By Barbara Trainin Blank
Violinist Gil Shaham has won the kind of praise that would turn the head of any musician.
The Washington Post, for example, extolled his “go-for-broke passion, his silvery tone, spot-on-intonation and meticulously molded phrasing.”
The multiple Grammy winner has appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Orchestre de Paris, among many others.
The violinist will be demonstrating both his musical talent and personality on Nov. 15, when he performs for Washington Performing Arts at The Music Center of Strathmore.
But if interviewing Shaham isn’t easy, it’s not because he’s inaccessible. On the contrary.
He’s likely to show so much interest in the reporter he or she forgets who’s doing the interviewing.
He’s also a storyteller and sometime jokester.
In speaking about his choice of profession, Shaham said:
“My parents are both scientists,” he said. “My father’s a physicist, and my mother is a geneticist – so I couldn’t keep up with the dinner conversation. I rebelled and played violin.”
Only, his sister Orli is a pianist, and their brother, while a scientist, also plays piano.
All three of Shaham’s children with his wife, Adele Anthony, a concert violinist, play either violin or piano.
Then, Shaham admitted, his father studied violin.
For more than 50 years, WPA has created opportunities to connect the community to artists, in both educational programs and performances.
Shaham called Greater D.C. one of his favorite performance destinations. He’s been coming to the area almost annually for the past 30 years, citing its “great audiences.”
Shaham’s program on Nov. 15 is eclectic, reflecting his desire to “play works I love to play.” Accompanying him in a few pieces is pianist and longtime friend, Akira Eguchi, whom Shaham calls a “master and my hero.”
The program opens with Fritz Kreisler’s “Preludium and Allegro,” a virtuosic piece in the Baroque style that Shaham calls a “lifetime favorite.”
Following are “The Singing Turk: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano” – a contemporary work by Scott Wheeler drawing on operatic themes – and “Nigunim” (Sonata No. 3) by Avner Dorman, an Israeli composer who wrote the piece for Orli Shaham.
“Nigunim,” which means melodies in Hebrew, reflects a 19th-century movement to capture traditional Jewish folk melodies in concert music.
One highlight of Shaham’s recent years includes his recording and performances of J. S. Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Next on the program will be the composer’s “Partita No. 3 in E Major for Solo Violin.”
Closing the recital will be what Shaham called the “meat of the program and a beloved classic” – Cesar Franck’s “Sonata in A Major.”
“It’s one of the great sonatas, with separate piano and violin melodies coming together in Beethovenian fashion,” Shaham said. “I’m mesmerized by the last movement. It’s a crown, a miracle of melody presented in a canon.”
A native of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, who now lives in New York, the violinist spent his formative years in Israel. He began studying violin at the Rubin Academy at the age of seven with Shmuel Bernstein, who “used to bribe his students with candy,” Shaham laughed.
In 1981, he debuted both with the Jerusalem Symphony and Israel Philharmonic, later studying at Juilliard and Columbia University.
Shaham exclusively plays a 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius.
“It costs more than that,” he quipped. “The story goes that the violin belonged to the family of Benjamin Franklin’s Parisian mistress.”
Regardless, Shaham said, “every violin has its own personality and own voice. I’m playing it for 30 years, and just now am learning what it can do. It has incredible colors and textures.”
The recital starts at 8 p.m. at The Music Center of Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For tickets, call 202-785-9727, or visit: www.strathmore.org/events-and-tickets/wpa-gil-shaham.