Gil Shaham

Gil Shaham
Gil Shaham, violinist

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Igor Stravinsky: Circus Polka for a Young Elephant | Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D | Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5 in E minor – Nicola Benedetti, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, James Gaffigan – Friday, June 2, 2017, 10:45 AM EDT (UTC-4) / 05:45 PM EEST (UTC+3) – Live on Livestream

Nicola Benedetti

Having just performed its debut with the London Symphony Orchestra to critical acclaim, guest conductor James Gaffigan and violin sensation Nicola Benedetti present a new concerto by Jazz phenom Wynton Marsalis! The DSO's incredible 2016-2017 season then comes to a celebratory finale with Tchaikovsky's majestic Fifth Symphony.

Friday, June 2
Los Angeles: 07:45 AM
Detroit, New York, Toronto: 10:45 AM
London: 03:45 PM
Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Rome: 04:45 PM
Moscow, Kiev, Jerusalem, Athens: 05:45 PM
Beijing: 10:45 PM
Tokyo: 11:45 PM

Live on Livestream

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

♪ Circus Polka for a Young Elephant (1942, 1944)

Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961)

♪ Violin Concerto in D (2015) (DSO premiere)

i. Rhapsody
ii. Rondo
iii. Blues
iv. Hootenanny

Nicola Benedetti, violin

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

♪ Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 (1888)

i. Andante – Allegro con anima
ii. Andante cantabile con alcuna licenza
iii. Valse. Allegro moderato
iv. Finale. Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: James Gaffigan

(HD 720p)

Live from Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit

Friday, June 2, 2017, 10:45 AM EDT (UTC-4) / 05:45 PM EEST (UTC+3)

Live on Livestream

Photo by Simon Fowler
Italian-Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti followed in a long line of British Isles teenagers hailed as revitalizers of classical music. In advance of making any recordings whatsoever, she was signed to a six-album contract by the Universal label in January 2005 and assigned to its prestigious Deutsche Grammophon imprint, with a paycheck reportedly in excess of one million pounds (over $1,880,000). Benedetti diverged from predecessors like Vanessa-Mae and singer Charlotte Church, however, in that she stuck to traditional classical repertory and did not try to cross over into the pop world.

Born in 1987 in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, Scotland, Benedetti was the daughter of a prosperous Italian-born manufacturer of plastic cases for first-aid kits. When she was four, she tagged along with her eight-year-old sister Stephanie to a violin lesson and then took up the instrument herself; the two sisters remained close confidantes, and Stephanie has been active as an orchestral musician. Nicola attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in England's Surrey region, an institution whose music programs have recently produced Nigel Kennedy and other top-flight players. She gave performances at several top British concert halls, later moving to London to study with violinist Maciej Rakowski. When Benedetti was 14, she won a Prodigy of the Year contest on England's Carlton Television network. A hint of her potential crossover appeal came when she drew a crowd of 10,000 at the rock-oriented Glastonbury Festival's "classical extravaganza" in the summer of 2003. She told London's Independent newspaper, however, that "I have not ruled out different types of music but I was trained as a classical musician. I don't want to compromise what I do and what I love". At another stratum of British journalism, she told the Mirror that "I'm not really into clubbing and I've never smoked or drunk much – and I won't wear anything tarty".

Benedetti took a big step toward mainstream classical stardom when she won the BBC's Young Musician of the Year award in May 2004, performing Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1 and becoming the first Scot to take home the BBC prize. Over that summer she was featured on the cover of BBC Music, and she appeared with the Scottish Symphony and other top groups. With money and publicity coming her way, she was in a position to make the most of her talents. The Times of London forecast a promising future for the youngster, noting that "her poised handling of the whirlwind of fame and honeyed blandishments that came her way last year suggests that her youthful passion in performance is balanced offstage by a healthy streak of that quintessential Scottish trait – prudence". This led her to eventually slow down her performance schedule so that she could further her musical studies and her technique, confident that she would be a better overall musician for it, and determined to play what she loves. By the following decade, Benedetti's schedule was as full as ever, taking in a 2010 debut at the BBC Proms; chamber music recitals with her trio (Leonard Elschenbroich, cello; Alexei Grynyuk, piano) at European festivals; chamber and concerto performances in North America and Europe in 2011; a 2011 release on Decca (Italia); and visits to schools in the United Kingdom to encourage new talent. Released to coincide with a trio of performances at the 2012 BBC Proms, The Silver Violin – a collection of music made famous by the world of cinema – consolidated Benedetti's position as one of the most popular British violinists of her generation.

