The 23-year-old young talent, Naomi Shaham is member of the double bass section of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Although women rarely choose to play this robust instrument, she left the piano for this. She heard the BFO first in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and decided right away to join this orchestra on stage as soon as possible. Her dream came through.
I saw a photo of you playing with your father and brother in Israel. Would you tell us about your wonderful family?
Naomi Shaham: I come from a family of musicians. My grandfather was a music teacher in Israel (He was born in Slovakia, spent much of his childhood hiding in Budapest during the war, then moved to Israel). He passed his love of music to his children too. My father, Hagai Shaham – who studied with the Hungarian violin teacher Ilona Fehér in Israel – became a violinist, and his sister, Rinat Shaham an opera singer. My younger sister plays the violin and the viola, my younger brother the violin, and together we play quartets and quintets – with me playing the cello on these occasions.
Why did you choose the double bass which – being a big and heavy instrument –
is rarely played by women?
N. S.: Actually, I was studying piano for a few years before I picked up the bass. My sister started playing the violin in a children’s orchestra and they needed a double bass player. They asked if anyone had extra time to learn the double bass to play in the orchestra and I volunteered! I played the piano and the bass for around 3 years until I decided to keep only the double bass. I’m forever grateful that I took this path and this choice, because the double bass is a social instrument – you play in an orchestra before you can even play a scale! You meet many people and constantly make chamber music (whether in orchestra or in a smaller ensemble).
Does your mother play an instrument as well?
N. S.: She used to play the flute – my parents met at a chamber music program. Unfortunately, she had an injury in her twenties and had to quit playing. Today she’s a businesswoman involved in politics, startups and finance.
When did you start studying music? Was it obvious in your family that each member has to become a musician?
N. S.: I had contact with music and instruments since I was born, but my parents never pressured me into studying music. I started with the piano at the age of 8. My sister started the violin at an earlier age and our youngest brother was a little jealous, so he asked to play as well. Music is an epidemic! My parents never told me to become a professional musician (they might have even warned me not to become one – haha), and the same with my siblings. I think it happened because we share a love of music and cannot imagine our life without it… In the beginning of my bass studies there were times when I wanted to quit playing, but my parents helped me realize all the amazing things I have and achieved thanks to music.
How did you start? What was your first real success?
N. S.: As I mentioned before, first I joined the children’s orchestra of my little sister. My first feeling of success was the feeling of playing in an orchestra with other people – until then I have never played chamber music in my life! A year after I started playing, our string orchestra participated in a youth orchestra competition in the Carnegie Hall – that was a very important experience for me as a 12-year-old!
As such a young musician, how did you get in contact with Iván Fischer?
N. S.: I was participating in the orchestra of the Verbier Festival to which players of the BFO came to make an audition. They were looking for young players to join their “apprentice program” of a year. In my first year in the Verbier Festival Orchestra I didn’t apply for the audition, but remembered it was an option. In the very same year, I heard the BFO for the first time, playing in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. They were playing Tchaikovsky 4th and it was the best performance I have ever heard – I was so excited I nearly fell off the balcony! I will never forget that concert in my life... I wanted so badly to be on that stage with them that I made it a goal to myself to pass that audition next time! The next summer I did indeed do the audition and passed – I am grateful ever since for this opportunity that changed my life. After the year as an apprentice, I was invited as an extra player and this year I am on contract as a member of the orchestra. In addition, Iván is a big inspiration for my double bass teacher in Amsterdam, who always quotes him and taught me a similar understanding and style.
How does it feel these days to be the member of the BFO?
N. S.: It is a great pleasure and honor and my whole family is happy as well. This orchestra has something special: fire! My colleagues are happy to come play every day, happy to make music together – the atmosphere is nothing like I’ve seen anywhere else – and the concerts are the same. Some of the concerts with Iván and the BFO I will remember my whole life… It’s also interesting to see the “backstage” of this orchestra – get to know the musicians, management and Iván a little more personally. I am extremely grateful to play in one of the best orchestras in the world and have wonderful colleagues to work with – and to learn every single day!