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New York -- The San Francisco Symphony's visit to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday was distinguished by the appearance of two premier soloists. The first buoyed the Tuesday concert, while the second nearly sank Wednesday's program.
Violinist Gil Shaham was featured in Tuesday's concert; he held the first half with an absolutely electrifying performance of William Schuman's Violin Concerto. Schuman (1910-1992), a lifelong New Yorker, was the first composer to win the Pulitzer Prize. With furious energy and an unflappable sense of delight, Shaham demonstrated why Schuman's Concerto, premiered by Isaac Stern at Carnegie in 1950, is American modernism at its finest.
The violinist took command immediately with a raw, blazing introduction, establishing space not only musically but also physically, hopping from side to side in rhythm with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas' standard choreography. Above all, Shaham is striking for the engaging manner in which he plays, his genuine smile such a welcome contrast to the scowls, furrowed brows and emotive gapes that pass for artistry among soloists. Shaham's fiery, no-nonsense playing and charisma spread throughout the orchestra, which fed on the flames. In his cadenzas, Shaham was nearly a concerto unto himself, with double-stopping that sounded like separate lines of music.