Journey of 100

If one were to choose one single work that stands out among the rich repertoire for Solo Violin, generation after generation, it could well be the Chaconne by J.S. Bach.  It is a piece that suggests endless depth and profundity.

I am setting out on a journey of discovery: I want to learn how my understanding of this work will develop through the process of performing it 100 times in a row.  These performances will be in normal public venues (the first was at Lincoln Center in May 2012) but also they will be for small groups of interested listeners, colleagues and friends with whom I can explore deeper levels of communication and connectivity. [read more]

Chaconne #43 – Spring Hill Farm Artists’ Retreat

This performance, arranged at the last minute, was somewhat raw from my point of view, yet (seemingly) extraordinarily powerful for the artists and their companions who were attending.

In our training as violinists, polished performance is a professional essential.  However I am reminded by this evening that the spiritual and emotional power of Music transcends all the notions of “polished performance” we are trained to set as standards and goals.  In fact, without it we accomplish little for others, and diminish the return for ourselves.

I feel privileged to have been invited by retreat leaders Tim Hawkesworth and Lala Zeitlin, and for being so well received by the artists with whom they are working.  My thanks to you all.

Chaconne #42 – December 20, 2018 NYC – Private performance

This performance was a home-coming for me – so many colleagues and friends from early on in my career, folks to whom I have looked up all my life. Although I wasn’t nervous, I do want to say that I had some trepidation about presenting to these superbly knowledgeable musicians my intensely personal artistic vision of J.S. Bach and his music. Somehow it seemed to go well and all were enthusiastic in their appreciation – phew!

In talking afterwards with my life-long friend Earl Howard – composer, instrumentalist – I started to get an idea of a new kind of sound that I might bring to the Bach works – one in which my particular violin and it’s unique sound would play a large part. More on this as the Journey of 100 continues.


  1. Sveva CS
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I feel so blessed to have been at this mesmerizing memorizing performance. I went through all the seasons and struggles of life alongside the hope and tearful joy it also brings. Thank you for this journey, this condensed piece of living. Made even more special by not bringing in social media or recording of any sort.. just for us, bringing timelessness and unadulterated memories. So Powerful. THank you!

  2. Ruth Ades-Laurent
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Shem, the music you played at Claudia’s and Mark’s flooded my mind with memories of my beautiful musical brother—as it soared and dipped and floated and surged, I traveled to places we’d been together. Thank you

  3. Ray R Anderson
    Posted January 2, 2019 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Shem – it was fantastic! Wonderful to sit 5 feet away and hear this magnificent piece. I was hyper-aware of the struggle and determination in there. Beautifully played. I know you’re already in touch with Suzy Goodspeed, my wife, who couldn’t be there because she was sick, and there are plans to do this at our house in Setauket (near Stony Brook) in March. Very much looking forward to this! I want to hear it again!!!
    All the Best,

  4. Allan and Toby Jaffe
    Posted February 1, 2019 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    We were so happy to be able to attend Shem’s performance, which Mark and Claudia so beautifully hosted. Not only was Shem’s performance masterful and moving, but to hear it in this intimate environment made it a particularly special and unusual experience. The sound of the violin was visceral and seemed to pick you up and guide you through Bach’s intricate melodic lines and harmonies. It made me aware of the distance one often feels in a large concert hall and made me long for more similar musical experiences. Many thanks to Shem, Mark and Claudia!

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Chaconne #41 – Oct 17, 2108 Jr. B# Musical Club

At the Jr. B# Musical Club of Central New York, 7 pm

My performance tonight is part of an evening that includes Helden Tenor Jon Frederik West giving a talk about the role of Samson in Camille Saint-Saens’ Samson and Dalilah – a MET Opera HD world-wide theatrical broadcast this Saturday afternoon.

What a great night.  My friend and colleague Jon Frederick West started the evening out with a super presentation on Samson and Dalilah  – MET’s upcoming HD Theatrical Broadcast, this Saturday afternoon.

The tiny room was packed with young musicians, some of whom I have coached in the past – Jr. High and High School players all from within about 50 miles around Utica.  Like this morning, I let the music flow where it would, and in the interests of making an early evening for all, I only took a few of the repeats. 🙂 . Thank you to Sar Strong, Senior Advisor/Coordinator of the Jr. B# Club, for inviting me.

One Comment

  1. BEP
    Posted October 25, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Shem, thank you so much for playing this. At first,it was you playing to the small group, in a very intimate space. The other people disappeared, then I melted into the music. I imagined a man waking and surveying the platinum dawn through a tall window, anxious to start the work that is his passion. As the day progresses, he is pulled toward other things, the delights and dramas of the life, some joy, some sadness, some tears, but always he returns to his purpose, telling us what life is about.

Chaconne #39 – Private performance, Sag Harbor, NY – October 13, 2018

This 39th performance in the Journey of 100 was a house warming concert for Robert, Deborah and their friends.  Before starting, I described my intention through the series of performances to more deeply explore the rapport between a Divine musical work, the listeners and me the performer.  After hearing some of the audience’s response to the music I began to feel in awe of the potential Music has to open connections between us as people because it was clear that folks felt  moved, seemingly more connected with themselves and with the composer’s spirit.

It has been over a year since performance #38 and to be honest, I have not missed the piece.  Yet as I write this morning, I am totally enthused about getting back inside it for the performances coming up this week.

Last night I continued to explore the balance between creative freedom in the timing of the phrases and liberties with the rhythmic pulse (for example how far I might move away from a metronome’s steady beat), and sticking with pulse – the powerful framework in all of Johan Sebastian’s music.  Towards the beginning of playing I felt self conscious at times that I was manipulating the phrases rather than responding to the inner guidance of the music.   

Another aspect that I must rethink is how to handle the repeats written in each of the two sections of the Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande and Gigs (the first four movements) – generally I take the first repeat and not the second.  I wonder if this is somehow undermining the long-form flow of the work because the Ciaconna (the last movement) is a simple flow of variations, with no repeats at all.

Chaconne #40 – Utica College, October 17, 2018 12:30 PM

Program opens with Schumann Sonata #1 in a, Op. 105, with Sar-Shalom Strong, Piano

Utica College Jackson Lunch Hour Series. 12:30P.M.

In my most recent post, I wrote about seeking the balance between pulse and freedom – between expressing Bach’s internal structure and the freedom of flow, in doing so.

I decided for today’s performance to allow my impulse for flow to lead the way.  To be honest I am not certain how I feel about the results, there was a recording made and I will listen –  I was deep into flow most all of the way through.  I also made both repeats in the Corrente and Giga (this may sound really picky to some of you readers, but truly, it isn’t) and felt the results were “right”.  There is another performance tonight, so I will see later where it all ends up.