If all goes well and the Boston blizzard does not hold him back, American composer William Bolcom plans to be in Boston on Sunday to hear his own Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin played by Gil Shaham in a Celebrity Series recital at Jordan Hall at 3:00 on Sunday. “I have yet to hear it in a concert performance,” Bolcom mused. He also is looking forward to hearing it in rehearsal before the concert, then fraternizing after the performance with good friends in Boston, like fellow composer Michael Gandolfi. And on Monday, Bolcom will meet with Gandolfi’s composition students at NEC.
“Shaham wanted a solo violin piece from me,” Bolcom noted. “He showed up in my apartment [at the time] in New York. I was working on it, and he started reading the manuscript. Seemed delighted.”
Ed. Note: This article now concludes with Bettina A. Norton’s preview/review from San Francisco.
The finished Suite No. 2 has nine movements: “Morning Music,” ”Dancing in Place,” “Northern Nigun,” ”Lenny in Spats” (an allusion to Bernstein), “Tempo di Gavotte Baroque,” “Barcarolle,” “Fuga Melanconica,” “Tarantella,” and “Evening Music.”
“For a long time I didn’t hear from Gil,” Bolcom said. Then he learned that Shaham was putting together a program to be presented at four venues throughout the United States. The first was in Aspen; tonight it will be heard at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco; and on Sunday is the final performance, at Jordan Hall.
Referring to his earlier, first Suite for Solo Violin, Bolcom called it “a wild piece having to do with a wild person”— Sergiu Luca (who actually never performed it publicly). Suffused with Bach-like qualities (notably, fugue-like passages), it is nonetheless jarring and often violent, with slides, slurs, chops, and bristling tones.
Shaham, Bolcom maintains, “is a very different personality. He is very sweet; there’s something about him, philosophical and quiet. I like what he did with my violin concerto” in D, for Violin and Orchestra, also written for Luca, who recorded it. “Often, when a person who is different in temperament from the person for whom you might have written a piece, he will come to it from a different angle, and perhaps you find something you may not have seen yourself.”
Asked about the variety of his work, Bolcom responded, “My tendency is to become aligned with various musical genres; it’s just the way I am ….” He has written many pieces sympathetic to Ragtime, Jazz, and Broadway, but, perhaps less well known, also to the music of J. S. Bach. Shaham appropriately programmed a Bach piece — Partita No. 3 for Solo Violin.
The other works on the program are Julian Milone’s In The Country of Lost Things, also written in 2012, on commission from Shaham; and another recent piece from 2011, Avner Dorman’s Niggunim (Hebrew for “Soulful Melodies”). The Boston performance also includes Schubert’s Sonatina in A Minor for Violin and Piano, op. 137. Shaham’s partner in the series is pianist Akira Eguchi.
Shovel Out and Go
Imaginative programming, especially with new or unknown works, is a delight. Add playing by superb musicians, one on a violin that must have one of the best tones on earth, and the listener is transported to heaven. Such was last night’s offering at Davies Hall in San Francisco from Gil Shaham and pianist Akira Eguchi of recent works by William Bolcom and Avner Dorman, with an appropriate antecedent, the Bach Partita No. 3 for solo violin, and the guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin Op.47 No.9 in A, “Kreutzer.” The duo will play a similar program for the Celebrity Series on Sunday afternoon in Jordan Hall, with the substitution of the Schubert Sonatina in A Minor for the Beethoven. Shovel out, and go. [as of Saturday at 5:00, according to the Celebrity Series website, the concert is on for tomorrow.]
Shaham is an easy-going personality, who becomes facile and focused as soon as his bow hits the strings. He and his Stradivarius, the 1699 “Comtesse de Polignac,” made for an evening of beautiful fiddling.
William Bolcom’s new piece, Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin, had the honored position of first one after intermission. Written for Shaham, and co-commissioned by the Celebrity Series, it is more lyrical and has many humorous moments than the powerful, even abrasive, first solo violin suite by Bolcom, written for the late Sergui Luca. (One expects the Boston audience to catch more of these than did the San Francisco audience.) Bolcom metamorphoses many musical influences, from Baroque to vaudeville, into a variety of conversational tones: lamenting, witty, confrontational, questioning, eerie, nostalgic. The first of nine movements, “Morning Music,” sets the scene, and “Evening Music” ends it with its message of serenity, the high other-worldly quietly rasping notes coupled with plucked notes seemingly played by two instruments. In between are a soft-shoe “Lenny in Spats,” a warped Gavotte, a “Barcarolle” with eerie harmonics… Bolcom was not in attendance last night, but notwithstanding yesterday’s drama brought on by the snowstorm, he is going to be flying in to Boston on Sunday morning for the Jordan Hall concert.
Dorman, born in 1975 and therefore almost 40 years younger than Bolcom, also composes with many musical influences. His Niggunim, premiered in 2011, was commissioned by Gil and Orli Shaham. The opening Adagio begins with a haunting, rasping pianissimo, evoking mists from the past. But it is the third movement, also an Adagio that left the most vivid impression, a simple, sustained, trance-like atmosphere that enveloped Shaham in timeless melodies of mourning. Beautiful.
The duo handled the familiar “Kreutzer” exceptionally well. Once again, Shaham was not only technically on top of the piece, but played with zest and palpable focus; in the fortissimos, he became a crouching tiger. As for Eguchi’s pianism, it elevates him, for this listener, to the level of artists whose performances are not to be missed.
The program opened with the Bach Partita No. 3 in E Major, introducing the audience to Shaham’s superb technique and interpretive skill—such as his savoring the final notes of phrases in the Gavotte en Rondeau; and his daring—those extended pianissimos, demanding and being rewarded with audience silence.
San Francisco, including the Peninsula and East Bay areas, offers far less classical music than we have in Boston. But if I am not mistaken, Eguchi has not been heard in the Boston area. (A pity if so, although I welcome corrections from BMInt readers.) This, of course, is not the case with Shaham. But Sunday’s performance not only brings Bostonians the chance to hear both fine collaborative musicians, but in a superb program, new and familiar music.