Bach, Shaham, Strad: When the masters meet

Listening to a live performance of a Bach partita, by a master on the violin, on an instrument crafted by the world’s greatest luthier of all time, in a world-class music venue, is about as sublime as it gets. Almost holy. Certainly the silence, the attention from the audience was reverent, worshipful.

Gil Shaham opened his recital at Davies Symphony hall last Friday night with Bach’s Partita no. 3 in E-major, wasting no time after his signature broad smile and a bow to the audience. A moment to prep, and he was off, taking all of us with him.

I find that listening to a Bach partita with no distractions, the piece springs to multi-dimensional, multi-textured life. From my seat in the fifteenth row center (upgrade!), it was thrilling to observe, even feel, the change in dynamics, from piano to fortissimo. The double-stops. The incisive attack of the bow from time to time contrasting with the silken tones preceding and following. The way Shaham makes that Stradivarius sing. The music itself, like choreography for the ears, the intelligent, artful progression and configuration of the notes that satisfy some unspoken craving in you that you’d never even realized you’d been harboring.

There is the perfect balance of interpretative artist and composer working together here—surely every seasoned professional violinist plays the partitas in their own inimitable way. I’m guessing here; this is the first time I’ve heard any of the Bach partitas performed live, and at my fledgling skill level on the violin, it’s not likely that I’ll be working on my own interpretation of it any time soon. My violin teacher speaks dreamily of a retirement some day, down the road, where she’ll devote all her skills and energy, with pleasure, to Bach’s sonatas and partitas. A violinist could devote a lifetime to crafting these pieces, she tells me, and in my mind I see a monk-like existence, this selfless (but not really), wholly absorbing pursuit of striving to arrive at the pinnacle, where art, music, and craft touch fingers with the divine.

My plan had been to blog about Gil Shaham’s entire recital (Nigunim by Avner Dorman, accompanied by pianist Akira Euguchi; after intermission, a Bach-esque solo violin Suite No. 2 by William Bolcom, culminating with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata), but the magic of Bach’s partita has once again swept over me, sitting here at the keyboard. Sometimes less is more, I’m reminded. Pure, perfect, unadorned moments. Like hearing Gil Shaham play Bach for solo violin, all alone on that stage, the only sound in the entire concert, all those eyes on him, riveted, ears taking in the sublime music he was making.

Bach would have very much approved.

– The Classical Girl

PS: Here’s a link to Hilary Hahn playing the opening Prelude movement to the Partita no. 3. Just gorgeously rendered.

PPS: San Francisco Classical Voice has a great profile on Gil Shaham and the recital pieces I didn’t mention. Great stories behind these pieces of new music.


3 thoughts on “Bach, Shaham, Strad: When the masters meet”

  1. Exactly my experience of hearing Gil Shaham perform at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. So glad you could put into words what I could only enjoy as a sensory delight.

    • Oh, I’m so happy to hear that, Kathleen. And what a treat, that we are able to discuss stuff like this, classical music stuff, and nod and say “oh, exactly!” to each other.

      A few years back, who woulda thought it? So happy you’ve joined the classical music boat. : )


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