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Terez Mertes

When the Masters Meet

February 14, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Listening 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

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 15, 2013 at 6:05 PM
PS: Here’s a link to Hilary Hahn playing the opening Prelude movement to the Partita no. 3. Just gorgeously rendered.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 15, 2013 at 6:17 PM
Sounds like a wonderful concert. Shaham is surely the best of his generation. I have seen him a number of times, but he never did Bach. You are so lucky. Eguchi is a terrific accompanist. He played at our Temple a number of years ago with another violinist, and it was fabulous.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 15, 2013 at 7:21 PM
>Shaham is surely the best of his generation.

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!

From Anne Horvath
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 2:39 PM
I've heard him live several times, but Bach wasn't ever on the program.

Wouldn't a Bach album be nice...

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 3:24 PM
Anne, hi!

Okay, here's a recording for your collection:

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"? : )

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 11:29 PM
About a year ago Shaham played a recital here, nothing but unaccompanied Bach. It was fabulous. He started by talking for awhile about the decisions he had made about tempi, complete with demonstrations of other pieces from the same era to justify and illustrate his decisions.

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.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Lisa, WOW, what a recital to see. Was it geared toward the general public or related to a conservatory and its students?

So cool. And I love your description of him and his playing.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 2:39 PM
Thanks for the link. That's terrific. I share Anne's wish that he would record the Bach. He may not feel ready just yet.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 3:48 PM
Tom, isn't the link of Gil's impromptu performance wonderful? Wish I'd come upon it when I was composing my blog. It was like watching him live all over again.
From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Terez, it was a regular concert for a general ticket-buying audience. Personally, I love it when a performer assumes the audience wants to know about, and more important, is capable of understanding a discussion of the performer's choices about a piece. I have the good fortune to live in a small western city (about 70K people) that has a reputation for being artsy. I think that sometimes allows performers to take a slightly more casual approach than they might in a major urban area.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 18, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Lisa - just saw where you lived. OMG, lucky you! (Well, not like I'm slumming it here in the Santa Cruz Mtns, with San Francisco fairly close by.) A fabulous city -- not to mention the food, which is in a class of its own -- and I'm not surprised you had such a wonderfully unique concert experience there, in your wonderfully unique city.

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