Israeli violin virtuoso Hagai Shaham: I love performing in the Czech Republic

Hagai Shaham, photo: archive of Hagai Shaham

“I spend my time at home - practicing, teaching online and shopping for food for my family,” says Hagai Shaham, one of Israel’s most talented violinists. In the second part of a series of interviews with Israelis with Czechoslovak roots conducted by the Czech Centre in Tel Aviv he talks to the centre’s head Robert Mikoláš about his daily routine during the coronavirus crisis, his love of Czech composers and his plans for the future.

Hagai Shaham,  photo: archive of Hagai Shaham

Mr. Shaham, your family has a connection to Czechoslovakia, right?

“My father, Amnon Shaham was born in Czechoslovakia (Nitra) in 1936. He came to Israel after the war, in 1949. He was a music teacher and inspector of music studies of the ministry of education for the north of Israel. Today he is retired, playing (in normal times) in a chamber music quartet with his amateur friends.”

What are you doing these days? Are you in Israel or did you get stuck abroad because of measures taken in relation to the spread of the coronavirus?

“I am in Israel, at home ... practicing, teaching from home, shopping for food for my family.....I was supposed to be on a tour (England, US and the Netherlands) but it was all cancelled, as well as for the remainder of this season.”

Hagai Shaham: „I think that we should appreciate, be able to enjoy, respect and protect the beautiful things in our world. And music is certainly one of them! It is a language, a form of art, a natural thing that was here before us, and of course a form of entertainment. Music (and art) contributes to our soul, I believe that it is a spiritual necessity of humankind“.

Aren't you bored? Under normal circumstances you would tour in different parts of the world, teach abroad, but now you have to be at home.

“Actually, not at all. I now find the time to practice things I always wanted, to read new things.... and in addition, I continue to teach my students at Tel Aviv University as well as in University of New York.”

What about playing „online“? Aren't you planning a "home" concert online to please your fans, as some musicians or orchestras are doing these days, such as the Czech Philharmonic?

“I haven’t planned any online performances. Teaching is hard enough.... the means which I have (normal internet, skype/zoom etc.), are not of any acceptable quality for live broadcast of music. Perhaps I will do something nice with my kids who are at home with me.”

Your children are following in your footsteps, they are also gifted musicians, how about a joint home concert?

“Yes, that’s possible. We have one more violinist at home (Michael, 16 years old) and Double Bassist Naomi (aged 22). We already read some chamber music, will do more, perhaps on our roof (like the Beatles....) .”

Speaking of the Czech Philharmonic, you are a great connoisseur of Czech composers, right?

“Well, I have performed several great Czech composers like Dvořák, Smetana, Janáček, Martinů.... all really great, on the highest level. I recorded a CD of Janáček’s complete works for the violin and piano, as well as 2 piano trios of Dvořák. I plan to record his sonatina and Slavonic dances next year.”

When this crisis is over, do you have any plans where you want to play? And what about going to the Czech Republic?

“I hope very much to return to a normal schedule. I have already bookings for the 2021/22 season... but too many things in the near future will most likely be cancelled (summer festivals etc.). I always loved playing in Czech Republic, I was there several times and collaborated many times with Czech musicians. I don't have a plan to perform there at the moment, but will always look forward to such opportunity!

Hagai Shaham is internationally recognized as one of the most exciting Israeli violinists. Shaham was a student of the renowned Professor Ilona Feher. He continued his studies with Emanuel Borok, Arnold Steinhardt and the Guarneri Quartet. During his career he received several prestigious awards. As a soloist he has performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the Prague Philharmonic and many more. Shaham has performed on many international stages and recorded over 30 albums which were enthusiastically received by the international press. Besides of that Hagai Shaham is a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, and an Artist in Residence at Stony Brook University, New York. Together with violinist Ittai Shapira, he is a co-founder of the Ilona Feher Foundation for promoting young Israeli violinists.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has forced Czech Centers around the world to go online. However they remain in communication with the public offering presentations of Czech culture, science and innovation on #CzechCultureToTheWorld.