Hilary Hahn weeps amid JFK flights chaos

Hilary Hahn weeps amid JFK flights chaos


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2023

The violinist had a nightmare at JFK, amid air-traffic control strikes in Europe and knock-on delays, trying to catch a flight to Milan to make her debut with La Scala’s orchestra in the Brahms concerto. After 24 hours, she gave up in tears.

Emmanuel Tjeknavorian will play the concerto tonight.

Hilary tweets: ‘I recovered from my illness, so I thought I was going to be playing in Milan on Monday! However, I am so sorry to share with you that due to problems with my international flights, I couldn’t reach Milan on time for the rehearsals.

‘My team and I were all hands on deck yesterday for 7 hours straight once we knew I was going to have to reroute in JFK. We tried everything.

‘We finally found a solution, but 24 hours at JFK and 4 different itineraries later, it was clear I wasn’t going to make it and the orchestra concurred. It’s so sad, because I was so close and yet so far. I cried in the airport. ‘


  • Nick2 says:

    It’s always hard to comment when one is not in possession of all the facts, including the illness she refers to. But with air traffic control strikes on the cards and an important concert at La Scala, I cannot understand why she would not make absolutely certain she arrived in Milan a couple of days beforehand.

    • Jack says:

      Maybe because musicians have busy schedules, and families and LIVES on top of that?

      We could hardly expect soloists to lead single lives devoid of any outside obligations so that their travel schedules could be 100% secure.

      People seem to also forget that a concert – as important as it may be for the occasional concertgoer – is as “regular” and as much part of a musician’s daily routine, as filing a brief is for a lawyer or cooking a meal is for a chef. Things happen.

      • Nick2 says:

        Jack is of course correct. But the vast majority of concerts are on a tour usually within one country or combined with others close by. A long transoceanic flight is a totally different kettle of fish. All manner of problems can and – as in this case – do arise and it is up to the artist and agent to build in enough contingency to ensure that engagements – especially major ones – can in fact take place. There is a fine balance when it comes to filling up a concert diary and ensuring that the artist is actually able to fulfil all the engagements.

    • Maria says:

      I am inclined to agree with you, unpopular view as it may be, but given the time differences, hours on planes, and trains, and airport hanging around, and what all that does to one’s body, a couple of days there beforehand would have been a wise move.

    • AlbericM says:

      She was scheduled to play the Brahms in San Francisco a week ago. She was too sick to perform. I can imagine it might take her a few days to recover.

    • Althea T-H says:

      According to her IG post, Ms Hahn was obliged to cancel because she failed to reach Milan in time for the rehearsals.

  • Ernest says:

    This is so sad. One more reason not to live in the US for a musician with an international career.

  • John D’armes says:

    Another example of why the US public transportation system is the laughingstock of the world.

    And our culture is suffering for it.

      • John D’armes says:

        It’s not the strikes that are the problem, it’s the general lack of public funding for infrastructure. Just look at US roads and bridges. The airports are the same. Shameful. And Americans keep sending Republicans to Washington. Thanks…

        • Reality Sux says:

          Absolutely untrue. The problem isn’t lack of funding. The problem is that US infrastructure costs are BY FAR the highest in the world. Double of UK, Japan France, even Switzerland. Look at the high-speed rail between San Francisco and LA, which has gone up in estimates from 9 billion to 131 billion is nowhere near finished, so expect more increases. Same for building a subway line in New York City. More than double than anywhere else. Why??

          The mainstream US media usually shrugs and avoids this topic. That’s because researching this would mean putting an uncomfortable spotlight on labor unions and the public sector. Both important constituencies in the Democratic Party, so they get a pass.

          CNBC, hardly a right-wing outlet, recently did a lengthy feature on this, it’s on YouTube. US Infrastructure is expensive because contractors hire contractors who hire more contractors to drink from the trough of taxpayer money ad nauseam, to overengineer projects unnecessarily, adding additional projects along the way and improvements which add more costs, the local government has tremendous ability to gear projects so private pockets get richly lined, overstaffing is chronic as is unnecessary overtime. Additionally, US property rights are sacred and require market value buyouts if needed, as is the right to request additional studies and such by the local populace, which further slows things down and increases costs.

          So there you have it. Stop drinking the Democratic Kool-aid. Not everything is the Republicans’ fault. Sometimes the problem is right under your nose.

