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Focusing on Brahms, Gil Shaham and The Philadelphia Orchestra provide a lesson in inspiration

courtesy of the artist

Join us on Sunday, June 4 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, June 5 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you an all-Brahms program from the 2022/2023 season led by principal guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann.

Violinist Gil Shaham, a regular guest of the Philadelphians since his debut with them 35 years ago, is featured in the Violin Concerto in D major by Johannes Brahms. When he conceived this work in the summer of 1878, Brahms was inspired by the artistry of a close friend, Joseph Joachim, a Hungarian-born violinist who was one of the great virtuosos of the time. That August, the composer wrote to Joachim to ask if he might consider editing the solo part and ultimately premiering the work. But no score arrived until December. By this time the premiere performance had already been scheduled for New Year’s Eve, so Brahms was setting a very tight deadline for his friend: Joachim had just three weeks to correct the solo parts and learn the music before the premiere at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, with Brahms on the podium.

Violinist Gil Shaham on the friendship that inspired Brahms' violin concerto.

Response to the premiere was mixed, and with another performance scheduled in Vienna two weeks later, the two kept working on the score. In Vienna, Joachim unveiled his famous cadenza for the first movement (which Gil Shaham also plays in this performance), and the concerto as a whole made a much more positive impression.

Conductor Nathalie Stutzmann on how Brahms mined inspiration from his contemporaries

A few years before the Violin Concerto’s premiere, Brahms was struggling to write his first symphony — a process that began when he first produced sketches for a symphony at age 21, soon after his mentor Robert Schumann had proclaimed in an influential article that Brahms was the rightful heir to Beethoven. To the young composer, it must have seemed like the whole of the European musical world had trained its eyes on him, expecting a masterwork. The pressure produced paralysis, at least with regard to the symphony. Brahms pursued various projects, but despaired that his stubborn symphony would ever be completed. Twenty-two years later, in 1876, his Symphony No. 1 in C minor finally appeared, and it was worth the wait; the work was universally admired. Brahms’s second symphony quickly followed, as did his third and fourth — all masterworks, and all utterly his own.


Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Nathalie Stutzmann, conductor

Gil Shaham, violin


Melinda Whiting: Host

Alex Ariff: Senior Producer

Susan Lewis: Consulting Producer

Joseph Patti: Broadcast Engineer

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.