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Hilary Hahn Revives The Classical Encore

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When Grammy-winning classical violinist Hilary Hahn plays in front of an audience, you can expect classics from Beethoven and Bach, performed with a flair and energy that's uniquely her own. Now, Hillary Hahn has a new project in the works: She wants to bring back the encore.

No, she's not demanding a standing ovation at every concert, with fans begging her to come back on stage. She's trying to get composers to write more encores — short pieces of music that are a staple for violinists. She's recently commissioned a couple dozen of the short pieces as part of her project In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.

"About a decade ago I noticed that there were a lot of collections of popular encores being recorded or printed, and people were really focusing on the pieces that people recognized," Hahn tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish. "I just found myself wondering, 'Where are the new ones?' Because I knew people were writing new short pieces, but I was not seeing them being performed."

Hahn is currently on tour playing Bach and Beethoven as well as 13 commissioned encores. She performed one called "Whispering," by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, at a benefit concert in Bethlehem, Pa. last month. Hahn says the piece is meant to illustrate that there is virtuosity even in quiet.

"There's an idea of the encore being a virtuosic showpiece," Hahn says. "I found that a lot of composers in this project wanted to redefine the term 'encore.' They wanted to create a different kind of virtuosity, or they wanted to create a lyricism or a thoughtfulness that they had missed in certain kind of encores in the past."

Hahn says she understands why encores that are established hits get a lot more play than newer ones.

"You go to a restaurant and you want ice cream for dessert because you know you like ice cream," she says. "Who doesn't like hearing something they already know they love? ... I can definitely see why that is done, and why it should continue to be done. "

However, Hahn says she hopes performing these shorter pieces will give her a chance to introduce people to composers they might not be familiar with, and perhaps even create some new favorites.

"Something new has the chance to speak to someone immediately," she says. "There isn't this expectation of what they're about to hear, so people can be really captivated, really quickly."

Hilary Hahn is currently accepting submissions for the final encore of her In 27 Pieces project. For more information, visit her website.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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