This weekend’s performances by Violin Soloist Gil Shaham and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra were as anticipated as they were satisfying!
The PSO and guest conductor, Arild Remmereit unfastened the stillness that most always, and fittingly so, precedes the beginning of the concert, with George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4, “Strands”. In the wonderful and informative program notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda, Rodda sheds light on the inspiration to Walker’s composition: “Walker describes the Sinfonia as “complex, intense and compact. I wanted to compose a work that was more than an overture or extended fanfare. The subtitle ‘Strands’ refers to the intertwining of various melodic elements that are unrelated to each other. Two of those strands are the initial phrases of spirituals…”
The highlight of the evening was Gil Shaham’s interpretation of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. I feel one of the most wonderful gifts Gil Shaham has, is the ability to make a phrase feel expressive and sensual, full of deep meaning, but yet preserve a very, very strong musician’s pulse. The sense of pulse which of course is flexible—not rigid at all–is something that very often orchestral players or instrumentalists, sometimes miss, because it’s through the flexibility of pulse that gives a feeling of organic phrasing, and we find that with Mr. Shaham. It’s just amazing of course what he does with all of the brilliant technique, but it’s always with such a natural organic musicality which is essentially why it’s an absolute privilege as an audience member to experience his gift that he so humbly and graciously lends to the world.
To the audience member, one gets the sense that the experience of being on stage with other musicians, at the risk of sounding cliché, is a very intimate one. The soloist is on stage and they and orchestra members are literally breathing together for thirty minutes (in specific reference to a concerto) or however long the piece is. The soloist really has to be in tune to another person on a millisecond level and I think that without question, that is what helps with solo work or any other expression of music and is Shaham’s foundation and “secret” to his brilliant artistry.
The second half of the program began with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, “Winter Dreams”. The symphony’s first movement opens as the flute and bassoon present the doleful main theme above the murmuring of the violins. The second movement of “Winter Dreams” is truly one of the most ethereal, dream-like pieces of music that has ever caressed my senses. I must confess, as I compose this entry, I have been listening solely to the second movement on repeat! A choral-like passage for strings opens and closes the second movement, and in turn unfastened my mind and engraved the gorgeous theme in my memory.