Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Symphony soloist

Gil Shaham’s “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project will occupy a central place in his 2009-10 season as he joins a “who’s who” list of great conductors and orchestras on three continents – including Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tilson-Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra, Robertson and the New York Philharmonic, and Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – for performances of masterpieces by Barber, Berg, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Walton. These works are but five of a remarkably long list of important violin concertos produced in the same decade that Shaham will perform and, in some cases, record in coming seasons. Offering a striking sonic contrast, he will also give a series of solo all-Bach recitals this season throughout Europe, including performances in London (Wigmore Hall, October 22), Istanbul (March 13, 2010), and Cologne (Philharmonie, March 17, 2010). An important highlight for the fall will be the release on Shaham’s own Canary Classics label of an album celebrating the centenary of legendary Spanish composer and violinist Pablo de Sarasate. The recording teams Shaham with violinist Adele Anthony, with whom he will launch the album with a performance on September 29 of an all-Sarasate program at New York’s popular new music club, (Le) Poisson Rouge. In December, Shaham and the New York-based Sejong will tour Asia with Haydn’s violin concertos in C and G major and Mendelssohn’s Octet; an album featuring these artists and this repertoire will also be released on Canary Classics this season.

“Violin Concertos of the 1930s”
Gil Shaham explains the idea behind his “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project:
“I love playing these pieces and I love hearing these pieces. As we entered the 21st century I started thinking back to the great music of the last century – thinking specifically about violin concertos – and I realized that many of my personal favorite concertos were written in the 1930s. I wasn’t the only one struck by this idea, as I discovered when we played the Stravinsky concerto in Cleveland earlier this year. During an intermission interview I was asked – completely unprovoked – what it was about the 1930s that produced these concertos. Was it something in the air? After another performance, this time with the National Symphony Orchestra, a very eloquent patron posed this question to me: ‘When this concerto was written, it was a time of great turbulence and trepidation, and people felt they were standing on top of a volcano that was starting to erupt. How is this reflected in the music written at that time, and how does it relate to the music and times that we live in today?’ Great question – and one that I’m not equipped to answer. I’m hoping this project can lead to some interesting conversations.”

An incomplete list of violin concertos written in the 1930s would include masterpieces by Stravinsky (1931), Szymanowski (No. 2, 1932-33), Milhaud (Concertino de printemps for violin, 1934), Berg (1935), Prokofiev (No. 2, 1935), Sessions (1935), Schoenberg (1936), Bártok (No. 2, 1937-38), Bloch (1938), Britten (1939), Hindemith (1939), Hartmann (Concerto funèbre, 1939), Piston (No. 1, 1939), Walton (1939), and Barber (1939). Korngold’s concerto was written between 1935 and 1937, published in 1945, and first performed in 1947. Khachaturian’s violin concerto just missed the cut-off point, being completed in 1940.

Last season, Shaham performed the Stravinsky and Berg concertos, and this season he performs no fewer than five concertos from the 1930s, beginning on September 19 in San Antonio, TX with a soaring masterpiece by American composer Samuel Barber. Shaham gives additional performances of the work with the Kansas City Symphony and Michael Stern (Jan 22-24, 2010), the New York Philharmonic and David Robertson (Feb 25-27, 2010) and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra with Kirill Karabits (May 19-20, 2010). Robertson and Shaham will also team up with the BBC Symphony next summer for a performance of the Barber at London’s BBC Proms (Aug 26, 2010).

This past June, Shaham and Tilson Thomas performed the Berg Concerto together in San Francisco to great acclaim, with San Francisco Chronicle critic Joshua Kosman calling it, “a rendition that, quite rightly, focused all that energy on communication between the performers and the listeners, [of which] the results were transfixing.” On November 5, Shaham and Tilson Thomas encore the work, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican Hall. Soon after, Shaham heads to Los Angeles to give four performances of the Berg concerto with Gustavo Dudamel during his first season as the new Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Nov 19-22). Late in the spring, Shaham gives three more performances of this hauntingly, sometimes harrowingly beautiful work with the Staatskapelle Dresden and David Robertson (Jun 13-15, 2010).

Shaham’s other performances of concertos from the 1930s include six performances of Prokofiev’s richly expressive Second – one with the Kansas City Symphony and Michael Stern, the others with the Saint Louis Symphony and David Robertson, at home in Missouri and on a California tour that includes performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles; seven performances of Stravinsky’s sparkling neoclassical Concerto in D (with Saint Louis and Robertson, Baltimore and Alsop, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Jansons); and two performances of Walton’s Mediterranean-infused Concerto in B minor with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Hugh Wolff.

Sarasate: Virtuoso Violin Works
This month, Shaham adds a captivating new title to the catalog of Canary Classics, the label he founded in 2004. The new recording, Sarasate: Virtuoso Violin Works, teams Shaham with violinist Adele Anthony, to whom he is married, in a celebration of the music of legendary Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). The Pamplona-born composer’s colorful dance- and song-inspired works are not only enormously entertaining and irresistibly appealing, but also full of sometimes hair-raising technical challenges.
Shaham and Anthony both feel a deep connection to Sarasate’s music, and used the occasion of the composer’s centenary in 2008 to pay tribute to his work. One highlight of their activities included a November concert at New York’s Lincoln Center, broadcast live on public television, at which a much-surprised Shaham was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, presented to him by his friend and colleague, conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The season’s festivities culminated in “¡Sarasateada!” – a series of Sarasate concerts in Valladolid, Spain, which were recorded for this CD release. Sarasate: Virtuoso Violin Works will be released in the U.S. on Tuesday, September 29, when Shaham and Anthony will also perform an all-Sarasate program at the popular downtown music club (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City. Shaham discusses the album in a news release that also includes a full track listing, available at this link: Further details are also available at:

The new release marks the debut of Adele Anthony on Canary Classics, for which she will contribute a concerto album in the near future, pairing the popular Sibelius concerto with a work by Australian composer Ross Edwards. Shaham’s previous release for the label showcased Elgar’s epic violin concerto in a critically-acclaimed performance – with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under David Zinman – that was also a surprise Billboard best-seller. Writing for the Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan called it one of the best albums of 2008, noting, “In peak form, with typically responsive phrasing and fetching, natural tone, Shaham receives forceful backing from Zinman and the orchestra.” David Cairns called it a “fine account” in London’s Times, observing, “Gil Shaham plays with a wonderfully pure, true, expressive tone, and phrases like a master.”

Visit for additional information about Shaham’s recordings.

No comments: