Orli Shaham

MusicWeb International Review: Mozart Piano Concertos

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K453 (1784) [30:01]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [29:04]
Orli Shaham (piano)
St Louis Symphony Orchestra/David Robertson
rec. 2017/18, Powell Hall, St Louis, Missouri

Coupling two such theatrical concertos as these, and ones that sport theme and variations in their finales, makes good sense. It also marks the first commercial recording in 16 years for the St Louis Symphony under David Robertson, then nearing the end of his 13-year stint as music director. Who better to accompany, then, than his wife, Orli Shaham playing on a New York Steinway.

Clearly there was perceptive microphone placements in Powell Hall, as the balances are finely judged, and things emerge naturally and not spotlit. In the Concerto in G the opening orchestral introduction is genially characterised and there is a chamber-like colloquium between soloist and wind principals. The violins sound divided too, and the consequent performance marries elegance, precision in voicings and secure ensemble. Similarly, there’s a touching intimacy in the slow movement and Shaham’s cadenza here has a quality of veiled melancholy. Cannily judged, the variations in the finale are both engaging and full of bubbling wit.

The companion concerto in C minor is the moodier and more introspective work but it too receives a buoyant and winning reading. The horns make their presence felt and the St Louis strings sound lithe but full toned and mercifully free of period desiccation. To enliven the first movement Shaham plays the Saint-Saëns cadenza with fiery intensity and commanding bravura – Robert Casadesus did the same in his old recording with Szell. The slow movement is fluency itself, in a clarity-conscious landscape, and the finale reprises the virtues, of line, definition and characterisation, that imbued the G major work.

Working hand in glove ensures a particularly simpatico reading of this brace of concertos. The booklet is a symposium between Shaham, Robertson and writer and academic Elaine Sisman that goes into some interesting musical detail about the works and is well worth reading. And as for this disc – it’s well worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf

TransCentury Communications reviews Mozart Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 24. Orli Shaham, piano; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. Canary Classics. $16.

There are endless ways to interpret Mozart, endless reasons for doing so, and endless explanations of why one interpretation or another “works” or does not. The reality is that all interpretations “work” if they interest, intrigue, move, engage, attract the audience; in that sense, whether they are academically correct, historically informed, careful to play what the composer expected to hear or more concerned with being heard in a modern setting by contemporary audiences, is largely irrelevant to their “rightness.” This is important to remember at a time when ongoing arguments about piano type, orchestra size, recording venue and more seem never-ending when it comes to music from before the 20th century (and even some from the 20th century). Mozart’s music, like Bach’s, communicates effectively, often brilliantly, whether or not played in the way Mozart played it himself or expected others to play it. Academics can argue whatever points they will, but what ultimately matters is whether performers have something valuable to say, to communicate to listeners, and have found an effective way of bringing it forth.

What is striking about the Orli Shaham/David Robertson collaboration in two well-known Mozart piano concertos, on the Canary Classics label, is how well it communicates feelings and expressions that seem “Mozartean” even though there is nothing historically accurate about the recording at all. The orchestra is too large for Mozart’s time, the piano far too big and resonant, the cadenzas not at all in Mozart’s style (especially in the first movement of Concerto No. 24), and Shaham’s playing is far too focused on the emotionally expressive passages of the music – not only in the enormously powerful No. 24 but also in the slow movement of No. 17. Purists will not care for what Shaham and Robertson have done here, although they will (or at least should) appreciate the consistency of these interpretations and the excellent support that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra accords Shaham. But as a reaching-out CD, as a deeply felt production that connects beautifully and meaningfully with an audience 230-plus years after these concertos were written, the recording is absolutely first-rate.

