For many years early in his career, violinist Gil Shaham shied away from playing the solo works by J.S. Bach, the Sonatas and Partitas, but since he returned to them, he describes playing and performing the challenging repertoire as “no greater joy for a musician.”

The solo works for violin are a rite of passage for violin students – like the solo keyboard works, they’re challenging, and show what is possible to acheive on the instrument. “This is music that I think violinists like myself, we all know from childhood,” Shaham says. “My teacher had it as part of our regular curriculum. All the students played and studied the sonatas and partitas of Bach.” But playing them in a lesson and rehearsal setting was a far cry from taking them on stage. “After I finished school, I have to confess, I avoided performing these pieces, and I’m not sure why, looking back. I think I was intimidated. People feel so strongly about this music, and I feel so strongly about this music. I guess I didn’t feel confident to present it for an audience. It was more than a dozen years ago when I decided to make a concerted effort (no pun intended) to start playing them in concert. I figured if not now, when, and somehow if I don’t start playing them, they’re never going to feel more comfortable, they’re never going to improve.”

But as he incorporated them into his concerts, they only grew more important to him: “I discovered what so many other musicians had learned before me. Which is that this is the greatest joy for a musician. There is no greater joy than playing Bach. Nothing is more fulfilling, nothing is more engrossing, nothing is more inspiring, and even today when I go to my practice room, if I’m going to practice some Bach,  I’ll set aside a maybe half an hour, and then an hour and a half later, I’ll be looking at the clock, and where has the time gone?  A friend who’s a violinist said: ‘Whenever I play Bach, I feel like I’m a better person that day. I feel like I’m a better violinist that day.’ And that’s true, that’s true, I think Bach’s music has this effect on everybody around it – the listeners and the players.”

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