Prominent American violinist Gil Shaham will perform a solo recital at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts on Thursday, October 4, at 8 p.m. He will perform three selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006): Partita No. 3 in E major, Sonata No. 3 in C major and Partita No. 2 in D minor.
“The pieces are so astounding,” Shaham said in a telephone interview. “They really are a pinnacle of violinists’ repertoire.” All the Sonatas and Partitas were written in 1720 while the 35-year-old Bach was employed as the kapellmeister of 26-year-old Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen.
The 41-year-old Shaham, a Grammy Award winner and Musical America’s 2012 Instrumentalist of the Year, has studied and practiced the pieces in private for some 30 years. But he did not begin performing them in public recital until last season.
“We all studied these pieces as violin students,” he said. “I’d always been anxious or cautious about playing them in public, and I figured if I don’t start, it’s not going to get any easier. I do play these very differently today than how I did 20 years ago. I think some people might be surprised at some of the choices, particularly choices of tempo.”
In discussing features of the music, Shaham points out passages that might have been influenced by Bach’s deep involvement in church music, including a melody in the Partita in C major that has close affinity to the anonymous 15th-century choral tune “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott.”
“When playing Bach, questions of faith are not very far away,” Shaham said. “I’m a violinist, not a musicologist, but I think there are so many ways to read it. I remember violinist Nathan Milstein was adamant, passionate [about] saying, ‘These are not sacred works! These are secular works!’ I think with Bach that line is more than a little bit blurry, you know? But any way you look at it, this music is a spiritual journey.”
The pieces are some of Shaham’s greatest joys to play. “There’s something about Bach,” he said. “You go into your room, you start practicing and you plan to spend an hour at it, and two hours later you’re still enjoying it.”
This will be Shaham’s first concert appearance at the Schwartz Center. Single tickets are $60.