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Concert Review: Violinist Gil Shaham and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Walt Disney Concert Hall, April 14, 2010

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Pastoral, stately, and with plenty of spunk to spare. Such was the musical result last night of the mellifluous pairing and chemistry of violinist Gil Shaham and the one voice that was conductor David Robertson's Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. The set list was a neat Stravinsky-Mozart dialogue, adeptly executed for its mainly young adult and elderly audience.

From the opening sequence of Stravinsky's Danses concertantes to the august closing of Mozart's Symphony No. 36 in C major, the charismatic Robertson leads us on an exploration through the playful joys, trials, and tribulations of springtime. For someone who enjoys the purely classical but prefers the more emotionally rich romantic genre, the lead-off piece was, at times, a bit bland, even in a technically polished performance. At the level in which modern-day orchestras operate, if not for Shaham's dexterity and personality, the night may very well have stayed comfortably within the confines of dignified mediocrity.

The two sandwiched pieces, both violin concerti in D major (Mozart's second, Stravinsky's only), not only featured Shaham, but showcased his classical range. A highlight of the night was the spirited cadenza near the end of the Mozart concerto. This was a time when the regimented became less so and the assertive woodwind section finally had no opportunity to cover up the soloist. What a pleasure to hear the lower notes of the violin being played in the Stravinsky, followed by some of the highest notes of the night in a passionate passage in the “Capriccio.”

Overall, it was an intellectual, charming performance, with more than a few terrific moments with Robertson and brother-in-law Shaham at the helm.

Notes from the Program:

STRAVINSKY – Danses concertantes (Marche: Intro, Pas d'action, Thème varié, Pas de deux, Marche: Conclusion)

MOZART – Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 211 (Allegro moderato, Andante, Rondeau: Allegro)

- INTERMISSION -

STRAVINSKY – Violin Concerto in D major (Toccata, Aria I, Aria II, Capriccio)

MOZART – Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425 (Adagio: Allegro spiritoso, Poco adagio, Menuetto, Presto)

*Founded in 1880, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) is the second-oldest orchestra in the country and is widely considered one of the world's finest. In September 2005, internationally acclaimed conductor David Robertson became the 12th Music Director and second American-born conductor in the Orchestra's history. The SLSO is one of only a handful of major American orchestras invited to perform annually at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. Recordings by the SLSO have been honored with six Grammy awards and 56 Grammy nominations over the years.

*Gil Shaham was born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1971. He moved with his parents to Israel, where at the age of seven he began violin studies with Samuel Bernstein of the Rubin Academy of Music and was granted annual scholarships by the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. In 1981, while studying with Haim Taub in Jerusalem, he made debuts with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. That same year he began his studies with Dorothy DeLay and Jens Ellerman at Aspen. In 1982, after taking first prize in Israel's Claremont Competition, he became a scholarship student at Juilliard, where he has worked with DeLay and Hyo Kang. He has also studied at Columbia University, and currently lives in New York City with his wife and their two children.

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