An appreciation for music was intrinsic to Gil Shaham’s upbringing.
“Although both my parents were scientists by profession, they were also active music lovers,” said the Grammy-winning violinist who will perform Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Music Center at Strathmore, courtesy of Washington Performing Arts. “Music was always around my brother, sister and myself when we were growing up.”
The siblings grew up in two nations. “My parents were both Israelis who were visiting the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (where Gil was born). They only stayed a couple of years. By the time I was 2 years old, we were already back in Israel living in Jerusalem. Later, we all moved to New York, intending again to stay one year, maybe two. That was almost 40 years ago and I am still there.”
Wherever they lived, “Our parents listened to recordings at home,” he said, “and even sometimes took us to concerts of the Israel Philharmonic.”
In Israel, Shaham pointed out, “Children’s culture had so much music. Small kids sang folk songs, Israeli pop was everywhere and many of our friends took music lessons.” His own violin studies began at age 7 at the Rubin Academy of Music, and he received annual scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. At 10, Shaham debuted with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; the following year, he took first prize in Israel’s Claremont Competition.
A music-linked scenario stands out among Shaham’s childhood recollections — that of his “parents reading through Beethoven’s Minuet from the Eighth Sonata for violin and piano. As far I as I remember, this only happened once,” he said. “Seeing my mother at the piano, my father with the violin and hearing this music seemed like a special activity of which I wanted a part.”
As a result of the “very contagious” nature of the “music bug,” Shaham believes “we all caught it.” His sister Orli is a concert pianist who is married to orchestral conductor David Robertson and his brother Shai, “a mild-mannered scientist by profession and an accomplished pianist in his spare time.”
Another example of such family-linked proclivities is Shaham’s wife, concert violinist Adele Anthony, whose father is also a concert violinist. And, of course, the couple pays the heritage forward: all three of their children play musical instruments.
Back in the United States, Shaham’s career flourished, too. He became a scholarship student at the Juilliard School and also studied at Columbia University. Filling in last-minute for Itzhak Perlman with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1989, when he was 18, was a big break. The following year, he won an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and in 2008, the Avery Fisher Prize. Musical America named him Instrumentalist of the Year in 2012.
Now based in New York City, Shaham maintains a calendar packed with solo and duo recitals and appearances with leading orchestras and ensembles. He has produced more than two dozen concerto and solo CDs – many of them on Canary Classics, the label he founded in 2004. Among his prestigious prizes are multiple Grammy awards, a Grand Prix du Disque, Diapason d’Or and Gramophone Editor’s Choice.
Shaham, who performs on a 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius violin, has diverse personal taste in music. “I have yet to find a genre of music I don’t like. Although I almost exclusively play classical, I enjoy hearing other styles and would love to learn to compose, improvise, etc., in other idioms,” he said.
At the Strathmore show, Shaham will perform alongside longtime duo partner, Japanese pianist Akira Eguchi. “Akira is my hero. We have been partners in crime now for 30 years,” he said. “My wife Adele says people play like who they are. Akira is a great master of music, but it’s his person, his spirit, vitality, generosity, kindness and thoughtfulness that are the reasons I treasure his friendship.”
About the works by Fritz Kreisler, Scott Wheeler, Israeli Avner Dorman, J.S. Bach and Cesar Franck that they chose for this concert, Shaham said, “Over the years, we have programed many different pieces and we have only one rule: We play what we love to play. We hope our audience enjoys hearing this music as much as we enjoy performing it.”
Washington Performing Arts presents a recital by violinist Gil Shaham and pianist Akira Eguchi at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets range from $40 to $80. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org.