Violinist Explores Halloween Music

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — For Halloween, Gil Shaham will be the violinist from hell. In time for the holiday, he's put out a CD titled ``Devil's Dance.''

``We're trying to go for the satanic cult audience with this one,'' he jokes.

While the Stradivarius and Satan don't quite go together like soup and sandwich, the 29-year-old classical music star feels the combination isn't such a stretch.

Just look at literature and the movies, he suggests.

``Do you remember Jack Nicholson as the devil in `The Witches of Eastwick,' playing a violin with smoke coming out of the instrument?'' Shaham asks, adding: ``Shakespeare says the devil rides on fiddle sticks.

``I know the stories about Paganini, that he'd come to town and seduce some women, kill them and use their guts to string his violin and perform the next night. Of course I don't believe it. He must have promoted it, like some of today's pop stars being outlandish. Talk about a bad-boy image!''

``Devil's Dance'' (on the Universal Classics label) begins with ``Dance Diabolique'' from ``The Witches of Eastwick,'' which composer John Williams transcribed for violin.

The CD includes what Shaham considers a sine qua non: ``The Devil's Trill,'' one of 150 sonatas for violin and harpsichord by 18th-century composer Giuseppe Tartini.

``You couldn't make a record like this and not put it on,'' he says.

And the story behind it is a ``weird'' one, Shaham explains.

``Tartini claimed the devil appeared to him in a dream. The devil took his violin from him and began improvising, the most glorious music he'd ever heard, full of incredibly difficult fingerings and trills. As soon as he woke up the memory was fresh in his head. He wrote it down. He claimed it was the greatest work he ever composed.''

Shaham says the pieces on the CD amount to a ``kind of `violin macho.'''

``Very fast and tricky stuff,'' Shaham says. ``Some take a lot of practice. I had to do a lot of practice before coming to the sessions.''

Then he sounds like he's had a joust with Faust, saying: ``I had to sell my soul.''

Korngold's ``Wichtelmannchen'' is probably the scariest piece on the new CD, Shaham says, adding: ``William Bolcom's `Graceful Ghost' is a great contrast. It's nostalgic and shows ghosts in an unspooky, touching way.''

Born in Illinois, Shaham grew up in Israel and made an acclaimed debut at age 10, playing Vivaldi's ``Four Seasons'' with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He's best known for playing violin concertos like the Berg, Brahms and Sibelius, and he'll be going back to that in the next three months with the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra.

Shaham, who now lives in New York, plays about 100 concerts or recitals a season. He played more before he married violinist Adele Anthony two years ago. Now, he says: ``On the road, you press the `pause' of your life. You come back home and press `play.' Now I press `play' more often.''

When he finished the sessions for ``Devil's Dance,'' Shaham says, he realized they had recorded 13 pieces.

He doesn't suffer from triskaidekaphobia, though.

Is he superstitious otherwise?

``No,'' he answers, then knocks wood.