Gil Shaham's concerto engagements include Mozart, Bartók and Walton

Gil Shaham’s Concerto Engagements Include Mozart with San Francisco Symphony and Tilson Thomas This Winter

Gil Shaham’s winter line-up – featuring high-profile orchestral collaborations, intimate solo recitals, and repertoire ranging from the time-honored to the 20th-century – typifies the versatility and dedication that help make him “one of the era’s star fiddlers” (Los Angeles Times). Four dates playing Mozart’s Fifth (“Turkish”) Concerto with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony headline Shaham’s winter season (Dec 8-11). In the New Year, he also resumes two longterm projects: his all-Bach solo recitals, and his exploration of the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” with upcoming performances of Bartók’s Second at the Seattle Symphony and Walton’s Concerto with orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, “Turkish” – the last concerto the composer would write for the instrument – is a favorite of Shaham’s. In October, he performed it for his conductorless engagement with the Chicago Symphony, directing from the violin and delighting the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein with “the combination of sweet, soaring tone, stylish phrasing, and ebullient vigor one has long associated with his playing.” Likewise, after Shaham’s account of the concerto at New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival in August, the New York Times’s Allan Kozinn observed:

“Mr. Shaham’s playing was both sweet-toned and trim, every phrase crisply articulated and, in the first two movements, thoughtfully shaped. In the finale,…the demand is for zest rather than thoughtfulness, and Mr. Shaham gave it all the vigor it wants with no sacrifice in clarity or shape. His choice of cadenzas – he played Joseph Joachim’s – suited the subtle virtuosity of his approach to the work as a whole.”

Now Shaham reprises the work for four dates (Dec 8-11) with the San Francisco Symphony and its Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, with whom his recent Carnegie Hall collaboration was deemed “absolutely electrifying” (San Francisco Chronicle). Complementing the concerto are two 20th-century American works – John Adams’s Harmonielehre and Henry Cowell’s Synchrony – that round out the program.

The ongoing “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project was conceived when, as David Mermelstein describes in the Los Angeles Times, “Shaham began musing about his favorite 20th-century violin concertos at the turn of the millennium. He found to his surprise that most were written in the 1930s.” As Barbara Jepson reports in a Wall Street Journal feature,

“In the 1930s, horrific developments in Europe ultimately swept more than 50 countries into the most destructive global conflict ever known. Coincidentally during that decade, at least 14 significant composers wrote violin concertos, many for the first time.”

Although, as Shaham admits, he initially undertook the project as an excuse to play his favorite music, he points out that “there’s something about a great work of music that’s like a sculpture. It doesn’t matter which angle you choose to look at – you can learn from it.”

William Walton’s Concerto (1938-39), which the violinist confesses wanting to revisit “again and again and again,” features prominently in his winter programming. For three dates (Feb 3, 5, & 6, 2011), Shaham takes the concerto to the Houston Symphony and Hans Graf. Later that month (Feb 23-25), Shaham makes three appearances playing Walton with Zurich’s Tonhalle-Orchester under David Zinman, with whom the violinist’s countless collaborations have included recording Elgar’s Violin Concerto, and two more with Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony (March 11 & 12).

Shaham’s recording of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (1937-38) with Boulez and the Chicago Symphony was greeted by Time magazine’s Terry Teachout as a “soaring interpretation, at once fiery and nobly lyrical,…a near perfect realization of a modern masterpiece”; Teachout went on to style him “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.” Now Shaham returns to the verbunkos-style work with the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz, who celebrates his 26th and final season there as Music Director (Jan 5-8).

Shaham also resumes his all-Bach solo recital project in the New Year, with performances in Genoa (Feb 21) and Baltimore (March 20). As he explains,

“Playing solo Bach is a long-term project for me. …It’s an incredible thing for me to spend an hour alone with my violin and Bach’s music. When I practice it I give myself an hour, but when the time is up I immediately want to continue my work, adding 15 minutes, then another 15 minutes – it’s very hard to stop.”
His efforts haven’t been in vain; when Shaham played Bach’s Unaccompanied Sonata No. 2 in the Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers” series, he impressed the New York Times’s Steve Smith with his “understated solemnity in the opening movement [that] set the stage for a powerful, lucid account of the astonishing fugue that followed. The dancing Andante came as a sigh of relief.”

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