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Gil Shaham plays concertos from Bach to Barber at summer festivals

This summer festival season, Avery Fisher Prize-winner Gil Shaham performs key violin concertos by composers from Bach to Barber.  He tackles the two great Romantic tours-de-force: the Tchaikovsky, at Colorado’s Aspen (July 2) and Bravo!-Vail Valley Music Festivals (July 9), and the Brahms, at two North Carolina festivals, the Eastern (July 31) and Brevard (Aug 8).  In addition to performances at the International Viola Congress (June 19 and 20) and the Aspen Music Festival (July 2, 7 and 13), Shaham will continue both of his ongoing long-term projects, which respectively showcase the violin concertos of the 1930s and the music of Sarasate. The former is represented this summer by the Barber at Cleveland’s Blossom Music Festival (July 24) and at London’s BBC Proms (Aug 26), and the latter at Tanglewood (Aug 22) on a program with Bach’s Double. Finally, at the “Mostly Mozart” Festival in New York City, the versatile virtuoso presents Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto (Aug 3-4).

Shaham begins his 2010 summer schedule at the 38th International Viola Congress in Cincinnati. On Saturday, June 19, Shaham will play the violin in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, and he will be joined by a different young violist in each of the three movements.  At the congress’s final concert on Sunday, June 20, Shaham and his wife, violinist Adele Anthony will contribute to the compelling instrumentation of Brahms’s Sextet No. 1.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D of 1878 is, with good reason, one of the best-loved violin concertos ever written, despite being – with its modal scales and multiple-stop passages – among the most technically challenging works for the instrument.  It has long figured prominently in Shaham’s repertoire, inspiring comparisons with some of the violin world’s biggest names; according to Gramophone, his “fine, bold recording” with the Philharmonia and Sinopoli captured “something of the expressive freedom that distinguished the famous 1929 Elman recording.”  At the Bravo!-Vail Valley Music Festival on July 9, the concerto will be flanked by two other great Russian staples – Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening-night concert, directed by Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Charles Dutoit.

Composed in the same year as the Tchaikovsky, Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D is comparably central to the repertoire and again makes considerable technical demands on the soloist, with formidable use of multiple stopping, broken chords, and rapid scale passages.  There the similarities end, however; where Tchaikovsky’s is a virtuoso Romantic showpiece, the Brahms follows a more Classical, Beethovenian model.   On July 2, Shaham brings the work to the Aspen Music Festival, where he will join the Aspen Chamber Symphony under Hans Graf.   Shaham will perform several more concerts at Aspen, including a chamber music recital on July 7 with his frequent collaborators cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Akira Eghuchi; on July 13, Shaham is a featured soloist in Vivaldi and Telemann concertos in a Baroque Evening with Nicholas McGegan.

Shaham revisits the Brahms concerto at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, when he joins the Festival Orchestra under its music director Gerard Schwarz for the season finale on July 31.  Also in North Carolina, Shaham reprises the concerto at the Brevard Music Center Festival on August 8, when former Artistic Director David Effron returns to conduct the Brevard Music Center Orchestra.

In February, Shaham joined conductor David Robertson at the New York Philharmonic, receiving a warm welcome for his “rich-toned, gracefully shaped performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto” (New York Times). The Barber, which dates from 1939, is one of the works featured in Shaham’s ongoing project exploring the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” conceived when, as David Mermelstein describes in the Los Angeles Times, “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.”  As Barbara Jepson reported 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.” In some cases, the turbulent political events of the period directly impacted the concertos’ composition.  And 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.”

The music director of the Saint Louis Symphony since 2005, Robertson also serves as principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, where he and Shaham resume their partnership, reprising the Barber at London’s BBC Proms on August 26.  The concert marks Shaham’s second performance of the Barber this summer, the first being at the Blossom Music Festival on July 24, when conductor Pablo Heras-Casado makes his debut with the Cleveland Symphony

Before embarking on this exploration of violin concertos between the wars, Shaham commemorated the centenary of legendary Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), paying tribute to the composer with concerts in New York City and Valladolid, Spain, with Adele Anthony.  Recordings of these last performances resulted in an album devoted to Sarasate’s work, in which, according to Fanfare’s Robert Maxham, “Shaham offers a hot-blooded brand of Sarasateana, with headlong, impassioned virtuosity. … Urgently recommended across the board.”

At the Tanglewood Music Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (Aug 22), Shaham performs Sarasate’s most popular work, Zigeunerweisen, and is joined by Anthony for the composer’s Navarro and for Bach’s sublime Concerto for Two Violins. 

If the Classical period is otherwise unrepresented in this summer of Baroque, Romantic, and 20th-century music, Shaham redresses the balance on his return to New York City’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival, with two performances of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, “Turkish” in Avery Fisher Hall (Aug 3-4), reuniting with Pablo Heras-Casado, now at the helm of the “Mostly Mozart” Festival Orchestra.  The concerto – the last Mozart would write for the instrument – is a favorite of Shaham’s, and he gave “a stylish account of the finale” (New York Times) at Carnegie Hall for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s debut last year.  It’s hardly surprising that just last week’s Laurie Niles concluded: “The man has serious chops.”

Gil Shaham – summer festival engagements

 June 19
Cincinnati, OH
International Viola Congress
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante
Corbett Auditorium

June 20
Cincinnati, OH
International Viola Congress
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1
Corbett Auditorium 

July 2
Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77
Aspen Chamber Symphony / Hans Graf
Benedict Music Tent

July 7
Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, op. 101
Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, op. 10
Gil Shaham, violin
Lynn Harrell, cello
Akira Eguchi, piano
Harris Concert Hall 

July 9
Vail, CO
Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Philadelphia Orchestra / Charles Dutoit
Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

July 13
Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 violins in G major, RV 516  
Telemann: Concerto for 3 violins in F Major from Tafelmusik, Part 2
Vivaldi: Concerto for 4 violins in B minor, RV 580, op. 3, no. 10
Harris Concert Hall 

July 24
Cleveland, OH
Blossom Music Festival
Barber: Violin Concerto
Cleveland Orchestra / Pablo Heras-Casado

July 31
Greensboro, NC
Eastern Music Festival
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D, Op. 77
The Eastern Festival Orchestra / Gerard Schwarz 
Dana Auditorium

August 3 & 4
New York, NY
Mostly Mozart Festival
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra / Pablo Heras-Casado
Avery Fischer Hall

August 8
Brevard, NC
Brevard Music Festival
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D, Op. 77
Brevard Music Center Orchestra / David Effron

August 22
Lenox, MA
Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and strings
Sarasate: Navarra, for two violins and orchestra
Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, for violin and orchestra
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Giancarlo Guerrero

August 26
London, UK
BBC Proms
Barber: Violin Concerto
BBC Symphony Orchestra / David Robertson

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© 21C Media Group, June 2010

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