The first time Gil Shaham heard the Sibelius Violin Concerto he was all of eight years old and had just been given his parents' old phonograph. "There were a couple of recordings I would listen to," the violinist said in a recent interview: "Jim Nabors Sings Favorites, Charles Munch and the Boston in Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, and [David] Oistrakh playing the Sibelius concerto. I remember listening to it over and over again, listening to that first phrase and thinking it was so cool."
The Sibelius has been very good to Shaham in the years since. It was one of the first concertos he played as a student. Then, in 1989, when an ailing Itzhak Perlman withdrew from performances in London, the then-18-year-old Shaham stepped in with the Sibelius and Bruch.
This month, at age 34, he is bringing the piece to his hometown band, the New York Philharmonic. Although he has previously appeared with the Orchestra 28 times ("I can't believe they've been that kind to me!"), he believes that this is the first time he will have played the concerto in New York.
"These guys are my heroes," he says of the Philharmonic. Although born in Illinois and raised in Israel, Mr. Shaham has been a New Yorker most of his life. "I used to go to their concerts all the time. It doesn't get better than playing with the New York Philharmonic."
Not to mention working with Music Director Lorin Maazel. "I'll never forget the first time I rehearsed with him," Shaham says of an appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. "He said, 'You know, Gil, the older you get the more fun it is to make music.' That must have been 12 years ago. I think maybe now I have a hint of what he was talking about."
Peter W. Goodman, formerly a music critic for Newsday, is author of Morton Gould: American Salute (Amadeus).