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The incandescent Gil Shaham, one of the very top American violinists in the classical tradition, mesmerized audiences last weekend as he led the Philadelphia Orchestra while soloing in an all-Mozart program. The concert featured two concertos, including the delectable Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, the “Turkish.” Shaham followed historic practice by leading the orchestra while performing as soloist, playing two roles for the price of one.
Always a treat to see and hear, Charlotte Blake Alston, Philadelphia’s first lady of storytelling, introduced the program with warmth and charm as she offered an introduction to Mozart for listeners of all levels of experience. Some 30 musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra performed with Shaham, a frequent guest soloist with the Philadelphians, enjoying a small ensemble arrangement where grace, innuendo, and good humor ruled.
Bold and engaging violin selections
As Alston was quick to point out, these mature works of Mozart were completed when he was still in his teens. Some scholars aver all five of his violin concertos were completed in 1775, the year he turned 19. Emblematic of Mozart’s work, the violin selections in this program are bold and engaging with layers of ornamentation as fine as intricate lace. In a grey suit and tie, Shaham fairly ran onto the stage to play the Concerto No. 2, smiling enthusiastically with an air of eager anticipation and a sense of gratitude and humility we rarely note in the presence of musical superstars. Shaham has an unusual spark, not of scowling and shaking his head in romantic Angst, but conveyed by a posture of positivity and cheerfulness, something we should see and hear more frequently on the classical stage.
His back briefly to the audience, Shaham led the orchestra into the friendly musical waters of the first movement. As longer solo passages emerged, he pivoted toward the audience and played with what appeared to be effortless ease, a floating veil of enveloping, delicate sound, far away from the crashing chords and bombast of much orchestral repertoire. I love those crashing, sweeping sounds as well, but this concert offered a welcome respite and a chance to savor the creatures of Mozart’s imagination and the elegance of Shaham’s artful touch. Especially delightful in this concerto were the cadenzas that seemed to sing of their own will from the soloist’s Stradivarius.
Two short, one-movement musical reveries also featured the solo violin and orchestra: Mozart’s Adagio in E major, K. 261, and Rondo in C major, K. 373, four or five minutes each. Did I hear a touch of Humoresque in one of these? There was also a lovely moment as Shaham was joined by concertmaster David Kim in opening the Rondo. Throughout the concert, Shaham and Kim bonded like spiritual brothers—sharing the stage, musical moments, and handshakes and hugs in between selections.
The concert concluded with the audience-pleasing (and critic-pleasing) “Turkish” concerto. Everything Turkish was in vogue in late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe. Mozart included a lushly minor interlude in the middle of this crisp work in A major, giving the orchestra some moodier melodies before the final strains. Shaham shared some brilliant cadenza-playing in this, Mozart’s farewell to the violin concerto, with dazzling fingerings and sweet harmonics. Shaham is simply spellbinding, and the Philadelphia Orchestra deserves the highest praise for its remarkable artistry and partnership with this soloist of distinction.
What, When, Where
All Mozart. Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 211; Adagio in E major, K. 261; Rondo in C major, K. 373; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219. Leader and soloist Gil Shaham, violin. The Philadelphia Orchestra. January 5-7, 2024, at the at the Kimmel Cultural Campus's Verizon Hall, 300 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or philorch.org.
The Kimmel Center is an ADA-compliant venue. Patrons can purchase wheelchair seating or loose chairs online by calling patron services at (215) 893-1999 or by emailing [email protected]. With advance notice, patron services can provide options for personal care attendants, American Sign Language, Braille tickets and programs, audio descriptions, and other services.
Masks are not required in Kimmel Cultural Campus venues.
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