The LSO International Violin Festival takes place throughout April, May and June, bringing together a line-up of superstar soloists for a celebration of all things violin, from concerts on the Barbican stage featuring the cornerstones of the violin repertoire to chamber recitals, LSO Discovery events, free lunchtime concerts, and free events hosted by The Strad, featuring violin makers exhibitions and pre-concert panel discussions. Throughout the series, we're getting to know some of the stars of the Festival on the LSO blog. Today we find out about Gil Shaham, who continues the LSO International Violin Festival on Sunday 12 April with a performance of Britten's Violin Concerto.
Born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1971, Gil Shaham began violin studies at the age of seven, after moving with his parents to Israel, making his debut with the Jerusalem Symphony at just ten-years-old. He later studied at the Aspen Music School in Colorado, Juilliard and Columbia University. A Grammy Award-winner, he was also named Musical America's Instrumentalist of the Year in 2012, in recognition of the 'special kind of humanism' of his performances.
Gil Shaham made his LSO debut in 1987 (at the age of 16) with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 2. A pivotal moment of his career occurred just two years later, when Shaham (at that point a high-school senior, preparing to take a test on The Canterbury Tales) was asked by the LSO to step in for legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was suffering with a severe ear infection. Shaham boarded a flight to London and replaced Perlman in two concerts at the Royal Festival Hall conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, with the critical acclaim making him front-page news for his performances of the Sibelius and Bruch Concertos.
Gil Shaham plays the 1699 'Contessa, Princess de Polignac, Bardsley' Stradivari violin. It was named after a duchess at the court of Louis XIV who was involved in the music scene of Venice. For 150 years, the violin remained in the collection of a Paris museum, which may partly account for its excellent condition. Shaham first played the violin as a teenager, when it was owned by a private collector in Chicago; he received it on a long-term loan in the mid-1980s.
Gil Shaham joins us for Britten's Violin Concerto. Premiered in New York by the New York Philharmonic in 1940, with Spanish violinist Antonio Brosa as the soloist, the Concerto has been interpreted as a meditation on the Spanish Civil War, opening with a military-esque march and closing with a Passacaglia. After completing it, Britten wrote: ‘So far it is without question my best piece. It’s rather serious, I’m afraid – but it’s got some tunes in it!’
Speaking to The Strad in March 2015, Shaham said: 'I fell in love with the piece from the first minute: it packed a huge emotional punch and it was clearly pregnant with meaning. I find it incredibly moving from start to finish.’
Excerpts originally printed in The Strad and re-printed with permission
Gil Shaham plays Britten's Violin Concerto with the LSO at the Barbican on Sunday 12 April. Osmo Vänskä conducts, completing the programme with works by Arvo Pärt and Shostakovich.