Music hasn’t meant much to me for a long time. I own zero CDs and just a few dozen MP3s, most of which I downloaded years ago and none of which I listen to. A bit of Pandora a few days a week, mostly as background music as I get ready for bed, is plenty.
So I was stunned the other night to hear some live music that left me wanting more. An even bigger shock: It was classical, Brahams to be exact, performed by the LA Philharmonic and violinist Gil Shaham.
We went to the Phil because my stepson and his fiancee were in town. John plays the French horn professionally, for the symphony in Santiago, Chile. Naturally, he loves classical music, and he’s a fan of LA Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel, so off we went to the Disney Concert Hall.
John said Dudamel was kind of a wild man and that Shaham was a world-class violinist, but still, I expected to enjoy the show mostly on a theoretical level - an excellent orchestra and soloist, playing music that I’d appreciate but that might have me checking my watch.
Instead, I forgot I was wearing the thing. John was right about Dudamel, and Shaham is probably the best musician I’ve ever seen. The guy is Jimi Hendrix on a violin.
Brahams wrote his violin concerto to be hard to play, and Shaham just ripped through those incredibly challenging passages. “On fire” and “flying” don’t do him justice, but they’re the best I’ve got. (You can catch a few minutes of Friday’s show in the video above, which has the look of an against-the-rules recording and thus might not be on YouTube forever.)
In the first movement, Shaham played a solo that lasted about three minutes and that I wanted to go on for another 10. If I hadn’t been watching him, at times I’d have sworn there were at least two violins playing.
The solo ended, and then came my favorite part of the show. A few other strings joined in, the intensity fell off, and you could hear these percussive exhalations from spectators around the hall, as we all stopped holding our breath.
And just like that, music started to matter again.
(The video below shows Shaham playing not quite half of the first movement a few years ago. His solo starts at the 4:29 mark.)