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DSO starts season with pizzazz

09.13.08
Gil Shaham
Windsor Star

Detroit Symphony Orchestra's opening weekend of concerts began Thursday with a sparkling performance by Gil Shaham, one of the classical music world's most gifted young virtuosos.

It will close on Sunday afternoon with the appearance of Lang Lang, an even younger virtuoso.

Much of the future of serious music rests on the shoulders of these talented role models.

Shaham, 37, has been a leading violin soloist since he burst on the scene as a child prodigy in Israel in the 1980s. Born in Illinois but raised in Israel, Shaham (emphasis on the first syllable) comes from a musical family -- his sister, Orli, is a pianist with whom he has made several CDs. Shaham is also married to a violinist, Adele Anthony.

Shaham has recorded most of the major solo works for violin, including the Brahms which he played on Thursday. It was a live 2002 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. The massive work, with a 21-minute first movement, is a test of endurance and technique. It was written for a 19th-century virtuoso, Joseph Joachim, and contains a challenging candenza in the opening movement which Joachim wrote for Brahms.

Shaham easily worked his way through the tricky tempo changes, double-stops and solo passages of the movement, which because of its length and dramatic writing often draws applause at the end.

Thursday's DSO audience at Orchestra Hall, however, was wise to the tradition and waited until the end to register its approval with a prolonged standing ovation.

Shaham is very demonstrative in performance, almost dancing at times. He also has an annoying habit of leaning in toward the conductor's podium and facing away from the audience. But this is a minor nuisance given the quality of the playing.

Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony and the DSO's principal guest conductor, was leading the orchestra. A violinist himself, he seemed to share a special relationship with Shaham.

The program also included works by Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss, all serving to showcase Oundjian's talents conducting the big, colourful orchestral pieces in the repertoire.

The concert will be repeated tonight at 8:30 p.m. Tickets US$123-$19 at www.detroitsymphony.com or by calling 313-576-5111.

On Sunday, Oundjian returns to conduct a special, single performance by Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

The 26-year-old grew up in the shadow of the Chinese cultural revolution, and recently published an autobiography, written with David Ritz, Lang Lang: Journey of a Thousand Miles, My Story (Random House), $27.95.

One of the shining stars of the classical world, Lang Lang lately served as the musical director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

This weekend, he will play one of the works for which he is most famous, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. Lang Lang has just released a CD of the concerto, along with the Chopin's No. 1, on Deutsche Grammophon (Universal), with the Vienna Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.

Part of the CD, incidentally, was recorded at Vienna's Musikverein (Lang Lang is pictured on the cover outside the concert hall). The Musikverein is one of the concert halls that inspired Windsor Symphony's designs on converting the former Armouries.