In his second appearance with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and in keeping with their season theme that celebrates American works, the internationally recognized violinist Gil Shaham will perform a work personally dear to him: Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto.
"I love this piece," said Shaham, whose guest appearance with the BSO opens its new season this week. "People call it the great American violin concerto, and there's something to that. It has a clearly American sound, [and] it's so beautifully written. You want to make the singing lines sing and the faster passages sparkle."
Begun as a commission piece in 1939, when Barber was visiting Switzerland, work on the concerto was interrupted by the impending threat of war. Consequently, he completed the piece after fleeing Europe and returning home to Pennsylvania, where he heard its debut on Feb. 7, 1941 by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Today, the Barber Violin Concerto is one of the most frequently played of all 20th-century concertos. Shaham has performed it more times than he can say, and always to high praise by critics.
"I remember when I first heard it, I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was [in] summer music camp," recalled Shaham, who was born in America but grew up in Israel and took up the violin at age 7. "It starts with this beautiful melody on violin ... and I remember thinking, 'I can't wait to play it.' "
|American Classics and Gil Shaham|
|» Where: Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda|
|» When: 8:00 p.m. Saturday|
|» Info: $30 to $90; 410-783-8000; bsomusic.org|
And because he has performed it so often, one might wonder if he is concerned about audiences and critics making comparisons in his interpretations and that of his colleagues.
"I think my job is very similar to the job of an actor," he continued. "We're supposed to go onstage and bring to life the ideal that the composer wrote down on the page for us. Hopefully, I will be conveying some of Barber's intentions."
Still, there is the question of individual performance, and on that subject, he noted, "My wife always says, 'People play who they are.' "
The concert also includes Bernstein's "On the Waterfront: Symphonic Suite," which he wrote for the eponymous film starring Marlon Brando. Copland's Symphony No. 3 rounds out the evening that opens with George Bogatko's arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner."