On Wednesday evening, during a particularly poignant passage of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, blood began pouring out of the mouth of the young violinist Hahn-Bin.
The violinist Hahn-Bin donned a rainbow flag as a cape at the conclusion of his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, in a program that also included the cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and the pianist Ran Dank.
Tchaikovsky wears his heart on his sleeve. Hahn-Bin, it seemed to me, was making that literal.
It was an unlikely occasion for one of Hahn-Bin’s dazzling, genuinely provocative takes on classical music as performance art. The Young Concert Artists gala at Alice Tully Hall is usually a proper affair, with talented rising artists playing the standard repertory with assurance.
The first half of Wednesday’s program went according to that script. Narek Hakhnazaryan brought sweet, warm tone to Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and Ran Dank met the tremendous technical challenges of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto. But neither had a unique or powerful take on the music: I wanted more intense lyricism from Mr. Hakhnazaryan and a deeper sense of the Prokofiev’s dark side from the genial Mr. Dank.
But it was clear when the audience returned from intermission that something quite different was happening. The stage had been set with a chair of crumpled black plastic and a small set of steps. The concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s placed a violin on the chair. The conductor, Jorge Mester, came in, and the music began.
Hahn-Bin entered, draped in an American flag, which he tossed aside, along with a can of Budweiser, revealing a sleeveless denim shirt over a white tank top stained with red; skintight denim shorts; and chunky black leather boots. When the woman behind me asked what was written on the back of the shirt in big pink letters, I was obliged to tell her: It was a derogatory word for gay men, followed, alliteratively, by “freak.”
The playing that followed was excellent: alternately husky and honeyed, forceful and impassioned. Hahn-Bin’s jerky, aggressive movements — pacing the stage, making dramatic swipes in the air with his bow — heightened the tension between soloist and orchestra that is fundamental to the concerto form.
This is a tension that comes through in any good performance, even a more typical one, but Hahn-Bin’s also touchingly suggested a connection between Tchaikovsky’s aching emotionalism and his agonizing battle with his homosexuality.
Other classical artists, including the pianists Yuja Wang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, have long experimented with unusual concert attire, but Hahn-Bin goes further, evoking something of what Liszt’s deliriously sweaty, grandiosely hypersexualized concerts must have felt like.
After uncertain, ragged playing in the program’s first half, the St. Luke’s ensemble was fully committed by the Tchaikovsky blazing finale, where Hahn-Bin was in triumphal mode, wearing a rainbow flag as a cape and marching up the set of stairs. Whether or not the performance was intended as a nod to President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage a few hours before, the timing was impeccable.