Courtesy of IMG Artists

William Boughton, the director of the Yale Symphony Orchestra, spots the woman standing in the back of the room and raises his hand, stopping the orchestra. She needs no introduction. The orchestra erupts into applause.

Three-time Grammy Award winning violinist Hilary Hahn visited Yale this week as an artist-in-residence at Timothy Dwight College, working with student musicians and composers through a series of meetings and masterclasses. Throughout the week, undergraduate student musicians met with Hahn through small group dinners, a visit to a Yale Symphony Orchestra rehearsal and violin and composition masterclasses. She also hosted a masterclass with musicians in the Yale School of Music.

“Her visiting Yale was another one of those ‘wow, I go to Yale’ moments—[she] lit a new spark that will propel my musical inspiration further than it has ever gone,” said Nate Strothkamp ’26, a violinist in the Yale Symphony Orchestra who played in the masterclass with Hahn.

The smaller settings of classes and dinners allowed student musicians to interact one-on-one with Hahn, who Strothkamp called ”unquestionably one of the most renowned violinists of our time.”

Kyung Yu, a lecturer in violin at the Yale School of Music and the director of the music lessons program at Yale College, emphasized the importance of bringing in artists like Hahn. Yale College does not have a music performance degree, Yu said, so it can be difficult to make opportunities like Hahn’s visit happen for serious undergraduate musicians. 

“The musicians in Yale college, they rank up there — they are truly gifted, and there are some really amazing performers here,” Yu said. “Hahn gives masterclasses at conservatories all over the world, but she was really thrilled with the idea of working with Yale College students for whom music is just a part of what they do instead of students who are much narrower in focus, and she really enjoyed the responsiveness of the students.”

Last spring, Hahn visited Yale as a Chubb Fellow, a fellowship program also administered by Timothy Dwight College that “annually [brings] in local, national, and international leaders to campus to receive Yale’s highest honors for a visiting lecturer.”

[Last spring] was such a success that we asked her to come back, and she said yes, so we thought the best thing to do would be to create an artist-in-residence for her,” said Head of Timothy Dwight College Mary Lui.

On Tuesday, at the undergraduate violin masterclass, four violinists, all of whom are in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, performed for Hahn. After walking in to enthusiastic applause, Hahn explained to the audience that she does not bring her instrument to masterclasses because she believes each person is different and she doesn’t want to force her style of playing on anyone. Instead, she said, “I ask a lot of questions, trying to understand how I can help each unique musician.”

“What is something you are proud about?” she asked each violinist before they performed.

Strothkamp was one of the violinists that performed for her, describing Hahn as “the most humble musician [he] has ever encountered.”

Nicholas Cerny, president of Yale Symphony Orchestra, said that Hahn gave them “valuable feedback on technical and stylistic approaches to ensemble performances” in her visit to the orchestra’s rehearsal. Cerny also helped mediate one of the conversations with Hahn.

“We had a wonderful conversation about ways we can keep music fresh as we’re practicing and the various ways music serves a purpose in our individual lives, and there was a wonderful combination of students who were hoping to go into the profession with students who play for fun on the side,” Cerny said. 

More than simply giving violin technique advice, Cerny and Lui emphasized how Hahn views musicianship both in and outside of a career path as a musician.

“From being with [Hahn] for past couple days, I’ve realized that what she really is talking about is a message of connection, music, a sort of authentic sense of presentation,” Lui said.“But she talks about how anybody who believes in music, loves music, should and can play — should call ourselves musicians.”

Hahn will return to Yale in April. As an advocate for contemporary music, she plans to hold workshops with composers and performers of their works, where she will give performers ideas on how to approach studying contemporary music and also advise composers on how to more meaningfully help performers play their music, said Yu.

Hahn is currently the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first ever artist-in-residence.

Tobias Liu covers the School of Music and the undergraduate music scene. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College from Johns Creek, Georgia majoring in Economics and Molecular Biology.