Source: James Manheim (

Photo by Juan Carlos Villarroel
Hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan continues to attract international attention and is considered by many to be the most outstanding young American conductor working today. In January 2010, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and recently concluded his tenure as Principal Guest Conductor of the Gurzenich Orchestra in Cologne.

In addition to these titled positions, James Gaffigan is in high demand to work with the leading orchestras and opera houses throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In the United States, James Gaffigan has guest conducted the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, and the Pittsburgh, St Louis, National, Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Baltimore and Milwaukee symphonies among others. His US festival engagements include appearances at the Blossom, Grand Teton and Grant Park festivals, as well as at the Hollywood Bowl.

James Gaffigan's international career was launched when he was named a first prize winner at the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in Frankfurt, Germany. Since then, he has appeared with prestigious orchestras such as the Munich, London and Rotterdam Philharmonics, London Symphony, Dresden Staatskappelle, Deutsches Symphony Orchestra Berlin, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de France, Vienna Symphony, London and Czech Philharmonics, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the Sydney Symphony among others.

Highlights of his 2016/2017 season include re-engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as with the San Francisco, Detroit, Houston, New World, Vancouver and San Diego symphonies and return appearances at the Aspen Music Festival and Music Academy of the West. Internationally, in addition to his work with the Lucerne Symphony and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, he guest conducts the Oslo Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony in London.

Equally at home in the opera house, James Gaffigan made his Vienna State Opera debut in 2011/2012 conducting La Boheme, was immediately invited back to conduct Don Giovanni the following season, and returned once again in the fall of 2015 for performances of The Marriage of Figaro. He made his professional opera debut at the Zurich Opera in June 2005 conducting La Boheme. In the summers of 2009 and 2010 he conducted performances of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro at the Aspen Music Festival and made his debut at Glyndebourne sharing a production of Cosi fan tutti with the late Sir Charles Mackerras. Since then, he has returned to Glyndebourne leading performances of Falstaff as well as a new production of La Cenerentola, and led performances of Don Giovanni at the Bavarian State Opera, The Marriage of Figaro with the Houston Grand Opera, Salome with the Hamburg Opera, Rigoletto and Rusalka with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and La Traviata with the Norwegian Opera. He makes his debut with the Washington National Opera in September 2016 conducting a production of The Marriage of Figaro, and future opera projects include his debuts with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Santa Fe Opera.

James Gaffigan's first recording with the Lucerne Symphony for Harmonia Mundi, an all-Wolfgang Rihm disc, received critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, as did his second recording with Lucerne of Dvorak's Symphony No.6 and the America Suite, also for Harmonia Mundi. He is in the process of recording the complete Prokofiev symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and his most recent recording is the first Tchaikovsky and second Prokofiev piano concertos with Kirill Gerstein and the DSO Berlin for the Myrios label.

Born in New York City in 1979, James Gaffigan attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, where he earned his Masters of Music in conducting. He was also chosen to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 2009, James Gaffigan completed a three year tenure as Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony where he assisted Michael Tilson Thomas, led subscription concerts and was Artistic Director of the orchestra's Summer in the City festival. Prior to that appointment, he was the Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra where he worked under Music Director Franz Welser-Moest from 2003 through 2006.

James Gaffigan

Igor Stravinsky: Circus Polka for a Young Elephant

Most music lovers know that Igor Stravinsky was a talented composer of dance music – so talented, in fact, that he was once asked to compose music to be danced by an elephant. In 1942, Stravinsky was in America and struggling financially when the great choreographer George Balanchine came to him with such an offer. The Barnum & Bailey Circus had commissioned from Balanchine a ballet for Modoc, an elephant with outstanding talent, and gave the choreographer carte blanche in his choice of music. Balanchine knew he had his man.