Shaham and Robertson clearly have deep feelings for Mozart that they know how to translate into feelings to be shared with an at-home audience. It is extraordinarily difficult to listen to this recording without giving it full attention: it insists that what it has to say is more important than anything else that may be in a listener’s environment while the disc plays. This is by no means always the case with recorded music, or even with recorded Mozart, which can descend into mere prettiness without the counterbalancing pathos that is one of the signposts of Mozart’s genius. It would be facile and rather silly to say that Shaham and Robertson “channel” Mozart; better to say that they understand Mozart with a thoroughness that allows his music to flow through them and through these performances in a way that connects directly with an audience that, objectively, is immeasurably different from any for which Mozart wrote or could have written. The way Shaham shapes each individual variation of the finale of Concerto No. 17, the considerable drama of the coda of that movement, the unbridled intensity Shaham insists on presenting from the start of Concerto No. 24, the almost unbearable heights to which she takes that intensity in the finale of the latter concerto – these and many other touches illuminate aspects of Mozart that have always been there in the score (and of which, to be sure, other performers have also been cognizant), but that Shaham and Robertson connect with tremendous skill in performances that are fully and beautifully integrated from start to finish. This is not “correct” Mozart in the historical sense, but it is hard to escape the feeling that it is very much correct in its effects, its meaning, and its emotional impact. The ultimate test of performances for most listeners is not whether they are historically accurate but whether they are convincing – and these certainly are.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announces release of Mozart Piano Concerti recording with conductor David Robertson and pianist Orli Shaham

Release date: August 23 on Canary Classics

"a first-rate Mozartean" - Chicago Tribune

Renowned pianist Orli Shaham, conductor David Robertson, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announce the international release of an album featuring two of Mozart’s most-loved piano concertos.

Recorded for Canary Classics at historic Powell Hall in November 2017 and January 2018, the valedictory season of Robertson’s 13-year tenure as Music Director of the SLSO, the album may be purchased via this link.

Between the month of his 21st birthday and the time of his death 14 years later, Mozart effectively invented the piano concerto and turned it into one of the most thrilling of all musical genres. Shaham trains the spotlight on the drama and expressive power of two of the composer’s finest works for keyboard and orchestra in her latest recording for Canary Classics. The album presents the compelling pairing of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 17 in G major K.453 and 24 in C minor K.491. Her vision of both scores is brought to life in company with the SLSO and Robertson, ideal partners in a project that penetrates deep beneath the surface of Mozart’s music to reveal a complex web of quicksilver emotions and fluctuating moods.

The album’s selected works stand as emblems of the extraordinary theatricality of Mozart’s concertos. Each highlights the spirit of dialogue between soloist and orchestra, the ever-shifting exchange of musical ideas, colors, and textures used by Mozart to create a world of limitless dramatic possibilities.

Pianist Orli Shaham said, “These pieces move with such intense energy, driven forward by themes that grow in many directions. They develop like characters in a play or an opera. Mozart always thought dramatically and theatrically first. The way he wrote the first melody you hear is the perfect way to set up a scene, whatever that scene is. I feel like these concertos are great examples of opera at the concerto level. With the theme and variations in the finales, for example, each variation is a little part of a scene in which the story is being pushed along.”

Taken together, the two concertos embrace tragedy and comedy, pathos and joy, laughter and tears. Mozart pushes at the boundaries of convention – from harmonic language and thematic development to the technical demands he makes on the soloist – to construct multiple layers of meaning.

The SLSO recording of the Mozart piano concerti is latest in a robust history of recordings that has resulted in nine Grammy Award wins. Most recently, the SLSO, in conjunction with Blue Engine records, released the first commercial recording of Wynton Marsalis’Swing Symphony in July 2019. The SLSO won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for the Nonesuch release of John Adams’ City Noir, conducted by Robertson.

Texas Classical Review on Orli Shaham and the DSO

Guest conductor David Robertson presented a thought-provoking and ultimately thrilling all-twentieth-century program with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Meyerson Symphony Center Thursday night. The orchestra and guest pianist Orli Shaham rose to impressive heights, and Robertson’s command of the forces at hand, the structure of the music, and the acoustical properties of the room was evident.


