New Classical Tracks

Pianist Orli Shaham finds joy in Mozart amid pandemic

Orli Shaham enjoys the connection of playing in chamber groups.Aleks Karjaka

New Classical Tracks: Orli Shaham (extended)


January 27, 2021
New Classical Tracks: Orli Shaham
by MPR

Orli Shaham — Mozart Sonatas in B-Flat (Canary Classics)

"If you were to give me a choice right now to go and make some chamber music or to have dinner with friends, I would choose the chamber music. I found the few opportunities that I've had to do that with people during this time was such a deep human connection for me."

Pianist Orli Shaham longs for human connection through music most, but what's really remarkable is what she has done during the pandemic. Thanks to an incredible support system, modern technology and about 25 apps, she recorded all 18 of Mozart's piano sonatas for the first time. The first recording in the 5-volume set was recently released.

"I've always thought about them individually one sonata at a time," she said. "Suddenly, I looked at the 18 of them as a whole, and I realized that they run pretty much through Mozart's entire compositional life and they tell an incredible story of who he was as a composer. How he thought of himself as a pianist? They're kind of like experimental testing grounds for ideas, which would be much less public than a symphony, opera or concerto."

Is this your first solo recording of Mozart's music?

"It is. I've recorded piano violin sonatas with my brother Gil, and I've recorded some concerti with the St. Louis Symphony and with my husband, David Robertson. There's a wonderful feeling of freedom in recording solo piano. It's very personal; the responsibility is all on you. But I find that very freeing. Because of the nature of these sonatas, they are very open to improvisation. He specifically calls for it."

How did you decide what was going to be featured on the first recording of the set?

"There happened to be three sonatas in the key of B-flat at three very different stages of his compositional life. The fact that they happened to all be in the same key makes for a wonderful, blank canvas through which we can see how he developed his writing."

What would you encourage us to listen for in each of these sonatas?

"In the first of these sonatas, when he was just leaving Salzburg for the first time, Mozart was getting to know some new pianos or keyboard instruments of the time. I feel like he's referencing a style older than himself, which maybe is part of that old-fashioned Salzburg upbringing, but at the same time pushing the boundaries. This is at the opening of K. 281 Sonata.

"Another spot in that sonata that I just love is the second movement, Andante Amoroso. There Mozart developed something that he would do forever, which is turn whatever he is writing into an operatic scene. You could almost visualize what's happening on the stage. There's a boat or a gondolier with dialog between them, which creates this very intimate scene that is very operatic.

"In the the middle of these B-flat sonatas is one of the most beautiful flowing melodies in all of Mozart. The way that the right hand sings to me is so beguiling. Before the piece has even taken off, you're already deeply in. You can't help but be in that world just because of the incredible flow of the melody that he's put in.

"For me, Mozart offers transcendence. He shows us where our human emotions lie and where they can go and he elevates them. It's interesting for a guy who was not that spiritual. His music certainly is."


Orli Shaham — Mozart Sonatas in B Flat (Amazon)
Orli Shaham (official site)