Stravinsky, after verifying for some reason that the elephants in question were very young, set about composing a polka. He completed a version for piano in 1942; film composer David Raksin transcribed it for wind band so it could be played at the circus, and Stravinsky himself made a full orchestration in 1944. The polka was premiered at Madison Square Garden in the spring of 1942 in a production involving, according to the circus program, "50 Elephants and 50 Beautiful Girls in an Original Choreographic Tour de Force, Featuring Modoc, premiere ballerina". As one might expect, the Circus Polka is short, sweet, and playful, with bright melodies and bouncy rhythms. Stravinsky being Stravinsky, however, the work is far from a straightforward polka; there is only a single instance of the classic oom-pah polka rhythm in the work, and the tune it accompanies is not an original one, but rather, Schubert's Marche militaire. There are a number of little rhythmic twists and turns throughout the work; according to contemporary accounts, these posed no problems for Modoc, but baffled the remaining elephants at the premiere. Humans will no doubt find the music charming and carefree.

Source: Andrew Lindemann Malone (

Nicola Benedetti & Wynton Marsalis.
Photo by John Devlin
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D

Consider Marsalis' epic oratorios "Blood on the Fields" (the first jazz composition to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1997) and "All Rise" (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 2002), also his "Swing Symphony" (premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2010). He has pointed out that the classical violin has been part of his life since he was a teenager.

But if Marsalis' Violin Concerto is yet another step on the composer-performer's journey through the bastions of high culture that Duke Ellington braved a generation before, taking on the unique concerto he wrote expressly for her is most definitely a departure for Benedetti, a fast-rising international violin star whose reputation up till now has been firmly fixed in the classical repertory.

Benedetti, who will turn 29 on July 20, said in a recent telephone interview from her London home that stepping outside her musical comfort zone – finding the right sound and feeling for the jazz, blues, swing, gospel and other styles that inform Marsalis' work – has been a challenge she's very much enjoying.

Even so, she confessed, her own journey through the music may be far from over.

"I would hope that once the piece is totally settled in, I will be able to explore the kind of freedom that's basic to jazz composition and is second nature to a lot of jazz musicians", said the violinist, who was born in West Kilbride, Scotland, to an Italian father and a Scottish mother. "I will wait for my heart and soul and instinct to guide me to new ways to play the piece."

Benedetti's certainly done her homework, having spent the better part of the last decade immersing herself in Marsalis' recordings, absorbing the jazz polymath's musical language into her being, as if she knew this day would eventually arrive.

At the same time, she insists there isn't that wide a stylistic gulf separating many of the classical works she performs from her colleague's Violin Concerto. "The departure from, let's say, Vivaldi to Shostakovich is not much greater than from Shostakovich to Marsalis", she said. "It's a similarly graspable shift for me."

It's not precisely clear whose idea it was – Benedetti's or Marsalis' – to compose a concerto for her. But what she jokingly calls her "constant jabbing" eventually paid off. Numerous emails and telephone calls were exchanged during which she answered his detailed questions about string playing techniques. He, in turn, did everything he could to ease her into his world.

"I found working with Nicola a pleasure, and she's taught me a lot", the 54-year-old jazz great said by phone from New York.

Benedetti's response to early drafts of the concerto was that the music wasn't hard enough to play; so Marsalis piled on difficulties that would further test her technical chops. "I found myself in the strange position of giving Wynton Marsalis guidelines on what he should compose", she said, laughing. "It felt like an awful responsibility. The only criticism I could possibly have is that Wynton has too much creativity – he is just exploding with ideas."

Marsalis had thrilled to Benedetti's violin playing more than a decade ago when he first heard her perform at Lincoln Center. But because of his myriad undertakings he wasn't able to begin focusing on the concerto until last year, a process that spanned some four or five months.

"Nicola is very serious, has tremendous range and is extremely intelligent", Marsalis said. "She's not like one of those old-school virtuosos whose musical biases and training make them look down on stuff."

