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Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
Symphony
PEACE AND LOVE FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 04, 2018
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 4 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” Symphony CEO Alan Silow took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and to observe that music offers a more peaceful and loving view of the world. Mr. ...
Chamber
ATOS TRIO IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 04, 2018
When the ATOS Piano Trio planned their all-Russian touring program at their Berlin home base, it had a strong elegiac, even tragic theme that surely resonated with their Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience Nov. 4 in Mill Valley. Comprised of Annette von Hehn, violin; Thomas Hoppe, piano; and...
Chamber
ATOS TRIO IN OCCIDENTAL CHAMBER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 03, 2018
When the Berlin-based ATOS Piano Trio entered the cramped Occidental Performing Arts stage Nov. 3, the audience of 100 anticipated familiar works in the announced all-Russian program. What they got was a selection of rarely-plays trios, with a gamut of emotions. Then one-movement Rachmaninoff G Mi...
Symphony
MIGHTY SHOSTAKOVICH 10TH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 28, 2018
Just two works were on the opening program of the Marin Symphony’s 67th season Oct. 28, Tchaikovsky’s iconic D Major Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. Before a full house in the Marin Center Auditorium conductor Alasdair Neale set a judicious opening tempo in the brief orchestra i...
Symphony
VIVALDI FOR ALL SEASONS IN WEILL BAROQUE CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, October 27, 2018
The Venice Baroque Orchestra, a dozen superb musicians that include strings, harpsichord and recorder, played an uplifting concert Oct. 27 of mostly Vivaldi sinfonias and concertos. The Weill Hall audience of 600 had rapt attention throughout, and the playing was of the highest musical level. This r...
Recital
LIN'S PIANISM AND PERSONA CHARM SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 21, 2018
In somewhat of a surprise a sold out Schroeder Hall audience greeted pianist Steven Lin Oct. 21 in his local debut recital. Why a surprise? Because Mr. Lin was pretty much unknown in Northern California, and Schroeder is rarely, very rarely sold out for a single instrumentalist. But no matter, and...
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.