Between the two Stravinsky works, pianist Shaham joined the orchestra for Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety.” Named for W.H. Auden’s long, soul-searching poem of 1947, the work — also arriving with its young composer on the brink of stardom — contains almost a surplus of musical riches, with an innovative structure and an array of musical forms ranging from tone rows to jazz.

The opening movement uses that most obvious and, for audiences, understandable structural device, a set of variations, but cloaks the variations in deliberate obscurity. The second movement storms, rages, and mourns, with a long side journey into a jazz district. The orchestration as a whole is quite Stravinskian, with equal attention from Bernstein to beautiful sounds and striking effects. The composer ten years later of West Side Story is much in evidence here, though one couldn’t help wishing he had been more concise in this earlier work.

As always with Bernstein, the listener can sense the composer’s ego and presence in the music; Bernstein himself admitted that the symphony’s piano part was “autobiographical.” Shaham maneuvered skillfully through the maze of styles and technical issues: one variation a simple, long scale for piano; others relentlessly repetitive; some sections almost Chopinesque.

Shaham and Robertson, with help from a flawless orchestral performance, created the sense of a musical event — if not a masterpiece, at least a brave work by an emerging musical genius. Flanked by Stravinsky, the Bernstein symphony as heard on Thursday proclaimed the richness of classical music’s sometimes maligned 20th Century.

Read the whole review at this link.

Pianist Orli Shaham Premieres David Robertson’s “A Goldberg Conjecture”

On Sunday, Feb. 24, pianist and host of Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig, Orli Shaham performs the world premiere of David Robertson’s “A Goldberg Conjecture.” This new version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations re-imagines this famous solo harpsichord work for piano and string quartet.

The pianist Orli Shaham, curator and host of the popular chamber music series in Costa Mesa, said she was looking for a different kind of entry point into this seminal work by J.S. Bach. “It’s such an incredible piece,” she said. “Every pianist wants to perform it. And, pretty much every pianist has performed it.”

Shaham felt that the combination of piano and string quartet was one of maximum versatility, and so she turned to David Robertson to create this new adaptation for her and selected members of the string section of Pacific Symphony. Why him? While Mr. Robertson is internationally known as a conductor, he has long had an interest in writing music – even before he triple-majored in composition, conducting and French horn at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Over the past few years, he has created a number of transcriptions for the interactive concert series for children, Orli Shaham’s “Bach Yard” (formerly “Baby Got Bach”).

“A Goldberg Conjecture” is beyond a mere transcription of Bach’s music, says Robertson. “It is actually a hybrid form. There are places where I allow Bach to be just him, and then there are moments where I really get in there and mess things up. It’s an enlargement of elements that I feel are fascinating within the piece.” Robertson’s title is a play on words of the “Goldbach Conjecture,” an 18th century mathematical treatise.

Orli Shaham is delighted with the way David Robertson takes advantage of the modern keyboard and its reach in this music. “He’s taken into account how different sounds and timbres affect each other. In some cases, he’s put variations on top of one another to be played simultaneously. He has created a fascinating sound world employing various string techniques in combination with the piano.”

The premiere on February 24 includes just half of the variations from Bach’s original music. Robertson is still working on his ‘conjecture’ of the entire Goldberg Variations, so Café Ludwig audiences have something to look forward to.

Performance Details
Sunday, February 24 at 3:00 p.m.
Pacific Symphony’s Cafe Ludwig
Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Orli Shaham, piano and host
Dennis Kim, violin
Bridget Dolkas, violin
Meredith Crawford, viola
Timothy Landauer, cello

PERLE: Classic Suite, Op. 3
BACH/MOZART: Fugues transcribed for String Quartet from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, K. 405
BACH-LISZT: Prelude and Fugue in A minor, originally for organ, BWV 543
J.S. BACH /D.E. ROBERTSON: “A Goldberg Conjecture” (World Premiere)

Orli Shaham featured on KUSC Arts Alive

Listen to Orli Shaham's interview at this link.

