Gil Shaham Plays Walton and Other “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” with Orchestras of Philadelphia, New York, and Aspen

04.26.11
Gil Shaham
21C Media Group

From 21C Media Group

Gil Shaham’s recent account of William Walton’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony was “a goose-bump experience – an event to remember” (Houston Chronicle).  Now the Israeli-American virtuoso makes Walton’s masterpiece central to his long-term exploration of the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” performing it with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Charles Dutoit in Philadelphia (May 12-17) and Washington, DC (May 20); with the New York Philharmonic and Ludovic Morlot in New York (June 16-18) and at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (July 27); and with the Aspen Concert Orchestra directed by Christopher Seaman at the Aspen Music Festival (July 6).  At Aspen Shaham also presents three further concertos from the same turbulent decade: Bartók’s Second (July 8), the Stravinsky (July 12), and Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre (July 21).
 
The ongoing “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project was conceived when, as the Los Angeles Times describes, “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.”  In an in-depth feature on the enterprise, the Wall Street Journal explains,
 
“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.”
 
These include the sole violin concerto of William Walton, which dates from 1938-39.  Best-known today for the succès de scandale of his chamber entertainment Facade, in the 1930s Walton was considered the most important English composer of his generation.  Shaham describes the genesis of his concerto:
 
“The great Jascha Heifetz commissioned the work and premiered it with the Cleveland Orchestra.  Walton wrote the piece while in Italy, and there are obvious Mediterranean influences, especially in the second movement tarantella.  Elgar’s Violin Concerto seems to be the Walton concerto’s closest spiritual partner.  If, as it has been said, Elgar’s concerto is the story of love lost, then Walton’s is the story of love regained – or perhaps love re-won.”
 
As the violinist points out, “the Walton is well known and loved in the U.K. but its popularity in the U.S. has lagged by comparison.”  This he considers an oversight:
 
“I see it as being both neo-romantic and a major contribution to modernism. Walton seamlessly juxtaposes tonal textures with twelve tone rows and other surprising innovations. He uses classical textures as well as his unique blend of edgy, brassy jazz. This is a poetic masterpiece by a great craftsman that never fails to move me.”
 
Consequently, Shaham confesses wanting to revisit the work “again and again and again,” and it figures prominently in his current programming.  He gives four accounts of the concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra under its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Charles Dutoit, the first three in the orchestra’s home (May 12, 14, & 17), and the last at Washington’s Kennedy Center (May 20).  The most recent of Shaham’s numerous collaborations with Dutoit was at the Bravo!-Vail Valley Music Festival this past summer; likewise at Tanglewood he performed with Ludovic Morlot, who guest conducts the New York Philharmonic in three further performances of the Walton concerto at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall (June 16-18).  Shaham reprises the work with the same forces for his guest appearance at Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (July 27), and it is also with the Walton that he kicks off the summer season across the Rockies at the Aspen Music Festival, where British conductor Christopher Seaman, artistic director of the San Antonio Symphony, directs the Aspen Concert Orchestra (July 6).
 
An Aspen veteran, Shaham gives four major concerts at the 2011 festival, all of which showcase important violin concertos of the 1930s.  He follows the Walton with Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto of 1937-38, when the composer, a dedicated anti-fascist, struggled with fascism’s increasing hold on pre-war Hungary.  Shaham’s recording of the work with 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”; Time went on to christen Shaham “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.”  The violinist returns to Bartók’s verbunkos-style work twice in the coming months: in Germany, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marek Janowski (June 10-11), as well as at Aspen, where Matthias Pintscher conducts the Aspen Chamber Symphony (July 8).
 
For his penultimate Aspen appearance, Shaham turns to Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto of 1931, a great example of the legendary Russian’s neoclassical writing, which Balanchine would later use as the score for two ballets.  Shaham’s rendition of the work reveals him to be “a consummate technician with an intense emotional side” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer); at Aspen he offers it with the support of the American Academy of Conducting orchestra (July 12).
 
In some cases the tumultuous political events of the 1930s directly impacted the concertos’ composition, most notably that of Germany’s Karl Amadeus Hartmann, an idealist socialist whose Concerto funèbre was written in 1939 to protest Hitler’s occupation of Prague.  With an orchestra of Aspen fellowship students conducted by Vasily Petrenko, Shaham juxtaposes the politically charged work with a favorite Classical one; Haydn’s Fourth Violin Concerto is a staple of the versatile violinist’s repertoire, and it is with this contrasting pair that he closes his Aspen season (July 21).
 
Additional information about Shaham’s recordings is available at www.canaryclassics.com, and a list of his upcoming engagements follows.
 
 
Gil Shaham – upcoming engagements
 
April 29; Berlin, Germany
BARBER: Violin Concerto
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Marek Janowski
Konzerthaus
 
May 5; New York, NY
BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto
  (with Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Emmanuel Ax, piano)
New York Philharmonic / Alan Gilbert
Carnegie Hall (120th anniversary gala concert)
 
May 12, 14, & 17; Philadelphia, PA
WALTON: Concerto for violin and orchestra
Philadelphia Orchestra / Charles Dutoit
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
 
May 20; Washington, DC
WALTON: Concerto for violin and orchestra
Philadelphia Orchestra / Charles Dutoit
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
 
May 27-29; San Diego, CA
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto
San Diego Symphony / Jahja Ling
 
June 10 & 11; Berlin, Germany
BARTOK: Concerto for violin and orchestra No. 2
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Marek Janowski
Konzerthaus
 
June 13; St. Petersburg, Russia
Solo Bach recital
 
June 16, 17, & 18; New York, NY
WALTON: Concerto for violin and orchestra
New York Philharmonic / Ludovic Morlot
 
Wednesday, July 6 at 6pm; Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
WALTON: Violin Concerto
Aspen Concert Orchestra / Christopher Seaman
 
Friday, July 8 at 6pm; Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
BARTÓK: Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117
Aspen Chamber Symphony / Matthias Pintscher
 
Tuesday, July 12 at 4pm; Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
STRAVINSKY: Violin Concerto in D
American Academy of Conducting Orchestra
 
Thursday, July 21 at 8:30pm; Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
Orchestra of Aspen fellowship students / Vasily Petrenko
K. A. HARTMANN: Concerto funèbre
HAYDN: Violin Concerto in G, Hob. VIIa/4
 
Wednesday, July 27 at 6pm; Vail, CO
Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival
WALTON: Violin Concerto
New York Philharmonic / Ludovic Morlot
 
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