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Violinist finds freedom with his own label

The bad news came in a phone call to violinist Gil Shaham from his regular record producer at Deutsche Grammophon.

"After 10 years with the company," the voice said, "this must be difficult for you, but we've decided not to continue your contract."

Shaham had made more than 15 albums for the prestigious label -- some of them, like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," international bestsellers. There had even been a fluke when an album of Paganini duets for violin and guitar that Shaham recorded with Goeran Soellscher was chosen as the theme music for a television soap opera in Korea, and the recording began to fly out of the stores in that country.

Still, the handwriting had been on the wall for some time. The major labels like DG were storm-tossed, and some of Shaham's proposals, such as one for an album of music by Faure, had been turned down because, he says, "they were not commercially attractive enough." The company then hired photogenic violinist Hilary Hahn and proclaimed her the leader of a new generation of talent.

What Shaham decided to do was to create his own company, Canary, and record the Faure album anyway. In starting his label, Shaham was following in the footsteps of ensembles like the Tallis Scholars, the London Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the cello-piano duet of David Finkel and Wu Han, and such solo artists as soprano Edita Gruberova and cellist Matt Haimovitz. Shaham is probably today's most prominent classical instrumentalist to create his own label.

The Faure record -- with Shaham, pianist Akira Eguchi, and cellist Brinton Smith -- has won rave reviews since its release last October, and it's a beauty.

Shaham, who is in town to play the Berg Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Antonio Pappano, says, "I was lucky to be able to team up with Artemis Classics, which is run by Gregg Barbaro, who has bought the whole historic catalog of Vanguard Records. At Canary, we produce the record, and Artemis handles the marketing and distribution.

"My only financial goal in creating the company is to make enough money to make the next record, and the initial reports are looking pretty positive. The next one, I hope, will be a Prokofiev record that my sister Orli [a pianist] and I have been wanting to make." Shaham said, "This situation has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It appeals to the entrepeneurial side of me. I think of a chef opening his own restaurant. You may take on the risk, but with risk comes an unbelieveable freedom -- you can put as much garlic in the hummus as you like." Shaham knows he is the beneficiary of all those years of marketing by Deutsche Grammophon. "I feel so lucky," he says, "to be in a position where I can take on a risk like this. The techie computer people have liberated artists -- we can record relatively inexpensively, in incredibly high quality, and reach our audience much quicker than ever before."BSO benefit: Christoph von Dohnanyi will conduct the BSO in a special non-subscription concert to benefit the orchestra's pension fund Sunday at 3 p.m. in Symphony Hall. Baritone Thomas Hampson is soloist in Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," and the former music director of the Cleveland Orchestra also leads the overture to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and Brahms's Fourth Symphony. Tickets are $26-$85; call 617-266-1200 or visit

Ivory days: A grand week for pianophiles is ahead. Romanian pianist Radu Lupu is in Symphony Hall next week for three performances of the Schumann Concerto with the BSO.

Gabriel Chodos has postponed his annual New England Conservatory faculty recital scheduled for Monday. Tuesday, however, brings the Boston debut of the German pianist Bernd Glemser, who has made significant recordings of Schumann, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff for Naxos. In the Master Pianists Series presented by the Boston Conservatory, Glemser offers a free recital of sonatas by Scriabin, as well as the Liszt Sonata. A week from tomorrow at 8 p.m., Kyrill Gerstein -- the Israeli pianist who won the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition, and the most exciting of last season's debut artists -- returns to play a program ranging from Bach through Ligeti in the Boston Conservatory's "Winterfest" in the Benjamin Franklin Institute on Saturday at 8.

Finally there's Claude Frank, who at 78 is one of the great senior masters of the piano -- and of music. Next weekend -- Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Rodgers Center at Merrimack College in North Andover, and Sunday at 3 in Jordan Hall -- he joins an old musical friend, conductor Susan Davenny Wyner, and the New England String Ensemble, to play Mozart's A-Major Concerto, K. 414.

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