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Tanglewood opens July 5 with Beethoven’s violin concerto, and Symphony 3, ‘Eroica,’ with Gil Shaham filling in for Hilary Hahn

Who are you going to call when a violinist of Hilary Hahn's or Itzhak Perlman's league withdraws from an engagement and must be replaced at the last minute? A safe bet would be Gil Shaham.

Lenox — It won’t be the first time violinist Gil Shaham has stepped in at the last moment to replace an unavailable artist at Tanglewood. He has done it for Itzhak Perlman, and he won the day at Tanglewood in the summer of 2021 when he filled in for the piano duo Lucas and Arthur Jussen, who had been caught overseas in a pandemic travel snafu. This time, he is stepping in for Hilary Hahn, who had to withdraw from her Tanglewood appearance on doctor’s orders (pinched nerve).

Tanglewood opens Friday, July 5, with an all-Beethoven program, Shaham supplying the necessary virtuosity to vanquish Beethoven’s only violin concerto, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s wonderfully grandiose Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” for the first time at Tanglewood since the summer of 2011.

The BSO loves working with Gil Shaham, and Shaham seems to love working with practically everyone he meets. (He teaches at the Bard College Conservatory of Music.)

At the age of seven, Shaham started violin lessons at the Rubin Academy of Music and won scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. After that, he studied at the Aspen Music Festival and won a scholarship to the Juilliard School. He won the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990, the Premio Internazionale of the Accademia Chigiana in Siena in 1992, and a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Here is what I wrote about Gil in 2021:

Nobody nods their approval to a first violin section like Gil Shaham. This gesture, Gil’s trademark invitation to collaborate, is always his first order of business after greeting a conductor. He is awfully pleased to be there, he’s having the time of his life, and he wants to make sure everyone knows it. So he shines his happy light on everybody, and, pretty soon, everybody gets it, even members of the orchestra. Everyone gets something about the music that they couldn’t have gotten from anyone else.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 is famous for its connection to a certain narcissistic sociopath by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 is famous for its connection to a certain narcissistic sociopath by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. Early in Napoleon’s career, Beethoven admired the celebrated general for his ostensible championing of democratic (anti-monarchical) ideals, and so he dedicated his third symphony to Napoleon, only to strenuously renounce him when the little egomaniac declared himself Emperor of the French in 1804. Beethoven famously tore up the symphony’s title page, which bore a dedication to Napoleon, and renamed the piece “Sinfonia Eroica, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.”

In “Beethoven, The Music and the Life,” Lewis Lockwood notes that the first movement of the “Eroica” is, alone, almost the length of an entire early Haydn symphony. “But,” he adds, “what marks the ‘Eroica’ as pathbreaking is not only its epic length. At least equally important is the unity of musical ideas that marks the first movement.” Lockwood then goes on to explain how Beethoven introduced a small vocabulary of melodic intervals at the beginning of the piece and developed it to create an entire movement and, ultimately, the entire symphony. In doing so, Beethoven “greatly increased the developmental potential of the symphonic sonata form.”

The BSO last performed the “Eroica” at Symphony Hall in January of 2023 and at Tanglewood in August of 2011.

Hear Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s violin concerto, with soloist Gil Shaham, and Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” on Tanglewood’s opening night, Friday, July 5. Tickets are available here.

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