January 21, 2015

“In a world full of outstanding violinists, Shaham is one of the few identifiable by sound and style alone.”
Boston Globe

For American master violinist Gil Shaham, spring sees the culmination of a project more than three decades in the making. After more than 30 years of private study and ten years of live public performance, the Grammy Award-winner has finally committed his interpretations of Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin to disc, to be issued by his own CD label, Canary Classics, on March 10. Shaham’s solo Bach in live performance has been pronounced “simply electrifying” (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and Shaham himself “an impeccable violinist, one capable of bringing out the mechanics and the majesty of Bach in equal measure” (Baltimore Sun). To coincide with the release, Shaham embarks on a U.S. recital tour, giving complete live accounts of his unaccompanied Bach in an original multimedia collaboration with video artist David Michalek at Chicago’s Symphony Center (March 1), L.A.’s Disney Hall (March 29), Sonoma State University (March 27), Santa Barbara (March 31), and Urbana’s Krannert Center (April 23). The violinist also performs selected sonatas and partitas at the La Jolla Music Society (Feb 27) and in Milan (Jan 25).

As one the pinnacles of Western culture, Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin exert extraordinary pressure on players, especially when it comes to recording their performances. Still, with more than two dozen solo and concerto albums to his name – including bestsellers that have earned him multiple Grammys, a Grand Prix du Disque, the Diapason d’Or, and Gramophone’s “Editor’s Choice” – Shaham might be expected to have been immune to such concerns. Instead, he was acutely aware of them. Before committing his interpretations to disc, he not only undertook decades of private practice, but considerable scholarly inquiry too. The liner notes to his new CD-set report, “While he claims not to have a musicological background, Shaham has spent much time reading around the subject and sees research as an important part of the musical journey.” As the violinist puts it, “With great masterpieces like this it’s like looking at a statue from an infinite number of angles. We can learn something different from each one.”

Finding himself “questioning everything,” Shaham approached Bach’s six works from numerous points of view. He debated whether or not to perform them as a set, finding arguments for both sides, but noting: “They were published as a folio of six. … You can even point to some dovetailing between movements and sonatas, one leading into the next.” He investigated Bach’s use of the traditional lament motif (a descending chromatic fourth) and the complicated relationship between the composer’s sacred and secular music, which raised the question of whether the suites should be understood as a kind of Passion narrative.

Shaham explored different approaches to vibrato in Baroque music, eventually finding himself in favor of a compromise. “I use some vibrato, but I try to err on the side of not using too much,” he explains. “Vibrato can be very beautiful as an embellishment. When there’s a repeat in one of the dance movements you can change your vibrato as if using ornamentation, and this can achieve a subtle effect, which makes sense within the music.

After experimenting with a Baroque-style bow and bridge, he discovered that he preferred its softer attack. This in turn confirmed his choice of tempos. “I was surprised when playing with the Baroque bow that because it was lighter it was easier to play faster,” he says. Questioning the slower tempos with which he had always been familiar, he reasoned:

“If the Menuetts of the French Suites or the very famous Minuets from Anna Magdalena’s Notebook fall at a certain clip, then why don’t I play the Menuets of the Third Partita in the same tempo? If you think of how fast the fugue from the Ouverture of the Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major is performed, why was I playing the Fuga of the G-minor Sonata so slowly? … I believe composers often think of violin writing as rapid and brilliant, and in my experience it is rare that a living composer requests that we play slower. So my feeling for the general tempos of this music is faster. It swings better.”

As a result, Shaham’s is a truly unique approach that brings out the works’ dancing rhythms along with their harmonic depth. Indeed, as the San Francisco Classical Voice observes,

“Preferences in performing these suites can be taken to two extremes: very fast, with virtuosity; or very slowly, with soul. Shaham is in the ‘very fast’ camp. What he’s trying for, though, is a combination of fast-with-soul.”

His interpretations are further enriched not only by his thoughtfulness, originality, and willingness to take interpretative risks, but by his innate musicianship and warmth – what Musical America, when naming him its 2012 Instrumentalist of the Year, called his “special kind of humanism.” As the Aspen Times put it, Shaham’s Bach is “nothing short of a miracle”:

“Impeccable technical skill meets a devil-take-the-hindmost bravado and a profound understanding of the composer’s intricate musical architecture, creating an irresistible outpouring of gorgeous sound and glory.”

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 On his upcoming U.S. recital tour, many of Shaham’s performances will be accompanied by original video art from David Michalek, the award-winning visual artist whose work includes Slow Dancing and Portraits in Dramatic Time, both multichannel, mammoth-scale video installations projected on open-air facades at New York’s Lincoln Center, The Hague, and London’s Trafalgar Square. Featuring subjects who include the video artist’s wife, former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan, Michalek’s slow-motion video projections create a striking visual landscape that invites listeners into a deeper state of contemplative focus. Shaham explains:

“I had seen David’s Slow Dancing and found it mesmerizing. I was especially fascinated with the way he used time. It struck me as something very interesting to go along with this music. When I met him, I was thrilled to find that he was inspired by Bach the way I was. We spent a great deal of time discussing the audience’s experience when they hear Bach’s music. Modern audiences today hear this music differently than Bach’s audience in the 18th century. I thought that by use of metaphor and through David’s genius, we could maybe enhance some of the affect and essence of the music.”

Details of Gil Shaham’s upcoming engagements are provided below. More information is also available at the artist’s website: www.gilshaham.com.

 

Gil Shaham: upcoming engagements

Jan 20
Berlin, Germany
Radio Symphony Orchestra / Marek Janowski
Britten: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 15

Jan 23 & 26
Tour with Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg / Emmanuel Krivine
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Jan 23: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Jan 26: Wiesbaden, Germany

Jan 25
Milano, Italy
Serate Musicali|
Solo Recital
J.S. Bach: Partitas Nos. 2 & 3; Sonata No. 2

Feb 12, 13, 14
Minnesota, MN
Minnesota Orchestra / Yan Pascal Tortelier
Korngold: Violin Concerto

Feb 20, 21, 22
Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Orchestra / Robin Ticciati
Berg: Violin Concerto

Feb 27
La Jolla, CA
La Jolla Music Society
J.S. Bach: Partitas Nos. 2 & 3; Sonata No. 2

March 1–April 23
Solo recital tour, with original films by David Michalek
J.S. Bach: 6 Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
March 1: Chicago, IL (Symphony Center)
March 27: Rohnert Park, CA (Weill Hall at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center)
March 29: Los Angeles, CA (Walt Disney Concert Hall)
March 31: Santa Barbara, CA (Granada Theatre, University of California)
April 23: Urbana, IL (Krannert Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

March 5, 6
Frankfurt, Germany
Dallas Symphony Orchestra / Paavo Jarvi
Beethoven: Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op. 56
Nicholas Angelich, piano
Anne Gastinel, cello

March 20, 21, 22
Dallas, TX
Dallas Symphony Orchestra / Jaap Van Zweden
Bach: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

April 12
London, UK
London Symphony Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä
Britten: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 15

May 20, 21
Tokyo, Japan
NHK Symphony Orchestra / David Zinman
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

June 3, 4
Ottawa, ON, Canada
National Arts Centre Orchestra / Pinchas Zuckerman
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto

 www.gilshaham.com

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© 21C Media Group, January 2015