Russian National Orchestra with Gil Shaham | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Russian National Orchestra with Gil Shaham 

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RUSSIAN NATIONAL ORCHESTRA WITH GIL SHAHAM

Though only 26, violinist Gil Shaham is already a hardy veteran of the international concert circuit. His talent became apparent just after his family moved from Champaign to Israel in 1973; by nine he'd made his debut with the Jerusalem Symphony. Generous government subsidies allowed him to study with respected mentors and later to attend Juilliard. Shaham has emerged a young master of the Russian school, technically brilliant, expansively lyrical, and emotionally charged--traits that may not be quite right for the cool elegance and intellectual vigor of the Viennese classicists and modernists but are totally appropriate for Schumann, Paganini, Kreisler, and the other Romantics who make up the core of Shaham's repertoire. Shaham adds his own distinctive sweetness to the style, making him sort of an interpretive descendant of Leopold Auer and Jascha Heifetz. Partly because of his youth, Shaham has become a media darling, appearing on the Grammys and Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Some of his CDs, too, pander to the mass audience: he's recorded the easy-on-the-ear concertos of Barber and Korngold with the London Symphony and put out an album of transcriptions of operatic favorites. But none of this commercial calculation can change the fact that he's an absolutely riveting performer. Fittingly, Shaham is the celebrity soloist for the latest U.S. tour by the Russian National Orchestra, an independent outfit assembled by conductor and pianist Mikhail Pletnev eight years ago at the behest of Gorbachev. Shaham's bound to shine in Glazunov's famously nationalist concerto--Glazunov was an important transitional artist, bridging the gap between the czarist generation and that of Stravinsky and the Soviets, and his urbane yet folksy crowd pleaser arguably defines Russian virtuosity. Also on the program are the rarely heard tone poems Three Fairy Tales, by Liadov, a contemporary of Glazunov; and the suite from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, in an arrangement by Pletnev. Like Shaham, the 41-year-old Pletnev started off as a prodigy. He turned to conducting in 1980, after winning the Tchaikovsky competition, and these days he's a triple threat, having started composing as well. Monday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Gil Shaham photo by Boyd Hogen/ Mikhail Pletney photo by Jšrg Reichardt.

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