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Q&A: Orli Shaham

by Danielle Georgiou 17 Apr 2013 11:11 AM

Guest blogger Danielle Georgiou previews the pianist’s show Thursday at the Winspear.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. And she’s a member of Muscle Nation.

Orli Shaham
Photo Credit: Christian Steiner

Orli Shaham, one of the world’s most gifted pianists, will be returning to Dallas for a one-night only performance at the Winspear Opera House on Thursday.

Shaham has established an impressive international reputation as a pianist, but she also maintains an active parallel career as a respected broadcaster, music writer and lecturer.

In 2010, she created Baby Got Bach, a series of interactive classical concerts for young children. She has taught music literature at Columbia University, contributed articles to Piano Today, Symphony and Playbill, and served as artist in residence on National Public Radio’s Performance Today. Shaham’s prodigious skills and the emotional truth of her artistry combine to create playing of the highest order.

I talked to her as she prepared for her performance in Dallas.

Danielle Georgiou: Your parents are scientists (father, Jacob, was a renowned astrophysicist and professor at Columbia University; mother, Meira, is a cytogeneticist, and brother is a developmental geneticist). How did you become involved in music?

Orli Shaham: My parents have always loved music. From the time they were newlyweds, they bought one record every week, and so I grew up listening to music all the time.

Gil (my other brother, the violinist) and I sometimes felt like the black sheep of the family; we could barely keep up with the dinner conversation when topic turned to science, which was most of the time! So we did what we could with music.

D.G.: What lead you to pursue music as a career choice? And what do you need to be an artist today?

O.S.: I’ve been very lucky to be able to pursue music as a career and make a living at it.  The most important trait to be a lifelong musician is persistence. You have to really love it to put up with all the insecurity and instability that characterize much of one’s career. But if you are really passionate about it, it’s all worth it.

D.G.: Were there ever times you felt like you didn’t want to do this? What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t a pianist?

O.S.: There was never a time that I didn’t want to be a professional musician. And, if there had been, it would have become a lifelong love rather than a career. But of course I’ve toyed with other career choices since childhood. Two of my favorites are veterinarian and Supreme Court Justice.

D.G.: Who are some of your influences?

O.S.: One pianist I always come back to, again and again, is Emil Gilels.  Another is Dinu Lipatti. There are many pianists, from students to professionals, whose playing has influenced me. And, of course, I don’t want to forget Schroeder, from Peanuts. I don’t know that I’d be here without him.

D.G.: What have been your experiences with styles other than classical?

O.S.: I enjoy listening to all sorts of music, though I am not an improviser myself. I love it when classical music includes elements of jazz and rock and roll. I love to play Gershwin and Bernstein, and the new piano concerto that Steve Mackey wrote for me has a lot of rock and jazz in it.

D.G.: Who are your favorite composers?

O.S.: I could never pick a favorite composer—that would be like having a favorite child. But if I did have a favorite composer, it would be Brahms. Honestly, though, in many ways my favorite composer is the one I am working on at the moment.

D.G.: Have you performed in Dallas before?

O.S.: I have performed in Dallas before with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and I very much enjoyed playing in the Meyerson Hall.

Manuel Diaz, “Gate of Kiev,” one of Shaham’s inspirations for this upcoming performance.

D.G.: What can we expect from your show here?

O.S.: I’m bringing three of my favorite composers in works that are constantly revealing new layers. At the concert, I will talk though some of the brilliant charms of the etudes by William Bolcom. And, I’m very excited to be bringing a brand new set of pictures by the artist Manuel Diaz to accompany Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. These are vivid and bright, and I feel they reinvigorate the experience of the piece.

D.G.: What’s your number one guilty pleasure in music?

O.S.: I’m a child of the 80s, so I guess it would have to be Huey Lewis and the News. And the opening theme to the TV show Dallas!

Orli Shaham performs at the Winspear Opera House on Thursday, April 18 at 8:00pm.