A Chat With: New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Guest Pianist Orli Shaham

Classic Arts Features   A Chat With: New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Guest Pianist Orli Shaham
 
An interview with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra guest pianist Orli Shaham. The talented musician will be featured with the Orchestra from May 16 _ 19 in Newark, New Brunswick and Princeton, New Jersey.

From May 16-19, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will present a program compromised of Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 , and Steven Mackey’s Stumble to Grace Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, featuring Orli Shaham on the piano. Stumble to Grace is part of the acclaimed New Jersey Roots Project. The concerts will be conducted by NJSO Music Director Jacques Lacombe.

Please tell us a little bit about the history of Mackey’s Stumble to Grace? Have you performed the piece before?

Stumble to Grace was co-commissioned by NJSO, St. Louis Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. I’ve already performed the work with St. Louis and LA, and now this is the East Coast premiere.

I had long wanted to commission a piano concerto, and I was looking for a composer with the right kind of energy. Steve Mackey and I met in Aspen a few years ago – we were featured soloists on the same concert. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and Steve and his wife were also expecting, and we bonded over that.

Please tell us a little bit about the history of Mackey’s Stumble to Grace? Have you performed the piece before?

Stumble to Grace was co-commissioned by NJSO, St. Louis Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. I’ve already performed the work with St. Louis and LA, and now this is the East Coast premiere.

I had long wanted to commission a piano concerto, and I was looking for a composer with the right kind of energy. Steve Mackey and I met in Aspen a few years ago – we were featured soloists on the same concert. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and Steve and his wife were also expecting, and we bonded over that.

I really believe that in order to make any of the music we play relevant, we should be constantly introducing new works into the repertoire.

How did you originally come to be involved in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra?

I have played with NJSO a number of times in the past. I remember many a beautiful tour through the different cities of New Jersey. I love that the NJSO doesn’t limit itself to performing in just one town.

As a New Yorker, I am proud to say that I consider the NJSO as one of my hometown orchestras.

Have you ever worked with Jacques Lacombe before?

No, but I am really looking forward to it. I have heard incredible things about him.

So far, performances of Stumble to Grace have only been conducted by David Robertson (aka, my husband, and the conductor for whom Steve Mackey originally envisioned the piece). It’s essential for the continued life of this music that other musicians embrace it.

What is one of your most memorable performance experiences, and why?

One of my most favorite moments was performing John Adams’s Century Rolls at Carnegie Hall. I was the first pianist to play the work after Emanuel Ax, for whom it was written. Because of scheduling, John wasn’t able to attend any of the rehearsals, and so he wasn’t able to hear me play it until the performance. As a performer, my most important job is to be the composer’s advocate, so the fact that he couldn’t be at any rehearsals was nerve-racking. As he leapt onto the stage for the bows, he whispered to me, “You got it, you really got it.” Nothing is more gratifying to me than to know that I am serving the composer’s intentions.

What thoughts go through your mind right before you step on stage for a performance?

Don’t mess up!

What kind of music did you listen to growing up and how did those artists’ affect your career interests?

My parents had an eclectic record collection. It included the great classics, and also 60’s and 70’s rock and pop music. I remember listening a lot to John Denver and Pink Floyd, and that combination turned out to be especially useful in playing Steve Mackey’s music.

What exciting performances do you have coming up in the future?

I’ve already had a busy and exciting season. I just finished recording Stumble to Grace with Los Angeles Philharmonic, which will be released early next year. Coming up, in addition to several summer festivals, I’ll be working on another recording project, focusing on the late piano works by Brahms.

Visit www.njsymphony.org

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