The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You Must Hear This: Violinist Hilary Hahn plays “Mercy” by Max Richter | March 26, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the gems in the 27 encores that violinist Hilary Hahn commissioned from 27 different composers a couple of years ago is “Mercy” by the German-born British composer Max Richter.

Hahn has played here several times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater but also with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Although Max Richter’s Minimalist music has not been played in Madison as far as The Ear remembers, you might already know his name from the popular recording of his take on Vivaldi in “The Four Seasons Recomposed” or his more ambitious and most current project “Sleep,” which provides music for eight and a half hours of sleeping.

But The Ear confesses he had not heard this moving miniature called “Mercy” until recently, even though Hahn recorded it along with the other 26 encores with pianist Cory Smithe.

He likes it.

And so apparently do a lot of other listeners.

So it is something that is well worth using five minutes of your time to sample.

Write your comments, positive or negative, below.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. In the current issue of BBC Music Magazine, Hilary Hahn rates her DG recording of the 27 encores, “my finest moment.” She says, “As a statement, I’m proudest of the encores project.” She adds that while she loves the pieces in the many existing old encores collections, she, “felt like we had to keep moving forward too so we have pieces that represent our time for the future, when people want to play the old chestnuts from the 2000s.”

    Unrelated, it was great fun to see her in archive footage of Mister Rogers Neighborhood from 30 or so years ago on the PTV pledge special that aired a couple of weeks ago.

    Comment by Anders Yocom — March 26, 2018 @ 7:33 am

    • Great comments, especially the one from BBC Magazine.

      Comment by fflambeau — March 26, 2018 @ 7:47 pm

  2. You’re right. It is a marvellous piece of music, and beautifully played by both pianist and violin.

    The 12 tone people must be kicking themselves: first, the public ditched their kind of music (liked by many academics and door keepers) in favour of composers who kept to romantic, melodic lines (Sibelius, Hovhaness etc.) and next the public is embracing minimalism. Look at how the treatment of Philip Glass has changed.

    This is yet another win for minimalism. After hearing this, I would like to hear more of Max Richter being performed.

    Comment by fflambeau — March 26, 2018 @ 2:31 am

    • I’ve had a chance to read more about Richter and listen to more of his music. You can find lots of it on YouTube, free. I recommend: The Blue Notebooks album and the tracks, On the Nature of Daylight, Iconography, and Vladimir’s Blues, which sounds exactly like a Philip Glass composition.

      It is worth thinking about both composers. Both are highly educated and trained classical musicians (Julliard and the Royal Academy of Music) but both found little favour with the classical music group and their door keepers; in spite of this, they became popular with the public through other media, especially film and now YouTube.

      It is definitely a way for the public to do an end around the usual door keepers. To show you how popular they are, the Blue Notebooks by Richter has over 744,000 views on Youtube. Glass’s compositions, meanwhile, at the same place are in the millions of views. Rather more than Haydn, who is played more frequently by the gatekeepers.

      Thanks for the link to his music!

      Comment by fflambeau — March 26, 2018 @ 3:11 am

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