Like the two composers whose violin concertos he will be performing tonight and this weekend with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Gil Shaham was a child prodigy. He performed as a soloist for the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israeli Philharmonic at age 10, was admitted to Juilliard a year later, and made a permanent imprint on the international classical community brilliantly filling in for an ailing Itzhak Perlman with the London Symphony Orchestra at age 18.
That was more than 20 years ago. Shaham has gone on to capture multiple Grammys and the more prestigious Grand Prix du Disque, found his own record label, Canary Classics, and have his pick of myriad performing opportunities — including a stint with the Minnesota Orchestra in Europe two weeks ago, and this series of shows at the Ordway tonight and Saturday and at Bethel University’s Benson Great Hall on Sunday.
A dual citizen of Israel and the United States — he was an unlikely “anchor baby,” born in Urbana, Ill., while his parents were on an academic fellowship – Shaham will highlight his SPCO visit with a performance of the Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn, whose reputation was undeservedly obscured due to his Jewish ancestry during the late 19th and early 20th century.
The concerto itself is vintage Mendelssohn — conservative in its structural integrity, yet imbued with charismatic dynamism and melody, making it an ideal vehicle for Shaham, who was once lauded by the New York Times for his “powerful, luscious tone,” yet is rarely glitzy nor ostentatious in his presentation.
Here is the first movement of the Mendelssohn, as performed by violinist Jasha Heifetz.
The program will open with Shaham’s performance of the Haydn Violin Concerto No. 2. Once again, there are no relevant clips available on YouTube, but here is Shaham doing the second movement of Haydn’s first violin concerto.
Between the two concertos, SPCO Concertmaster Steven Copes will conduct the orchestra through Beethoven’s Second Symphony.
Violinist Gil Shaham with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, tonight at 7:30 and Saturday night at 8 at the Ordway Theater, plus Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at the Benson Great Hall. Tickets are $10-$40 for tonight and Saturday, and $10-$25 for the Sunday performance.