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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, March 27, 2015
Gil Shaham, violin

Gil Shaham playing Bach beneath slow-motion movie. Photo K. Loken

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET

by Steve Osborn
Friday, March 27, 2015

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Gil Shaham-man, the superhuman violinist! He's faster than a speeding bullet!

If you long to zoom around a speedway at 200-plus miles per hour but can't afford a race car, Gil Shaham can replicate the experience for you on his violin. In his March 27 performance at Weill Hall Shaham mounted a lightning-fast assault on Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. The lightning was clearly visible to anyone trying to keep track of his fingers and bow, but the thunder was only intermittent.

How fast did Shaham play? A friend timed the famous Chaconne in Partita No. 2 at just over 11 minutes. In contrast, the Hilary Hahn recording of the Chaconne clocks in at just under 18, and Heifetz under 14. Entire sonatas seemed to zip by in the flicker of an eyelid.

As highway patrol officers often intone: "Hey, buddy, where's the fire?" Skeptics might say that Shaham was hurtling through Bach so he could finish the pieces in under two hours (the time he allots in his program notes) and get the audience home at a reasonable hour. As he explains in the notes, however, "I believe composers often think of violin writing as rapid and brilliant ... so my feeling for the general tempos of this music is faster. It swings better." Whether or not the music swung better is a judgment call, but the factual consequences of all that speed were rampant: The intonation suffered; the bowing was often ragged and scratchy; and the notes themselves were imprisoned in a hurtling cannonball.

Shaham added the further indignity of projecting slow-motion movies behind him that seemed disconnected with the music.

According to the program notes, the music-movie combo was the brainchild of filmmaker David Michalek, who specializes in ultra-slow-motion movies of minimal actions, such as a woman lifting her arms. What normally takes a few seconds becomes a matter of minutes — the reverse of the Shaham approach. Michalek explains that he watched one of these movies (of two boys) while listening to a Bach unaccompanied cello suite. For him, the music "seemed to be engaging in a subtle kind of dialogue with the boys' faces."

Maybe the cello suites are different, but the video’s dialogue with the violin sonatas and partitas was so subtle that it disappeared. To be sure, the movies often showed dancers, and the partitas are filled with dances, but the connection ends there. The most jarring disconnect was in the Chaconne movie, which showed a Japanese woman in a wing-like kimono waving two fans. Of all the things you might imagine while listening to this transcendent piece of music, kimonos would seem to be at the bottom of the list.

Fortunately, it was easy to ignore the movies and focus on Shaham, who appeared blissfully relaxed while tearing through the music at breakneck speed. He played while standing on a black area rug that he crossed and recrossed as the spirit moved him. In some passages, he turned sideways and leaned forward on one leg, much in the manner of rock guitarists. In others he planted his feet on the ground as if to aid his bow speed.

When Shaham slowed down, the results were often magnificent. His dynamics, particularly his pianissimos, drew rapt attention from the audience, and his fortissimos rang out. What didn't ring out were the rest of the notes, which struggled to emerge from the blur of sound. To be sure, the blazing tempi made sense at times, occasionally offering a revelatory experience for listeners accustomed to more languorous performances; but the rest was an inscrutable puzzle.

As with the lack of connection between the movies and the music, Shaham's connection with Bach was hard to discern. Shaham may feel that the music swings better when it's faster, or when it's illustrated, but judging from this performance, the evidence is thin.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.