Picture this: you’re driving down the 5 Freeway in the Central Valley. All of a sudden, in your rear view mirror you see two 30-foot stretch limos. As they pull up beside you, you notice that these limos aren’t your average everyday limos. They are, in fact, the world’s longest Steinway grand pianos, traveling at 90 miles-per-hour on the freeway.

That scene has never actually happened, but it was the inspiration for a piece of music by composer John Adams. The piano/limousine hybrids appeared in a dream that Adams had years ago and that dream inspired his Grand Pianola Music, a piece Adams wrote in 1982 and one that he says, “seems to have something to offend everybody.” There’s all sorts of noisemakers in the percussion section, three female voice parts, and the two piano soloists often play their parts just slightly out of synch with one another.

One of the soloists is Orli Shaham. She tells me she’s a big fan of the music of John Adams.

“I fell in love with the music of John Adams when I first heard his Century Rolls piano concerto. I had heard other pieces of his that I had liked quite a bit, but maybe because it was for piano, it suddenly spoke to a part of me that was much stronger. Since then, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting him many times. We’ve become quite good friends. I’ve worked with him as a conductor and also recorded some of his music. That close collaboration you have with a composer when you are recording his or her music is very personal and intimate in that way.”

Shaham tells me she has performed Adams’ Grand Pianola Music with Adams and pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, as she will this weekend with the LA Phil.

“Reliving an older piece of [Adams’] with him as a collaborator and seeing him, through the rehearsal process, figure out the sounds in the way that he intended them, I mean, this is the dream. We all want to know exactly what did the composer intend here? And here’s your chance: the composer is right there five feet away from you! You can know exactly what the composer intended. I find it so creatively satisfying to work with a composer of his intellect and just creative energy.”

Orli Shaham gives "commanding, powerful performance" with Milwaukee Symphony

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Elaine Schmidt, Special to the Journal Sentinel

Big sounds, musical depth and standing ovations rang out in Uihlein Hall Saturday night during Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s program of music by Bartok, Tchaikovsky and Still.

Playing under the baton of guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein and joined by pianist Orli Shaham, the orchestra presented Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and William Grant Still's “Poem for Orchestra.”

Shaham gave a commanding, powerful performance of the Bartok concerto, playing with a big, warm sound that was full of sometimes-bold and sometimes-subtle shifts in timbre and color.

Her performance was about more than just power and sound. Shaham brought emotional depth to the piece, from soaring first-movement statements and glowing energy in the final movement, to exquisitely voiced and shaped phrases in a deeply expressive second movement.

Weilerstein and the orchestra responded to her expressive, sonically rich interpretation as though engaging in a heartfelt conversation. Frequently looking over his shoulder at Shaham’s hands, Weilerstein created a seamless performance that brought the audience to its feet.

The themes of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”) may be etched in the minds of music lovers, but somehow that familiarity makes hearing the piece in a live performance something to be anticipated rather than taken for granted.

From heavy sighs in the strings, delivered in the thick, plaintive sounds that are part of Tchaikovsky’s musical signature, to strong, rousing brass lines, fluid solos from various instruments and audience-enveloping full-orchestra sounds, this was an engaging, exciting performance.

Weilerstein and the orchestra played with precision and superb communication, both between podium and players and between individuals and sections.

They brought elegance and grace to Tchaikovsky’s long, achingly beautiful phrases, crackling energy built of taut playing and brisk tempos to more strident, martial sections and artful, soulful expression to solo passages.

The evening ended with a standing, cheering ovation.

The evening opened with a riveting performance of William Grant Still’s 1944 “Poem for Orchestra.” Weilerstein and the Milwaukee Symphony gave a taut, well-balanced performance of the expressive, cinematic piece.

Baby Got Bach engages executive consulting services

Baby Got Bach engages executive consulting services

Baby Got Bach Artistic Director Orli Shaham and Executive Director Gail Wein are pleased to announce the engagement of Gene Sobczak and PROTEA Success Navigation in the advancement and continuing development of the organization.

