Grammy-winning, world-renowned violinist Gil Shaham performed Dec. 11 in front of a packed Shannon Hall theater within University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union.
There was no shortage of anticipation as patrons were eager to see a performance that was long overdue.
Shaham was originally scheduled to appear March 2020 in Madison — just weeks before the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. With many tickets already sold for Shaham’s performance prior to its cancellation, in a show of good faith, many supporters chose to forgo their refund, opting instead to help support and preserve the Wisconsin Union Theater and its long-running concert series.
On that note, rescheduling Gil Shaham became a priority, and there was no better way to cap off a brief yet magical concert series than doing just that as part of the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Series.
From an early age, Gil Shaham showed promise as a nascent violinist. At the mere age of seven, Shaham was featured in the Jerusalem Symphony. At ten, he made his debut with the Israeli Philharmonic. By eleven, Shaham was admitted into The Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York City where he fine-tuned his craft.
For the next several decades, starting with his stint with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1990, Shaham traveled around the globe performing with world-leading orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For his group and solo work, Shaham racked up numerous awards including a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance in 1999 and was named Musical America’s “Instrumentalist of the Year” in 2012.
Gil Shaham’s 90-minute performance is broken down into two distinct segments: lengthy classical works and short modern compositions. Shaham opens “Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Minor,” a tribute to the legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
The 20-minute-long piece — which Shaham performs entirely by memory — is marked by four distinct movements: Grave, Fuga, Andante and Allegro. Characterized by its dramatic shifts in pace and tone, it is a melodic journey that introduces both Shaham’s mastery of his craft and his exceptional command of the instrument.
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Following a brief intermission, Shaham performed a short piece entitled “Isolation Rag.” Composed by his musical peer Scott Wheeler, “Isolation Rag” was written during the peak stages of the pandemic.
The piece speaks to the common affliction amongst musicians of not being able to collaborate, share and play music together during months of social distancing. This attitude-heavy ragtime served as a remarkably relatable piece of music, perhaps a refreshing variation from the night’s showcase of longstanding classical epics.
For his final piece, Shaham reunited with Bach, performing his well-known “Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major.” The 20-minute-long piece is an endless dance, quick in tempo but slow and deliberate in its detail. Suggested by the audience’s long applause, this dynamic conclusion was amongst the highlights of the night, capping off a night of musical brilliance.
Shaham represents the great lengths that can be achieved at full capacity. Beginning with his upstart as a musical prodigy and throughout his illustrious career, it is clear by his talent, demeanor and class, that his success is derived from his devotion to his work.
While most musicians are frantically sifting through sheets of music, Shaham has his 90-minute-long performance memorized which helps him to squeeze every ounce of emotion from the music in which he so elegantly performs.
Yet equally energizing is his ability to connect with the audience. From selecting an appetizing variety of music to cracking jokes with the audience between songs, it was inspiring to see a composed, serious musician care so greatly about ensuring a worthy experience for every member of the audience.
While Gil Shaham put a stamp on the 2021 Concert Series, many incredible talents are already lined up for 2022. Third Coast Percussion presented their program entitled “Metamorphosis” at Hamel Music Center Jan. 27. February 10, Memorial Union welcomes Brentano String Quartet as part of their 30th Anniversary Concert Tour. For tickets and more information, visit the Wisconsin Union Theater website and social media pages.