          • John D’armes says:

            There is so much untrue about your comment, both factually and in how your interpret your pseudo-facts, that I won’t even bother to try to debate you.

            It’s amazing how smart, cultured people (which you must be if you are on this site) can’t see the obvious.

            America took a very wrong turn in 1980 and has never really come back.

        • Matt D says:

          Individual cities and regions develop, manage, and fund their own airports, depending on their own needs. Obviously airports form a network that must be tied together and meet safety standards, and that’s where the federal government comes in, i.e. the FAA. That’s how it should be! The federal govt should have no say whatsoever in determining the transportation needs of individual cities/regions, and wasting taxpayer funds thereon.

          Not surprisingly, the airports that are the biggest dung-piles tend to be in heavily left-wing areas. And since they are so wealthy, educated, worldly, and sophisticated, as they always delight in telling the rest of us, one would think they could maintain their own vital infrastructure. Conservative areas, on the other hand, often have facilities that are far above average!

    • The View from America says:

      It’s Donald Trump’s fault. Or Joe Biden’s.

      • Sisko24 says:

        If it’s air traffic controllers, why not blame it on Reagan?

        • The View from America says:

          No, everything is Donald Trump’s fault. Or Joe Biden’s. 🙂

        • Nick2 says:

          What a senseless suggestion! Reagan certainly fired the air traffic controllers. But that was around 40 years ago. If the US transportation industry cannot get its act together after 4 decades, something definitely is very seriously wrong!!

    • Anon says:

      The strikes weren’t in the US.

    • Bigfoot says:

      The US education system seems to be in trouble too, based on your reading comprehension abilities.

    • Liz says:

      What does a private commercial airline system have to do with public transit?

      • John D’armes says:

        That indeed is a big part of the issue. Why do we leave vital services like transportation to profit hungry corporations, with virtually no oversight from the federal government? No wonder it’s virtually impossible to get from point A to B in the US.

        • Matt D says:

          It’s incredibly easy to get from point A to B in the US. I live outside a major US city. Right now I could drive downtown in 20 minutes. I could be there via public transport in less than an hour – that long only because I might have to wait 15 minutes for the first bus leg. Our airport is one of the busiest in the world and has numerous connections all over the country.

  • NYC Joe says:

    Strike? What strike? I am a New Yorker who traveled internationally this week but didn’t hear anything about a strike, or have plans changed. Sounds like she needs a new team.

  • Unvaccinated says:

    The orchestra could mime to her recording…

  • Just sayin says:

    Even before I was finished reading the article, I knew that there would be commenters who would paint this with a broad brush and blame whatever is wrong with America on this, without knowing all the facts, because musicians.

  • Simpson says:

    The ATC strike is in Italy, not in the US. The article somehow forgets to mention that. Of course massive flight cancellations will affect different far away airports. In the 21 century unions are evil, now she knows why.

  • Melissa says:

    Not surprising. US is a bad joke-déplorable infrastructure included.
    Huge taxes and fees for everything except to help their own citizens.

  • Maria says:

    Was she flying first or business class? If so, she could rest, eat in the lounges and shower?

  • Marshall says:

    In any other field-and not mentioned here-other than the sad, poor, status-less backwater that classical music has become-some wealthy patron, or organization would have offered a private jet to Milan. Nothing exotic today-not even terribly “expensive”-it is not even necessary to own one anymore. I remember many years ago a leading tenor had cancelled (was it an Otello) and Domingo was available, but on the wrong continent. But the organization or some patron offered a small jet and he was there in time.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Interesting point. But I would assume that if there’s an ATC strike going on in Milan, then even a private jet couldn’t land there. Perhaps they could land at a private field near by. But if the ATC people are on strike, wouldn’t that mean that the air itself would be basically be unsafe, as they wouldn’t be getting info about other planes in their proximity?

    • Don Hansen says:

      I believe that was the San Francisco Opera.

    • Nick2 says:

      Domingo very regularly travelled/travels by private jet and I’m prepared to bet he never had/had to pay for them. The present one way price for a small jet from NYC to Milan is around $65,000+. That would be vastly more than Ms. Hahn’s fee. Who would Marshall expect to
      pay for that, I wonder?

