Press Room

Gil Shaham’s new Elgar Concerto recording with CSO

November 2008 brings the worldwide release on Canary Classics of Gil
Shaham’s recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra under David Zinman, taken from live performances in
Chicago in February 2007. iTunes will offer the album for digital
download beginning Tuesday, November 4, to be followed two weeks later
by the CD release on November 18.

“It’s a huge piece,
canvassing so many powerful emotions,” says Shaham, who calls Elgar’s
nearly 50-minute-long violin concerto, “one of the most demanding works
in the repertoire.” Indeed, the soloist’s role is so formidable that
Shaham compares it to one of opera’s most notoriously challenging
roles, adding, “It’s almost like the tenor part in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde!
At certain points, the composer sets the violinist up for battle with
the orchestra, and overall the concerto makes a huge musical statement,
taking you on a marathon musical journey. It’s a piece you can lose
yourself in.”

Shaham, who began his international career
as a teenager, did not learn the Elgar when he was training with such
teachers as the legendary Dorothy DeLay, Samuel Bernstein, Jens
Ellerman, or Hyo Kang. He explains:

knew of the piece, but it was David Zinman who encouraged me to
approach it. About 15 years ago, he told me that it was his and his
wife’s favorite concerto and that I absolutely had to learn it. He was
so passionate about it that I started to study the score. It took me a
few months to learn it … and now I feel the same about it. It’s an
incredible work. I’d always loved Elgar – the symphonies and short
pieces, the cello concerto – but the violin concerto isn’t played that
often, perhaps because it’s such a personal statement and such a major
undertaking. It can be hard to build into a conventional concert
program and it isn’t in every conductor’s repertoire. I now try to play
it whenever I can and am thrilled to have recorded it with Zinman and
this fabulous orchestra, with whom I have enjoyed such a long and
inspiring relationship.

The first time Gil
Shaham performed the work was, appropriately, with Zinman, in Cleveland
about ten years ago. Together they have gone on to perform it on more
than 20 occasions, including three concerts this fall with the Berlin
Philharmonic – the first time the orchestra had played the work since
March 1999. Reviewing the performance for the Berliner Morgenpost,
Klaus Geitel reported, “Edward Elgar’s seldom-heard violin concerto,
one of the most vibrant in the entire repertoire, was given an
outstanding performance…Shaham succeeded in bringing it out from the
overwhelming shadow of the mighty Brahms concerto – thirty years its
senior – with a full and irresistible luminosity. A top-drawer
violinist blessed with a galvanic temperament and a highly talented
conductor commanded the requisite care and understanding of this work
as if born to it.”

Elgar wrote his sole violin concerto for Fritz Kreisler, who gave the
premiere in London in 1910. Observers noted that Kreisler looked pale
and exhausted after the performance, a condition that Shaham feels
accurately describes his own physical state after playing the concerto.
“The concerto is not without its Elgarian enigmas. It integrates many
stories and characters, even if it’s the violin that takes the lead,”
he explains, continuing:

The score
carries the Spanish inscription, “Aqui está encerrada el alma de …..”
(“Herein is enshrined the soul of …..”), a quotation from the
picaresque novel Gil Blas by the French writer Alain-René Lesage
[1668-1747]. It might refer to Elgar himself or to his wife, who had
Spanish blood, but the five dots are now usually thought to represent
the first name of Alice Stuart-Wortley, the woman Elgar nicknamed
“Windflower”. The piece is full of longing. The orchestra starts with a
six-note phrase in B minor, dark and turbulent. An unresolved C-sharp
is there throughout the introductory passage; somehow, we don’t want it
to resolve, but when the violin eventually makes its entrance, the
C-sharp does finally and tragically resolve down to one of the most
tormented of Bs in all of music. The entire concerto derives from the
opening phrase and that unrequited feeling runs all through it. David
[Zinman] suggests playing the violin entrance as if it’s the saddest
music ever written. Elgar said the last phrase of the slow movement was
like the union of two souls, and prior to the very first performance in
1910, violinist W. H. Reed recalls tears running down Elgar’s face at
this very point in the rehearsals.

violinist also points out that Spanish rhythms feature in the piece and
that the famous thrumming pizzicato accompaniment to the final-movement
cadenza could be interpreted as the sound of a huge guitar. “Time stops
for that cadenza, which is filled with memories of what has gone
before. It’s like a dream sequence that draws together elements from
earlier in the concerto. It brings with it a sense of satisfaction, a
feeling that now we can understand what the concerto is all about.”

Shaham’s previous Canary Classics release featured a performance of
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio with pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Truls
Mork. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it “an irresistible recording, performed by three outstanding soloists who collaborate here like a dream.”

A list of Shaham’s upcoming performances follows. For additional information, visit

Gil Shaham plays Elgar’s Violin Concerto
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / David Zinman
Recorded live (Symphony Center, Chicago) in February 2007
Canary Classics CC06, distributed in the US by Naxos of America

Digital download available exclusively from iTunes, November 4, 2008
CD available in the US on November 18, 2008

Gil Shaham: upcoming performance dates, 2008-09 season

Nov 12, 13, 15: Khachaturian Violin Concerto with New York Philharmonic / Boreyko (New York, NY)

Nov 20: Sarasate program with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at the Kaplan
Penthouse, Lincoln Center (New York, NY). Program will be broadcast nationally on PBS-TV’s Live From Lincoln Center at 8 pm

Nov 25 – 30: Brahms Violin Concerto with Orquesta Nacional de España (Valladolid and Madrid, Spain)

Dec 1, 2: Sarasate program, with Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León;
Adele Anthony; Akira Eguchi (Valladolid, Spain)

Dec 8: Mozart Violin Concerto No. 2 and Stravinsky Violin Concerto with
BBC Symphony Orchestra / Robertson (London, UK)

Dec 14: Linton Chamber Music Series anniversary concert (Cincinnati, OH)

Jan 8-10, 2009: Brahms Violin Concerto with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra / Roberto Abbado (Atlanta, GA)

Jan 13: “Shaham and Friends play Brahms”: Program 1 of 3 at Zankel Hall (New York, NY)

Jan 22, 24, 25: Khachaturian Violin Concerto with Los Angeles Philharmonic / Denève (Los Angeles, CA)

Jan 23: Khachaturian Violin Concerto with Los Angeles Philharmonic / Denève (Irvine, CA)

Feb 4: Brahms chamber music at the Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas (Ontario, Canada)

Feb 6: “Shaham and Friends play Brahms”: Program 2 of 3 at Zankel Hall (New York, NY)

Feb 9: “Shaham and Friends play Brahms”: Program 3 of 3 at Zankel Hall (New York, NY)

Feb 14: Stravinsky Violin Concerto with the Lexington Symphony / Nardolillo (Lexington, KY)

Feb 19-21: Stravinsky Violin Concerto with Cleveland Orchestra / Petrenko (Cleveland, OH)

Feb 26-28: Stravinsky Violin Concerto with National Symphony Orchestra / Xian Zhang (Washington, DC)

March 26-29: Khachaturian Violin Concerto with Philadelphia Orchestra / Krivine (Philadelphia, PA)

April 2-6: U.S. tour with Sejong, the conductorless string orchestra:
Haydn Violin Concertos in C major and G major and Mendelssohn Octet

April 23-26: Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 with Munich Philharmonic / Thielemann (Munich, Germany)

May 12, 13: Brahms Violin Concerto with Montreal Symphony / Nagano (Montreal, Canada)

June 3: Bolcom Violin Concerto with Toronto Symphony / Slatkin (Toronto, Canada)

June 10-13: Berg Violin Concerto with San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco, CA)

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