WQXR: Roads Not Taken

WQXR: Roads Not Taken

From a very young age, pianists invest themselves fully in practice and performance. Their commitment is so deep and their talent so inspiring that it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else.

WQXR: 12 Pianists Chose the Piece of a Lifetime

WQXR: 12 Pianists Chose the Piece of a Lifetime

But what if this impossible decision was made more impossible still? What if today’s great pianists could play one piece — and one piece only — for the rest of their lives? What would they choose, and why? Here’s what they told us.

Bangor Daily News review: Orli Shaham with Bangor Symphony

Bangor Daily News review: Orli Shaham with Bangor Symphony

Concert pianist Orli Shaham played Sunday as if Bela Bartok had written the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major for her instead of his wife. Shaham, renowned on four continents for her technique, passionately and exuberantly embraced the complex composition for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Dreams concert.

The Ellsworth American review: Orli Shaham with Bangor Symphony

The Ellsworth American review: Orli Shaham with Bangor Symphony

[Bartok's Third Piano Concerto] was sensitively performed by Orli Shaham with poetic grace or rhythmic forcefulness, as the music demanded. The performance displayed perfect rapport between soloist and orchestra, bringing out the exceptional lyricism of the first two movements and the dynamic intensity of the finale.

Bangor Symphony Orchestra Interview with Orli Shaham

Bangor Symphony Orchestra Interview with Orli Shaham

On Sunday, February 25th, pianist Orli Shaham will join the Bangor Symphony Orchestra to perform Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Collins Center for the Arts. The program will also feature Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 and Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride. Ms. Shaham is an accomplished artist, with the New York Times calling her a “brilliant pianist,” and in anticipation of Sunday’s performance, we spoke with her about what audiences can expect.

WQXR featured Valentines: Orli Shaham and David Robertson

WQXR featured Valentines: Orli Shaham and David Robertson

This Valentine's Day WQXR asked pianist Orli Shaham and conductor David Robertson about the joys and challenges of sharing their profession and their life — plus, top tips for long-lasting love.

Orli Shaham and the Orlando Phil search for the joy of communion in Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety'

Orli Shaham and the Orlando Phil search for the joy of communion in Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety'

"We all feel we have something failing us in humanity, but at the same time we experience joy and connection with other human beings," says pianist Orli Shaham. "In this way the piece is timeless."

Orli Shaham artist insights: Bernstein Symphony No.2 "Age of Anxiety"

Orli Shaham artist insights: Bernstein Symphony No.2 "Age of Anxiety"

Bernstein's Age of Anxiety is a symphony, but it is also a piano concerto, which makes it quite interesting for me as the soloist.

KRCB reviews Orli Shaham's Mozart No. 21

KRCB reviews Orli Shaham's Mozart No. 21

Her reputation as a Mozart specialist was on display as her crystaline and lucid touch drew a very Classical sound from the modern concert grand onstage. Mozart requires enormous precision, but that detailed playing shouldn't be at the expense of warmth. Shaham has all those bases covered and earned an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.

KDFC interviews Orli Shaham: Sparkling Mozart in Santa Rosa

KDFC interviews Orli Shaham: Sparkling Mozart in Santa Rosa

"There’s something about Mozart that’s really formational and formative. The music is so cleanly written that all the basic elements that you need to understand for anything else are already in his notes.”

Orli Shaham on Café Ludwig's "All-American" program

Orli Shaham on Café Ludwig's "All-American" program

On February 11, 2018 the Pacific Symphony’s “Café Ludwig” concert series commemorates the centennial of Leonard Bernstein and Steve Reich’s 80th birthday. Pianist Orli Shaham has been curator of the “Café Ludwig” series since 2007, and performs on each program. She shares her thoughts about this all-American program:

Orli Shaham performs on Bruce Adolphe's "Piano Puzzlers"

Orli Shaham performs on Bruce Adolphe's "Piano Puzzlers"

Orli Shaham performs on Bruce Adolphe's "Piano Puzzlers"