New Classical Tracks

Gil Shaham finds friendship in two violin concertos

Gil Shaham enjoys the time spent working with Eric Jacobsen and the Knights on their new album.Courtesy of the artist

New Classical Tracks: Gil Shaham (extended)


April 21, 2021
New Classical Tracks: Gil Shaham

Gil Shaham/Eric Jacobsen and the Knights — Beethoven, Brahms: Violin Concertos (Canary Classics)

Friendship is at the heart of the new recording featuring violinist Gil Shaham, with Eric Jacobsen and the Knights. In fact, Shaham has been performing and recording with the Knights for so long that Jacobsen says he is part of the family.

“I heard them play the Eroica Symphony in the second half of a program,” Shaham said while remembering when he was on tour with the Knights. “I just loved the performance. I was blown away. It was exactly how I like hearing Beethoven. I thought they really captured the spirit of Beethoven. I spoke to Eric afterwards and I said, ‘Hey, let's do the Violin Concerto.’ And as that went along, we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, let's do the Brahms, too!’”

Why is this the first time that you've recorded the Beethoven Violin Concerto?

“I guess originally I was reluctant to play it. And then when I started playing it, I discovered what so many musicians before me and after me have discovered, that there's no greater joy than playing Beethoven's music. And maybe, this Violin Concerto, in particular.”

How does the work begin, and what happens when the violin finally enters?

“The piece starts with four drumbeats, which I think was meant to turn heads. It's quite a shock. It's really like, what is this? It's not even music. It's four drumbeats, these jagged — pom pom pom poms — which are immediately contrasted by this sublime chorale, this melody in the winds.

“The violin solo entrance is remarkable. The orchestra freezes on a V7 chord, and there's a lot of tension in that chord. In my ear, it always reminds me of passages from the Ninth Symphony.

“[Cellist] Styra Avins likens this to the practice of ‘preludising.’ It was this idea that musicians would come to a performance and before actually beginning a piece they would warm up, play some scales, check out the tuning of the instruments and the acoustics of the hall. This is what happens when the solo violin enters over this very tense V7 chord.

“I often think when something like that happens, it's very easy for us to think of a crescendo as a means of getting from one place to another. But in a way, the crescendo itself was the event.”

In both violin concertos, the soloist and the orchestra are more like partners. Because of this, is it more important for the crescendo to be heard?

“That's correct. I think the word is ‘drama.’ Beethoven was a great dramatist, and it's always about storytelling. The violin concerto is no exception. It takes you on this amazing journey. And yes, maybe the soloist is the protagonist, but it's a very elaborate and perfectly crafted ensemble work.”

Joseph Joachim and Brahms’ friendship is what links them together on this album. Tell me about their friendship.

“I think somehow for Brahms, a lifelong bachelor, the idea of friendship, the ideal of connecting with other humans was extremely important. Maybe the Violin Concerto is about his personal relationship with Joachim or maybe it's a tribute to friendship in general.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Gil Shaham/Eric Jacobsen and the Knights — Beethoven, Brahms: Violin Concertos (Amazon)

Gil Shaham/Eric Jacobsen and the Knights — Beethoven, Brahms: Violin Concertos (Canary Classics)

Gil Shaham (Official site)

Eric Jacobsen (Official site)

The Knights (Official site)