Press Room

Gil Shaham releases “1930s Concertos (Vol. 1)” with 5 top ensembles on Canary Classics Feb 25

Since its launch in 2009, Gil Shaham’s exploration of “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” has fostered a wealth of collaborations between the Avery Fisher Prize-winner and the foremost orchestras and conductors of three continents. The project has been recognized as “one of the most imaginative programming concepts in years” (Musical America), and Shaham’s inspired renditions of its many masterpieces are universally celebrated. Now the first installment of this monumental journey has finally been captured on disc. Recorded live with four of the world’s preeminent orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, BBC Symphony, and Staatskapelle Dresden – as well as with esteemed New-York-based chamber ensemble Sejong, the resulting 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1 represents a major and unparalleled artistic statement. Due for release on February 25 on the Grammy Award-winning violinist’s own independent recording label, Canary Classics, the double album presents him in live accounts of five of the decade’s most compelling concertos, with examples by Barber, Berg, and Stravinsky conducted by his frequent musical partner, David Robertson; Britten’s concerto led by Juanjo Mena; and Hartmann’s directed by Shaham himself.
“Violin Concertos of the 1930s” was first conceived when, as the Los Angeles Times recounts, “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 to celebrate the project’s inception, the Wall Street Journal explained:
“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.”
It was with the goal of investigating this curious convergence, and the ways that so unprecedented a flourishing of concertos might shed light on the turbulent political events that witnessed their creation, that the violinist first embarked on his multi-season exploration of the genre. As he admits, however, with a characteristic twinkle, “Maybe it’s also just an excuse to play some of my favorite music.”
Offering five composers’ differing responses to the times, the project’s inaugural recording, 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1, is by no means a first collaboration for Shaham and conductor David Robertson, now serving his ninth season as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony. The two have already associated, first professionally and then personally, for more than a quarter of a century. The violinist describes this close and longstanding relationship:
“I actually met David professionally first, 26 years ago.  My first impression was, what a nice man, what a great musician, and what a fantastic conductor. Now we are brothers-in-law! I love hanging out with him on the weekends and working with him.”
It is with Robertson at the helm of London’s BBC Symphony Orchestra that Shaham undertakes Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D (1931). A neoclassical work in four short movements, the concerto owes its open, pared-down sound to the single chord, stretched over two octaves, on which it is based. This past June, the New York Times found the violinist “animated and brilliant” in the Stravinsky, and the Los Angeles Times marveled: “Shaham all but danced it, exuberantly prancing about the stage and playing splendidly.” After an account of the piece with Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony, Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times declared:
“The performance was a knockout. … The ensemble was terrific. Rhythms were dynamic and centered. … But what was really different was the fascinating, outrageous degree of character Shaham and Robertson gave every little Stravinskyan turn of phrase.”
Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (“To the Memory of an Angel”) was written shortly before the composer died, to commemorate the untimely death of Alma Mahler’s teenage daughter. The new CD-set features Shaham’s interpretation of the work with the venerated Staatskapelle Dresden, again under Robertson’s leadership. Of the violinist’s way with the work, the New York Times writes:
“He plays the Berg (written in 1935) with unbridled passion, as if its jagged twelve-tone idiom was not a rupture with music’s heroic 19th-century language but an updating. … The music never lost its singing quality.”
Likewise impressed, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman advised simply: “Get Gil Shaham to play the Berg Violin Concerto. … Then relax – because whatever else may happen, you’ve got a hit on your hands.
In some cases the tumultuous political events of the 1930s directly impacted the concertos’ composition, most notably in the case of Germany’s Karl Amadeus Hartmann, an idealist socialist whose Concerto funèbre was written in 1939 to protest Hitler’s occupation of Prague. According to the New York Times, “Shaham perfectly characterized the work’s anguished and occasionally angry…spirit”; Germany’s Münchner Abendzeitung affirms that, in his hands, the concerto “could hardly have been executed more perfectly. Gil Shaham played from memory and yet mastered every challenge.” For his new recording of the work, the violinist reunites with acclaimed conductor-less string orchestra Sejong, under his own direction. After a previous collaboration with the ensemble, the Santa Barbara Independent concluded that “the ultimate triumph…was in the great blending achieved by the ensemble and the soloist, two powerful forces in the service of a higher cause.”
