This month sees Gil Shaham launch a season-long partnership with Germany’s Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO). As the Grammy Award-winning orchestra’s 2013-14 Artist-in-Residence, the American master violinist will take part in multiple chamber and orchestral concerts, both in Munich and on an international tour. Over the course of three intimate evenings with the BRSO Soloists, he will perform Bach’s complete oeuvre for solo violin alongside chamber works by Prokofiev and Richard Danielpour (Nov 26), Mendelssohn’s Octet (Feb 17), and Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet (June 23). In the concert hall, he will join the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto under Stéphane Denève (Nov 28), Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto with Yannick Nézet-Séguin (June 26 & 27), and Berg’s Violin Concerto conducted by BRSO Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons, for two dates in Munich (Jan 16 & 17) and on tour both in Paris (Jan 18) and at New York’s Carnegie Hall (May 18).
Shaham explains: “I’ve been working with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years and grew up listening to its recordings with Kubelik. It is one of the world’s top orchestras and having the opportunity to work with its members over such an extended period, and on such a wide range of repertoire, is a rare privilege.”
Shaham’s way with Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin is both thoughtful and original, bringing out their dancing rhythms as well as their depth; his approach is characterized by what San Francisco Classical Voice describes as “a combination of fast-with-soul.” After one of his signature unaccompanied Bach recitals, OpusOneReview marveled:
“Mr. Shaham’s performance was encyclopedic – he seemed to pull it all together – the throbbing, human intensity; the serene, celestial overview; the devil in every technical detail. Personally, I felt humbled by the joy of this performance, and … the audience … went a bit out of their minds.”
With the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Soloists, the violinist will juxtapose Bach’s sonatas and partitas with works for chamber ensemble. Besides masterworks of the chamber literature by Mendelssohn and Brahms, these will include Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes and Kaddish for sextet by Guggenheim Fellow Richard Danielpour (b. 1956). It was Shaham – a dedicated and proactive advocate for contemporary composition – who premiered Kaddish in concerto form with the New Jersey Symphony, succeeding in “transcending expectations” with his “soulful performance” (New Jersey Star-Ledger).
The vehicle for Shaham’s first upcoming orchestral collaboration with the BRSO is Tchaikovsky’s seminal Violin Concerto, in which the Los Angeles Times described his performance as “old-school, big-personality, enormously engaging Tchaikovsky playing, sort of Isaac Stern with ants in his pants. … He plays with a sense of wonder.” The review concluded, “Shaham’s oneness with the music won us all over, and after the big first-movement cadenza, the audience burst into applause. I’ve never heard that happen before.”
For his remaining engagements with the orchestra, the violinist will revisit two concertos featured in his long-term exploration of “Violin Concertos of the 1930s.” Now in its fifth season, the project has been called “one of the most imaginative programming concepts in years” (Musical America). 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. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, Shaham “has made something of a specialty of the Berg concerto.” The New York Times confirms:
“He plays the Berg (written in 1935) with unbridled passion, as if its jagged 12-tone idiom was not a rupture with music’s heroic 19th-century language but an updating. The solo line’s dissonant leaps were often bridged with warm portamenti, and even at its most austere the music never lost its singing quality.”
Similarly, Shaham’s recording of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (1937-38), made with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, was greeted by Time magazine as a “soaring interpretation, at once fiery and nobly lyrical … a near perfect realization of a modern masterpiece.” The magazine went on to christen Shaham “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.”