HE’D ALREADY PLAYED CARNEGIE Hall—at 15. So when violinist Gil Shaham, now 24, was ready to promote his latest recording, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, he aimed for a venue of even more cosmic proportions—the Weather Channel.
A TV fiend (“The Hawaiian vacation episode of The Brady Bunch was the best”) and inveterate Weather Channel watcher (“If there’s a storm, forget about it, that’s like the biggest deal”), Shaham decided to approach the cable station about airing his video of the Winter section of the concerto—a gritty black-and-white montage of Shaham performing with New York City’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. “It just made sense to us,” says the station’s promotions manager, Kathryn Keesee. “Our viewers loved it.”
The exposure hasn’t hurt. Since the video appeared in December, the CD has sold 70,000 copies and is now No. 4 on the classical charts. “I’m the official Weather Channel violinist,” Shaham says. “Doesn’t every channel need one?”
Decidedly not, said some critics, who thought Shaham’s unorthodox marketing ploy debased classical music. “We did nothing to compromise our art,” counters Shaham. “Nobody feels more strongly about music than I do, but we have to reach people.”
Born in Champaign, Ill., to an astrophysicist father and geneticist mother, Shaham and his brother and sister grew up in Jerusalem, where he began violin lessons at age 7 and made his symphonic debut at 10. After the family moved to New York City in 1982, Shaham studied at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1989, as a high school junior, he was asked to step in for Itzhak Perlman (ill with an ear infection) as soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra. “Gil is as technically perfect as anyone I know,” says the symphony’s former conductor Andre Previn. “But he’s also a thoughtful and serious musician, a complete artist.”
A busy one too. Shaham spends some six months a year on the road giving recitals—-and racking up $1,500 a month on phone calls, many to girlfriend Adele Anthony, 24, an Australian violin student at Juilliard who lives near him on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. As for his mission to introduce refined music to the masses, he is clearly up to the task. After all, he says, “classical musicians are really very normal people.”