Challenging to play and somber in mood, Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15 (1938-39) is all too seldom programmed. Yet, as the Chicago Classical Review notes, “This is music that fits Gil Shaham like a well-tailored glove.” When he partnered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Juanjo Mena, Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Manchester, their performance of the Britten – as captured on the new double album – profoundly impressed the Boston Classical Review:
“The ability to project deep feeling from behind a façade of emotional reserve often seems to be a requirement for British music, and Shaham had it in abundance. … Mena and the BSO matched Shaham for accuracy, clarity, and rhythmic impulse without rushing, and made the most of their coloristic opportunities. … Shaham’s pinpoint intonation even in the highest harmonics was a particular pleasure.”
Rounding out the new collection is Shaham’s take on Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (1939), a lyrical work in which he has enjoyed especial success, with the New York Philharmonic and Robertson. When the violinist and conductor teamed up to play the concerto at London’s BBC Proms, The Guardian responded with a five-star review, pronouncing Robertson the “ideal conductor,” and Arts Desk applauded the violinist’s “big-hearted and inquisitive playing.” Similarly, after a recent account of the concerto with the New York Philharmonic, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times observed:
“In [his] vivid and sensitive performance, the Barber sounded wonderfully fresh. Mr. Shaham played…with plush sound and affecting restraint. He brought warmth touched with impetuosity to the contemplative slow movement, and his dazzling account of the perpetual-motion finale had flawless precision and gleeful command.”
Details of 1930s Violin Concertos (Vol. 1) and of Gil Shaham’s upcoming engagements – including performances of Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony in Munich, Paris, and at New York’s Carnegie Hall – are provided below. More information is also available at the artist’s web site:
Gil Shaham plays 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1
2 CD-set from Canary Classics
Release date: February 25
CD 1
Samuel Barber: Violin Concerto (New York Philharmonic / David Robertson)
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto (Staatskapelle Dresden / David Robertson)
Karl Amadeus Hartmann: Concerto funèbre (Sejong / Gil Shaham)
CD 2
Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto (BBC Symphony Orchestra / David Robertson)
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto (Boston Symphony Orchestra / Juanjo Mena)
Gil Shaham: upcoming engagements
Jan 24 & 25
Miami, FL
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst
Jan 31; Feb 1 & 2
Houston, TX
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Houston Symphony / John Adams
Feb 5
Kansas City, MO
Solo Recital
Harriman-Jewell Series of William Jewell College
Feb 6
Cleveland, OH
Solo recital: Bach
Cleveland Museum of Art
Feb 9
Denver, CO
Solo recital
Friends of Chamber Music
Feb 19
Paris, France
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Orchestre de Paris / James Gaffigan
Salle Pleyel
Feb 23
Baltimore, MD
Bach: Sonatas and Partita for solo violin (BWV 1001, 1002, & 1003)
Shriver Hall Concert Series
March 16
New York, NY
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Zubin Mehta
Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium)
March 20-22
St. Louis, MO
Korngold: Violin Concerto
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra / David Robertson
Powell Symphony Hall
April 4 & 5
Austin, TX
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Austin Symphony Orchestra / Peter Bay
April 10-12
Washington, DC
Korngold: Violin Concerto
National Symphony Orchestra / James Conlon
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
April 24, 25, 27
Los Angeles, CA
Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 2
Los Angeles Philharmonic / Stéphane Denève
Walt Disney Concert Hall
May 9
London, UK
Bright Sheng: Violin Concerto (European premiere)
BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo
Barbican Centre
May 18
New York, NY
Berg: Violin Concerto
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Mariss Jansons
Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium)
June 12-15
San Francisco, CA
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2
San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas
June 26 & 27
Munich, Germany
Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 2
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin
#          #          #
© 21C Media Group, January 2013

Return to Press Room