length recording, Paris, pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of a city that has been close to Hahn’s heart throughout her career, with three pieces united by their connection to the French capital. Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Deux Sérénades, which Hahn premiered in Paris in 2019, appears in its world premiere recording. Also featured are Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which had its world premiere in Paris, and Parisian composer Ernest Chausson’s Poème.