February 14, 2013 at 6:41 PMListening to a live performance of a Bach partita, by a master on the violin, on an instrument crafted by the world’s greatest luthier of all time, in a world-class music venue, is about as sublime as it gets. Almost holy. Certainly the silence, the attention from the audience was reverent, worshipful.
Gil Shaham opened his recital at Davies Symphony hall last Friday night with Bach’s Partita no. 3 in E-major, wasting no time after his signature broad smile and a bow to the audience. A moment to prep, and he was off, taking all of us with him.
I find that listening to a Bach partita with no distractions, the piece springs to multi-dimensional, multi-textured life. From my seat in the fifteenth row center (upgrade!), it was thrilling to observe, even feel, the change in dynamics, from piano to fortissimo. The double-stops. The incisive attack of the bow from time to time contrasting with the silken tones preceding and following. The way Shaham makes that Stradivarius sing. The music itself, like choreography for the ears, the intelligent, artful progression and configuration of the notes that satisfy some unspoken craving in you that you’d never even realized you’d been harboring.
There is the perfect balance of interpretative artist and composer working together here—surely every seasoned professional violinist plays the partitas in their own inimitable way. I’m guessing here; this is the first time I’ve heard any of the Bach partitas performed live, and at my fledgling skill level on the violin, it’s not likely that I’ll be working on my own interpretation of it any time soon. My violin teacher speaks dreamily of a retirement some day, down the road, where she’ll devote all her skills and energy, with pleasure, to Bach’s sonatas and partitas. A violinist could devote a lifetime to crafting these pieces, she tells me, and in my mind I see a monk-like existence, this selfless (but not really), wholly absorbing pursuit of striving to arrive at the pinnacle, where art, music, and craft touch fingers with the divine.
My plan had been to blog about Gil Shaham’s entire recital (Nigunim by Avner Dorman, accompanied by pianist Akira Euguchi; after intermission, a Bach-esque solo violin Suite No. 2 by William Bolcom, culminating with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata), but the magic of Bach’s partita has once again swept over me, sitting here at the keyboard. Sometimes less is more, I’m reminded. Pure, perfect, unadorned moments. Like hearing Gil Shaham play Bach for solo violin, all alone on that stage, the only sound in the entire concert, all those eyes on him, riveted, ears taking in the sublime music he was making.
Bach would have very much approved.
This essay first appeared at The Classical Girl
© 2013 Terez Rose
I agree - I've got multiple recordings of his work, seen him live multiple times, and have never been disappointed. He seems to have a very generous spirit when he performs, that's always fun to see on such a big name musician.
Thanks for the reply, Tom!
Wouldn't a Bach album be nice...
Okay, here's a recording for your collection: http://www.npr.org/event/music/144920130/gil-shaham-a-violinists-day-at-the-museum
Actually, I hope everyone checks this link out, as it's a perfect example of the way Gil Shaham performs, his engagement with both the audience and his music, the way he smiles sometimes, even in concentration, and the way he seems to be having a great time while concurrently giving the performance 110% effort.
This was an "impromptu recital" at one of the Smithsonians in 2012. Dang. How lucky could a person be, to show up and see the notice that "today Gil Shaham will be popping in to share a little Bach with us"? : )
He plays with such intelligence that the structure of Bach is exposed, and the pieces all make sense in a way they often don't, without getting all pedantic about it.
So cool. And I love your description of him and his playing.
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