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Chamber
BEETHOVEN FEATURED IN SF TRIO'S OCCIDENTAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Conventional repertoire in uncommonly good performances highlighted the San Francisco Piano Trio’s Jan. 19 concert in the Occidental Center for the Arts. Haydn’s No. 44 Trio (Hob. XV:28) came from late in his long career, when he was in and out of London, and received a sparkling reading that featu...
SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close bu...
Choral and Vocal
ORPHEUS OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSIC IN SCHROEDER ORGAN CHORAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, January 10, 2020
“All over the map.” Sonoma Bach, directed by Bob Worth, has taken its audiences this season on journeys through many centuries and many lands. The programming is fresh and intriguing and the performers varied and creators of beauty and interest. The January 10 program was centered on organ works by...
Choral and Vocal
OLD NORTH GERMAN CAROLS IN SONOMA BACH'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, December 15, 2019
“Cast off all sorrows…also dance in heavenly fashion.” A volume called Piae Cantiones was printed in 1582 in North Germany, lively songs going back to the 14th century, and this treasure trove provided material for numerous composers to arrange Christmas carols over following generations, from simp...
Symphony
EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 09, 2019
The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located wi...
Symphony
UNFINISHED AND FINNISH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 08, 2019
Having a new resident conductor on the podium for the Ukiah Symphony was an attractive invitation for a long-delayed visit to Mendocino College’s Center Theater Dec. 8. The insouciant Les Pfutzenreuter recently retired after decades of conducting the ensemble, replaced by Phillip Lenberg who also j...
Choral and Vocal
PRAERTORIUS IN RENAISSANCE GLORY FROM SONOMA BACH
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sonoma Bach Choir, in collaboration with Barefoot All-Stars Viol Consort and The Whole Noyse Brass Ensemble, presented “Sing Glorious Praetorius!” November 16 to an almost full Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. The Soloists were soprano Dianna Morgan, Christopher Fritzsche, (countertenor), m...
Symphony
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL EXCITEMENT IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award. It...
Chamber
SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a viol...
Symphony
MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 04, 2019
It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here. The evening began with...
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.