Gil Shaham was just 10 when he began studying with the Aspen Music Festival and School. It was here he started to work with violin instructor Dorothy DeLay, building a foundation in music and an affinity for Aspen.
Though he was born in Illinois and moved to Israel at age two—beginning to study at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem at seven—the family moved back to the United States and sojourned frequently to Colorado.
His father studied with the Aspen Center for Physics, while he and his sister, Orli Shaham, practiced with the Aspen Music School. That was 1981, and both have since become award-winning musicians with global recognition: Orli on the piano and Gil with the violin.
Gil returns to Aspen every summer with his wife, violin player Adele Anthony, and their three children. This week, he’s making a distinguished trip to open the AMFS Winter Concert Series at the Wheeler Opera House.
And, he’s playing something special too. Shaham will be performing William Bolcom’s “Suite No. 2,” a solo violin piece commissioned just for Shaham by Music Accord, a group of national presenters which regularly pool their resources for commissions. Tuesday marks the piece’s western premiere.
“Some parts are very tongue-in-cheek, some are light-hearted, some are very sunny, and others are very poignant and beautiful,” Shaham recently told the San Francisco Classical Voice. He plays the Bay Area’s Davies Symphony Hall Feb. 8.
He says the piece is nine short movements, which each explore the ranges of the violin. The third movement is called “Northern Nigun,” which ties directly to another commissioned piece he’ll play in Aspen: “Nigunim.” A nigun is a traditional Jewish song. In 2011, Gil and Orli played a program on Jewish folk heritage, written by Avner Dorman “based on the lost tribes of Israel,” says Shaham.
“A nigun is an instrumental work; it has the unusual property that the melody starts on a note and wanders off, often in an improvisational manner, and ends up back at the same note,” Shaham tells the SFCV. “Nigunim is the plural. It’s an instrumental piece that’s meant to transcend words.”
Shaham is often described as one of the most engaging and charismatic classical musicians of our time. He tours all over the world, playing with major symphonies and orchestras, and often with collaborator Akira Eguchi, who will perform on the piano with him here in Aspen.
“Gil’s program is pure reflection of Gil’s personality from serious to impish,” says AMFS vice president of artistic administration Asadour Santourian, referring to the lineup of Bach, Dorman, Bolcom and Milone rounding out Tuesday’s program. “It’s a wonderfully balanced program that takes the audience on a real journey.”
The Aspen Music Festival and School’s winter series continues with two more performances this season. On Feb. 28, the Takács Quartet, an internationally acclaimed string quartet out of Boulder, returns to Aspen for the first time in a year.
Conrad Tao first came to Aspen as an 11-year old (much like Shaham) and will return as an 18-year piano virtuoso on March 16.
“Our winter music recital series is the match of any hall in the world. Both Gil and the Takács Quartet perform regularly in every major concert hall, and our own alumnus Conrad is quickly blazing the same path,” says Alan Fletcher, AMFS President and CEO. “It is a pleasure to bring such a quality series to an audience and a town that appreciates and embraces that quality.”
The Winter Concert Series can be purchased as a three-pack, for a discounted price, or individually by show.
“The Festival’s winter concerts are also a fun coming-together for the valley’s music community. We see each other so much in the summer, but miss each other in the winter,” says Fletcher.
The AMFS summer season runs June 27 through Aug. 18, and a full preview will be released in February.
Gil Shaham (violin) and Akira Eguchi (piano)
Presented by the Aspen Music
Festival and School
Tuesday, Feb. 5
Wheeler Opera House