On Wednesday I had the pleasure of watching the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields perform with music director and violin virtuoso, Joshua Bell, at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Normally I prefer to sit in the middle of the orchestra level around rows H-M when watching a performance in Whitney Hall, but this time I was up in the action in row B. I called this the ‘splash zone’ since I could see all the sweat dripping off of Joshua Bell. Yes, I guess you could call me a hard core Joshua Bell fan. As a violinist myself, Bell has always been an inspiration to me. To put it in perspective for those of you who are not familiar with the world of classical music, Joshua Bell is a rock star in the classical music scene. You have probably heard him playing violin solos in movies such as The Red Violin and Angels & Demons.
The whole concert program consisted of Beethoven compositions, and the first half of the performance opened with the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62. The musicians played with great enthusiasm and the communication throughout the ensemble was very interesting to watch. From where I was sitting you could see the eye contact between musicians, and you could sense waves of communication flowing through the ensemble. Every once in a while two musicians would share a quick smile which was refreshing to see. The orchestra really created a sense of struggle within the Coriolan Overture. Joshua Bell managed to lead the orchestra and play at the same time. Not only was it impressive that he was able to do both, but I was amazed he had enough energy to perform the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 after that.
Joshua Bell’s performance of the concerto was brilliant. With the help of his 1713 Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius (which he bought for a little under $4 million) Bell achieves an incredibly sweet tone that I have yet to hear any other violinist achieve. Hearing him play the Larghetto movement with such affection melts your soul. Then he turns around and gives a lively performance of the Rondo movement with great technical finesse. One of the most notable aspects of Joshua Bell’s playing is his exuberant persona on stage. Some people may be bothered by all the moving around Bell does, but I absolutely love it and think all his energy and passion make for a more exciting performance.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to go backstage during intermission and meet Mr. Bell in person. I’m sure I sounded like just another blabbering fan, but Mr. Bell was cordial. I’m sure he had to be exhausted. He was surprisingly soft spoken and was nice enough to take a photo with us. I found it funny he apologized for being sweaty before taking a picture, but obviously I didn’t mind. I wouldn’t have washed my hands ever again if I could have gotten away with it.
After intermission the ensemble finished the concert with an impressive performance of Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92. For an ensemble of only 39 musicians they accomplished a big sound and moving dynamics. This composition is very dance like throughout, and the famous Allegretto movement is a very solemn march. The entire program was definitely crowd pleasing. To top off this wonderful performance, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields did an encore of the first movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 also known as the ‘Little G minor Symphony’ which the ensemble had recorded for the movie Amadeus.
Please note: Anna Blanton is an employee of the Kentucky Center.
Photos: top photo courtesy of Joshua Bell's website
bottom photo courtesy of Anna Blanton