Johann Sebastian Bach’s biggest fan is quite possibly a thirteen-year-old girl from Palo Alto, CA. But pianist Hilda Huang is way beyond most thirteen-year-olds. For starters, she wowed a national audience with her music, (and her Bach obsession), two years ago on the PBS series From the Top at Carnegie Hall, and did it all over again on From the Top’s radio show three months later.
She turned her devotion to Bach into the “I Love Bach” project, aimed at helping connect audiences with the works of the beloved composer. Her project earned her a prestigious Davidson Fellowship, a chance to speak in the Library of Congress, and captured the attention of the Glenn Gould Foundation. (Incidentally Glenn Gould, her favorite pianist, first inspired her to play Bach).
When she sent filmmaker Michael Lawrence a video she made about Bach, he gave her a role in his documentary, The Bach Project, now in post-production. And on August 25, you’ll be able to hear her play the work of her favorite composer on the new CD, From the Top at the Pops.
She’s got the talent of a professional and the vision of a mastermind, and for all her accomplishments, she still has the spunk of a normal kid. So I called Hilda to talk about life, and her love – for Bach.
– Lily Kaiser, From the Top intern
From the Top: So, you’re still obsessed with Bach, right?
Hilda: I’m still very obsessed with Bach. There’s a lot of complexity in his music, and even though it’s so complicated, when you listen to it, it sounds so simple and elegant that it’s amazing that he could have composed that.
From the Top: What’s your favorite piece of Bach’s?
Hilda: I have to say The Art of Fugue, which was the last set of fugues that he wrote. He starts off the entire series with one theme and the rest of the six fugues he relates to that theme. It is absolutely spectacular that he could take four measures of music and do so much with it. He inverts it and plays with it.
From the Top: What was it like to be a part of Michael Lawrence’s documentary, The Bach Project? How did you get the chance to be in it?
Hilda: I just sent a tape to him the year before and about six months later, he sent an email back and said I could have a little part in the film. We did a one-day taping where I played The Art of Fugue and did a short interview. Michael Lawrence is the sweetest guy ever. It was so nice just to be able to interview with him for a day, and it was a big honor to work with a big artist that I know.
From the Top: We saw a piece of the video you made when you were on From the Top at Carnegie Hall. How did you feel about being on TV and radio with us?
Hilda: I’d never been on From the Top before and to immediately be on TV was a bit stressful. But, it was really fun to get to know Christopher O’Riley and Tim [Banker, Producer], and Tom [Vignieri, Music Producer]. Radio was a bit easier, they darkened the hall a bit so you were not too aware of all the people. I felt a lot more relaxed and so much more free and able to have fun.
From the Top: What was it like to record with From the Top and the Cincinnati Pops on From the Top at the Pops?
Hilda: Oh my gosh, it was so fun. I got to meet a bunch of new people:
Chad Hoopes, Caroline Goulding, Matt Allen. It was so fun to just interact with Christopher O’Riley again and all the staff. To be able to play with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops was a great honor as well. I’d never actually recorded or played with an orchestra before, so it’s fun to say I played with my first orchestra and it’s the Cincinnati Pops! And we did three concerts, not just one. And recording, that’s even better!
From the Top: I hear you are participating in the International Bach Competition this coming spring. Are you excited? How are you preparing?
Hilda: Yes, I’m going to Germany next spring! I’m very excited. I just have to learn a lot of music!
From the Top: You had a little disaster before your performance at Music@Menlo a few weeks ago. What was it, and how did you cope?
Hilda: I broke my wrist. During Music@Menlo festival, after rehearsal, I was walking to play soccer and I tripped on the grass and fell backwards! I don’t know what happened. For my concert, my friends and I played a four-hand piece with three people instead of two. One played the bottom part and one played my left hand part. It was very crowded, but so fun. Having three people means there’s one other person to look at and follow.
From the Top: How cool was it to be a Davidson Fellow?
Hilda: So cool! I went to the Library of Congress and made a speech there. The Library of Congress is so beautiful, there are paintings all over the walls – it’s the most gorgeous building I’ve ever been to. [In my speech], I talked about my project and how I want more people to experience Bach. I made a little ending joke about asking people to download more Bach onto their iPods, and I shared my vision.
From the Top: What’s your vision?
Hilda: I think that people should learn so much more of Bach’s music because there’s so much character and logic in his music that if you break it down and take out all the sounds, it looks like a math equation, but when you put it together, it looks like a beautiful piece of art.
Editor’s Note: The interview is based on a phone call with Ms. Huang and attempts to stay as true to her own words as possible.