What emerged from their creative interchange is a four-movement concerto with a programmatic design that's pure Marsalis. The first movement, titled "Dreamscape", incorporates a lullaby, a nightmare and feelings of serenity and recollection. The second is a circuslike "Rondo Burlesque", with ragtime elements. This leads to a slow blues movement. The finale is an unabashedly wild hootenanny.

If this makes the concerto sound like a kind of 40-minute capsule history of popular musical Americana, that's exactly what Marsalis intended. "I tried to get a lot of our music into the score, because that's who we are as a people and that is what our country is", he said. All of the themes are original, he added – "I almost never quote other people's music in my music."

Source: John von Rhein, 2016 (

Wynton Marsalis, 2016. Photo by Andrew Toth

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Tchaikovsky's deeply felt nationalistic sentiments bound him closely to his contemporaries in the twilight of Czarist Russia. Yet – ironically – his musical expression of the "national element" placed him at the center of a bitter debate. While the central European musical world in the late 19th century argued over the relative merits of Wagner and Brahms, Russian musical society was marked by hostility between an amateur group of nationalists, the "Mighty Handful", and conservatives such as Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein, who wanted Russian music to reflect European techniques and standards.

Though he drew inspiration from Russia's rich vein of folk music, Tchaikovsky embraced his European training and rejected the attitudes of the nationalists as simplistic: "The young Petersburg composers are very gifted but they are all impregnated with the most horrible presumptuousness and a purely amateur conviction of their superiority over all other musicians in the universe", he once grumbled. But shortly after the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in November of 1888, he wrote to his brother: "On Saturday I took part in a Russian Symphony concert. I am very glad that I could prove, in public, that I do not belong to any particular party".

The public dimension was one to which Tchaikovsky was very sensitive; as the country's foremost composer, and as a conductor with an international reputation, Tchaikovsky was closely scrutinized. In an 1882 letter to a Russian critic he argued: "It is not important that European audiences applauded me but that all Russian music and Russian art were received with enthusiasm in my person. The Russians ought to know that a Russian musician has held the banner of our art high in the big European centers".

Composed shortly after a long European tour, the Fifth Symphony is typical of the artistic balance Tchaikovsky struck; it is not explicitly nationalistic, but a distinctively Russian flavor pervades many of the themes.

There is also a related, but deeper, artistic issue in the work. As Leon Plantinga points out, Tchaikovsky's personal approach to musical meaning often conflicted with the strictures of his formal training: "He struggled ceaselessly with the opposed demands of formal traditions he had learned in the conservatory and his own predilection for an emotional and expressive progression of events corresponding to an unspoken program".

The idea of an "unspoken program" was certainly in the composer's mind as he sat down to compose this symphony; in the spring of 1888 he noted a possible approach: "Intr[oduction]. Complete resignation before Fate – or, what is the same thing, the inscrutable designs of Providence". Although he eventually dropped the specific programmatic references, it is clear that this symphony projects some kind of dramatic significance. The broad outlines are made clear by a recurring idea that has over the years adopted the composer's nomenclature and become known as the "fate" motive; its original ominous character undergoes various metamorphoses, emerging triumphant in the score's concluding pages.

Low strings and woodwinds introduce the fate motive at the opening; it is followed by a theme reminiscent of a Slavic folk tune. The movement presents a wealth of themes, and even the development presents material not previously introduced.

The second movement's luscious main theme was adapted for a popular love song; Tchaikovsky's skillful orchestration, however, lifts the mood from sentimentality to high Romanticism. The movement's principal melody is presented in a memorable solo by the horn, followed by other appealing woodwind solos.

The third movement is the most distinctive, a graceful waltz in which Tchaikovsky again exploits a wide range of instrumental color.

The finale brings the emotional drama of the symphony to a climax. After opening with the fate motive, Tchaikovsky turns to the movement's militant main subject; the tension mounts (one New York critic referred to "slaughter, dire and bloody... across the storm-driven score") until a newly affirmative version of the fate motive bursts forth in the magnificent final moments.

Source: Susan Key (

Nicola Benedetti & Wynton Marsalis. Photo by Carl Bigmore

See also

Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor – Nicola Benedetti, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (HD 1080p)

Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor – Nicola Benedetti, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiří Bělohlávek


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