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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
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.