Smile Politely

The violinist comes home

He was born in Urbana while his parents, Israeli scientists, were on fellowship at the University of Illinois. Perhaps, then, it is fitting that violinist Gil Shaham returns to his hometown and source of his U.S. citizenship to demonstrate the skills that have put him in the top ranks of today’s classical violinists. On April 23rd, Foellinger Great Hall will welcome this artist home again.

Shaham’s early lessons and professional outings were in Jerusalem, as both he and his sister Orli showed great musical promise. He made his professional debut in 1981, at the age of 10, as a soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony. Since that auspicious beginning, he has only interrupted his constant professional musical progress with days as a student. He attended both Horace Mann School New York and New York City’s Columbia University. Then, after studies at Julliard with the legendary Dorothy DeLay, he broke into the big time in 1989 when he replaced Itzjak Perlman for a series of concerts with the London Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Within a year, he had a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. For over a decade, he would make a recording nearly every year while doing a full concert tour that included up to 140 concerts annually. He began recording many of the standard concertos and violin chamber works, as might be expected, but gradually Shaham became more experimental. He even made arrangements with the Weather Channel to promote his recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with their weather forecasts. Many in the classical music world were appalled, but Shaham, always a people person and one who believed in culture for the masses, joked, “I’m the official Weather Channel violinist. Doesn’t every channel need one?”

This recording sold 80,000 copies in its first few months, a huge figure for a classical recording. With such confidence in marketing and a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Chamber Music Performance , he hardly flinched when he left Deutsche Grammophon to establish his own recoding outlet, Canary Classics, in 2003. Bringing his talented pianist sister Orli over to Canary Classics, he maintained a strong concert schedule and recorded his own projects that Deutsche Grammophon had balked at, beginning with a superb set of Faure chamber music for which DG had expressed no enthusiasm.

He has continued to match his concert schedule with his recording projects, which now center on favorite solo and chamber works as well as the violin concertos of the 1930s. His April 23rd concert is a solo effort of some of the most famous violin music ever written. Shaham will play the full compliment of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Those very works are the source of his latest Canary Classics recording as well.

In 2012, Gil Shaham was Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year. About the violinist, Sedgwick Clark, Musical America’s editor, had this to say: “Gil Shaham is not only one of the most emotionally expressive artists of our time, but he is also one of the most thoughtful programmers. His project of the extraordinary burst of violin concertos composed in the 1930s is one of the glories of our time, and I can’t wait for him to play Hindemith’s great 1939 concerto.”

We can’t wait either. For further information go to or call 217-333-6280.

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