The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The reviews are in! This afternoon is your last chance to hear the critically acclaimed violin virtuoso Gil Shaham and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff | January 21, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been 17 years since the internationally renowned, award-winning American violin virtuoso Gil Shaham (below) performed in Madison, and that was a recital with his pianist-sister Orli Shaham at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This weekend he was back for three performances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain in an all-Russian program that featured one of the greatest violin concertos: the Violin Concerto in D major by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. (You can hear Gil Shaham performing an excerpt from the finale of the Tchaikovsky concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Both the critics and audiences loved him.

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street is your last chance to hear Gil Shaham in the Tchaikovsky, along with the “Love for Three Oranges” Suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Symphony No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Tickets are $18-$90.

For more information about tickets, the performers and the program, go to the website:

Here are two reviews that you can read as a preview if you haven’t yet gone or as a chance to measure your own impressions against the critics’ if you went to the performances on Friday and Saturday nights.

Here is the review that John W. Barker, a frequent guest critic for this blog, wrote for Isthmus:

And here is the review that Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:

What did you think of Gil Shaham’s performance?

Of the playing by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Gil Shaham does not dance around when playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Just watched his performance of Bartok no.2( September 2017.) I wonder why he does this here with the MSO.

    Comment by Irmgard Bittar — January 21, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

  2. I too found the reviews disappointing because neither reviewer captured the electricity the audience felt in hearing and seeing Mr. Shaham’s scintillating and totally compelling performance. I have lived in Madison for 13 years and can count the number of comparable performance experiences using fewer than ten fingers. It was thrilling.

    The MSO showed quite a few rough edges in their performance of Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, at least on Friday evening. Both pieces sounded like the orchestra was in rehearsal rather than in performance. Nonetheless, nothing could overshadow the thrill of the evening.

    Comment by Carol — January 21, 2018 @ 11:21 am

  3. Music reviews often mention three things: the performer, the performance, and the works being performed. Both reviews touch on these aspects of the MSO concert with Mr. Shaham. Yet both reviews are unsatisfying because neither convey the EXPERIENCE of being in the audience to witness such an astounding performance of the Tschaikovsky as I was privileged to hear on Saturday evening.

    Courtier says, “How to frame such an accomplished and satisfying performance?” Barker says, “On Friday, the audience adored it, giving him a standing ovation after the first movement alone, as well as at the conclusion.”

    While both reviewers talk more of Mr. Shaham’s playing (Barker’s disapproval seeping through clearly) neither capture the electrifying nature of this performance. I’ve been attending concerts and recitals for 40 years. I have two degrees in music and lacked but a completed dissertation and its defense in getting a third. I’ve performed in countless concerts myself. I have given a standing ovation to an artist or performance in the past, but I am not easily swayed and I’m old-school enough that if the performance is poor I will not applaud even for a great, or formerly great, artist.

    This was the first time in my life I felt compelled to my feet in applause on hearing something extraordinary, astonishing, ravishing, and magical. I was not alone. The audience and I gave the MSO and Mr. Shaham an immediate, thunderous, and extended ovation after the first movement. Consider the context for such an audience reaction and it becomes all the more remarkable.

    What is even more amazing is that the the MSO and Mr. Shaham appear to have affected the Friday night audience in the same way.

    “The audience adored it” and “accomplished and satisfying” are woefully inadequate descriptions of what happened. I feel sorry for both reviewers for they appear to have been left unmoved by the experience if their reviews are any guide.

    Comment by GuyS — January 21, 2018 @ 8:41 am

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