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Lucky break launched a superstar

S.L. is finally getting a chance to hear Shaham

Sometimes, all it takes for a performer to achieve superstar status is a lucky break.

Take violinist Gil Shaham, for instance. If Itzhak Perlman hadn't been forced to cancel his concert with the London Symphony Orchestra back in 1989, Shaham might not yet be enjoying his lofty position as one of today's most in-demand concert artists.

"It was my big break," Shaham said during a telephone interview from his home in New York City. "I was 17 and going to Riverdale High School in New York."

As Shaham explains it, Perlman had to cancel his London appearance at the last minute due to an ear infection that prevented him from traveling. "They were desperate to find a replacement. The first 500 they called couldn't make it, so then they contacted me."

Lucky for Shaham, he had played with the London Symphony the year before, so they knew about him. And before he had a chance to let everything sink in, the young violinist was winging his way to England. "They had me flying over on the Concorde. It was great!"

Shaham's concert in London received extensive media coverage, both here in the United States and in Europe. "I was featured in Newsweek, and I started getting a lot of calls to do concerts."

And the calls haven't stopped coming in. "I used to do 200 concerts a season," Shaham said, "but I've cut back by about a third now."

Salt Lake City will at long last get a chance to experience Shaham's artistry first-hand when he makes his much delayed debut with the Utah Symphony under Keith Lockhart this weekend. "I'm glad for the opportunity to finally come to Utah," Shaham said. "I've known maestro (Joseph) Silverstein for many years now. And Keith and I go back a few years, too, to our time in Tanglewood and Boston."

For this week's concerts, Shaham will play Dvorak's ever-popular Violin Concerto in A minor, one of Shaham's favorite works. "What (Dvorak) wrote for the violin is all so beautiful. Dvorak was a professional violist, but he also loved the violin, and I think this concerto was very important to him." And Shaham admits that he is one of the Czech composer's biggest admirers. "I'm a big, big Dvorak fan. I really love his music."

And that's something he has in common with the Utah Symphony music director. "I'm a great lover of Dvorak's music," Lockhart told the Deseret News. "And I don't think that anyone does Dvorak better than Gil."

Oddly enough, Shaham has yet to record the A minor concerto. "I would like to record it, but the opportunity hasn't come up yet."

Shaham records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon. Or as he puts it, "I'm very lucky that Deutsche Grammophon is crazy enough to want me to record for them."

Two of his recent CDs have been nominated for Grammys, and Shaham won the coveted award in 1999 for his recital album, "American Scenes," with Andre Previn at the piano.

Shaham doesn't mind his hectic performance schedule, although it does make it occasionally difficult for him to spend some time with his wife and children. "I always say that I think we (concert artists) have the best job around. After all, how many people can say they only work 200 days a year?"

In addition to the Dvorak selections, Lockhart and the Utah Symphony will also play Mozart's early Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 and Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler."

The concerts take place Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, at 8 p.m. in Abravanel Hall. Tickets are priced from $15-$35 and are available by calling ArtTix at 355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS, or in person at the ArtTix outlets in Abravanel Hall and the Capitol Theatre. Tickets can also be obtained online at Utah Symphony subscribers and anyone interested in group discounts should call 533-NOTE.

The program will also be presented dress-rehearsal style on Friday, March 30, at 10 a.m., as part of the orchestra's Finishing Touches series. Tickets are $8, and the doors will open at 9 a.m. for free refreshments in the lobby.