Gil Shaham Plays Walton and Other “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” with Orchestras of Philadelphia, New York, and Aspen

Gil Shaham’s recent account of William Walton’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony was “a goose-bump experience – an event to remember” (Houston Chronicle). Now the Israeli-American virtuoso makes Walton’s masterpiece central to his long-term exploration of the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” performing it with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Charles Dutoit in Philadelphia (May 12-17) and Washington, DC (May 20); with the New York Philharmonic and Ludovic Morlot in New York (June 16-18) and at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (July 27); and with the Aspen Concert Orchestra directed by Christopher Seaman at the Aspen Music Festival (July 6). At Aspen Shaham also presents three further concertos from the same turbulent decade: Bartók’s Second (July 8), the Stravinsky (July 12), and Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre (July 21).

The ongoing “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project was conceived when, as the Los Angeles Times describes, “one of the era’s star fiddlers, 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.” In an in-depth feature on the enterprise, the Wall Street Journal explains,

“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.”

These include the sole violin concerto of William Walton, which dates from 1938-39. Best-known today for the succès de scandale of his chamber entertainment Facade, in the 1930s Walton was considered the most important English composer of his generation. Shaham describes the genesis of his concerto:

“The great Jascha Heifetz commissioned the work and premiered it with the Cleveland Orchestra. Walton wrote the piece while in Italy, and there are obvious Mediterranean influences, especially in the second movement tarantella. Elgar’s Violin Concerto seems to be the Walton concerto’s closest spiritual partner. If, as it has been said, Elgar’s concerto is the story of love lost, then Walton’s is the story of love regained – or perhaps love re-won.”

Consequently, Shaham confesses wanting to revisit the work “again and again and again,” and it figures prominently in his current programming. He gives four accounts of the concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra under its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Charles Dutoit, the first three in the orchestra’s home (May 12, 14, & 17), and the last at Washington’s Kennedy Center (May 20). The most recent of Shaham’s numerous collaborations with Dutoit was at the Bravo!-Vail Valley Music Festival this past summer; likewise at Tanglewood he performed with Ludovic Morlot, who guest conducts the New York Philharmonic in three further performances of the Walton concerto at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall (June 16-18). Shaham reprises the work with the same forces for his guest appearance at Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (July 27), and it is also with the Walton that he kicks off the summer season across the Rockies at the Aspen Music Festival, where British conductor Christopher Seaman, artistic director of the San Antonio Symphony, directs the Aspen Concert Orchestra (July 6).

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