      • Nick2 says:

        I should have added to my comment that the cost quoted for a private jet was one way. If at what was extremely short notice the jet was unable to pick up passengers in Milan for the return to NYC, the cost to fly Ms. Hahn would have been nearly double!

  • Dixie says:

    For everyone‘s information, there is a link on the Italian Gov‘s website where all strikes are listed: scioperi.mit.gov.it where all dates, areas concerned (national, regional, local), duration, sectors affected and the date when each strike was announced. The Italians are – believe it or not – organized, maybe because they have loooooong history of strikes. If Hilary did not know this, then her
    team should have. In her stead I would not cry, I would change the team!

  • JamesBence says:

    Reading this comment section with disgust. Slippedisc commenters are among the dumbest on the internet.

  • Willem Philips says:

    I have very limited empathy for HJ as much as I admire her prowess and musicianship. She should have left -3+ days earlier leaving 48 hours before the debut concert. I also don’t admire her breaking down and crying. It’s not adult behavior. More should be expected of her. I’ve been canceled, rerouted mid-flight and given a broken seat more than once flying internationally and I didn’t go to pieces. Again, limited empathy. Better planning would have avoided this completely.

    • Dave says:

      This has to be one of the most ridiculous and entitled comment I’ve ever seen on this site (and that is saying something). Seriously, should artists be expected to show up days before a rehearsal just to make sure they don’t inconvenience you with occasional cancellations, their families and ability to make a living with other performances be damned? Or maybe her team should have magically fixed an Italian airport strike in time for her to get there?

      Crying after a day of trying to make it to a performance, desperately wanting to avoid letting down her fans and ensuring that all the hard work of practice pays off, especially after battling back from an illness, doesn’t sound so strange. The comments on this page make me sad about humanity. No wonder we can’t seem to give each other a little bit more forgiveness and grace.

      • Nick2 says:

        “should artists be expected to show up days before a rehearsal just to make sure they don’t inconvenience you with occasional cancellations?”

        Yes, if she is travelling on a transoceanic flight for 8 or more hours and crossing 5 or more time zones into a different content! Having presented a very large number of concerts and recitals over several decades, if an artist was travelling that distance and for that amount of time, our contracts always insisted on arrival a minimum of two days in advance of the concerts. Not one during all that time complained – and I refer to all artists including those at the very top end of the earning scale – objected!

        Several commentators seem to feel that an occasional cancellation is an issue for for the concert management. What about the artist’s reputation? If the concert is regarded as relatively unimportant, the artist may gamble and have little concern about the outcome in the rare event of a cancellation being necessary. If you are an artist of the stature of Hilary Hahn along with the fees she can command (we are not talking here about an artist whose fee is a fraction of Ms. Hahn’s) and you have a very important concert at a venue like La Scala, not at least planning to arrive 2 days prior to a concert speaks volumes about the regard for the importance of a concert.

        As I wrote in my
        first post, we do not know the full background in this case. My comments therefore refer mostly in general and not in particular.

  • Carol Ball says:

    Oh what a loss for the audience and the orchestra–she is the absolute best…..

  • charles Cornner says:

    If you’d heard her Brahms lately you’d weep too!

  • Ike says:

    Oh no! How will the entitled snowflakes go on?!

  • Noyaf says:

    Fantastic violist. She’s in her early 40s, why does she look so old, worn out. Maybe from all the traveling in the us?

  • Paul says:

    You/your staff does what it can to ensure your schedule will work including earlier arrival, etc. With a busy schedule, no one can plan for a random transportation outage. Sad for Hilary❤️

    • Tzctslip says:

      It wasn’t a random transportation outage, unions in Europe announce their strikes with weeks of advance, we know about this and reschedule whatever needs to be rescheduled (and many gladly because we support fellow workers when they have fair demands).
      Why her team didn’t know about this is a mystery.
      If I have an appointment in a different continent I aim to be there 48 his in advance.

  • Nina says:

    Calm down, guys.
    My friend, a young virtuoso violinist and conductor from Russia cannot tour anywhere because of sanctions, and she’s being punished here because of her professional connections (she built before the pandemic) abroad. She’s an independent musician here, but she’s doing a lot of things like concert programs with music by living composers from the US, Asia, Europe.
    A young woman who stands against cruel world of mad men.
    Just think about it.

  • Dan says:

    At least she didn’t lose her violin on a train.

  • A retired musician says:

    Lucky audience!