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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2, No. 46

July 20, 2006 at 1:32 AM

What is it with Joshua Bell and the Tchaikovsky concerto? Last winter, a Chicago performance came to an abrupt halt when the fantastic fiddler broke a string during the cadenza. His performance this week of the same work at the Festival del Sole in Napa Valley, Calif., had an unscheduled pause, too, though for a different reason: The audience simply couldn’t contain themselves.

According to the Napa Valley Register, “[Bell] was playing the first movement of Tchaikovsky's difficult violin concerto, when he spun out a cadenza (the unaccompanied section) of such mesmerizing tenderness, and such emotional intensity, the audience could hardly contain itself, and broke into an immediate standing ovation. While they well knew there was more to come, they simply could not withhold their emotions any longer. It was that intense, it was that beautiful, and it was that personal an experience. Bell shyly acknowledged the extended applause, then returned to complete the concerto with tonal brilliance, dazzling technique and astonishing artistry.”

Aspen Update

According to the Aspen Times, last week’s chamber music performances were more compelling than the big orchestras’. With Shostakovich’s centennial rapidly approaching, performances of his music can be heard literally at almost every concert venue.

On 7/18, the Aspen Times opined, “The Emerson Quartet delivered wrenching accounts of four of the Russian composer’s quartets. David Finckel, Wu Han and Alexander Kerr gave a blazing performance of the Piano Trio No. 2, and violinist Lev Polyakin stole the show at the Saturday afternoon artist faculty chamber music program, teaming with pianist Jean-David Coen for four witty, jewel-like miniatures, preludes 10, 15, 16 and 24.” The paper also notes that Finckel, the Emersons’ cellist, teamed up with his pianist wife Wu Han to perform sonatas by Shostakovich and Britten.

Regarding the Emersons’ Shostakovich, the reviewer specifically praised the “lapidary violin solo” by violinist Philip Setzer in the third movement. Does this mean his playing sparkled?

Violin soloist Sarah Chang “put her pinpoint accuracy and elegant phrasing to perfect use” in Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G Minor with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra.

Other Musician News

7/18/06 – Canadian violinist James Ehnes earned a very positive review from the Cleveland Plain Dealer for his recent Cleveland Orchestra debut at the Blossom Music Festival. According to the paper, he “played Tchaikovsky's beloved Violin Concerto as if it were the newest piece on the block. He phrased with utmost expressive flexibility, drawing out the romance or drama, and employed his buttery tone - thanks in part to a 1715 Stradivarius - to rapturous effect. Ehnes also happens to possess one of the most wizardly bow arms in the business. In passages requiring velocity, especially in the finale, he passed across the strings at a speed that sounded dangerous but never obscured notes. Ehnes treated Tchaikovsky as a fine balancing act between eloquent poetry and bold athleticism. [Conductor Jaja] Ling and the orchestra seemed delighted to have met a new friend.”

7/18/06 – Violinist Ralph Morrison played Mozart’s E-minor violin sonata with pianist Susan Azraret Davies at San Luis Obispo’s annual Mozart Festival. The Purple Prose of the Week Award goes to the San Luis Obispo reviewer who commented on the string playing in the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2: “The fierce concentration cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper and violinist Nina Fan radiated, [became] downright erotic, especially in the last movement, when they plucked and stroked their instruments like guitars as their eyes flashed with fire.”

7/13/06 - Double bassist Emilio Gravagno, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted his colleagues in a performance of Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This was "an opportunity afforded him by his wife, philanthropist and orchestra board member Carole Haas Gravagno, who won the gig for her husband as a premium in a fund-raiser ($10,000 did the trick)."

7/10/06 – The experts at Sounds & Fury are disputing the authenticity of a photo from 1840 purported to be of Constanze Weber Mozart: "There are no outdoor photographs of groups of people dating from 1840, because the lenses invented by Joseph Petzval, which were to make such portraits possible, were not available yet. It was simply not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time still amounted to about three minutes."

7/10/06 - The Rocky Mountain News reports that the “always-dazzling” Leila Josefowicz performed Colorado Music Festival Chamber Orchestra, which featured the premiere of a one-movement violin concerto by the young composer Mark Grey. “'Elevation' proved a complex, sometimes thorny, mostly invigorating listening experience. In its 19 minutes, the piece bubbled over with musical and rhythmic ideas, always providing plenty for the soloist to do ... Josefowicz made easy work of this virtuoso piece."

7/9/06 – The Kansas City Star profiled Mary Garcia Grant, "a 17-year veteran of the Kansas City Symphony's second violin section" and a co-founder of Summerfest, which opened this past weekend. Grant tells the paper she founded Summerfest because "there was no classical music in the summer here whatsoever. Plus we needed to make money." Responding to a question regarding "the hardest part of the job," she comments: "It's not hard -- If you don't like it one week, it's going to be different the next week."

Orchestra News

7/18/06 – The New York State Music Fund has awarded the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra $70,000 to record a musical work based on the poems of pop-music icon Bob Dylan, reports the Buffalo News. The orchestra will perform the world premiere of "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan," composed by John Corigliano, next March. “The composer, whose father was concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic, grew up without being exposed to popular music. He had never heard of Dylan until a friend gave him a book of the rocker's lyrics, and Corigliano set them to music before hearing Dylan's tunes.” The State Music Fund was created after Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused record companies of violating federal and state laws against paying radio stations to play music by their artists. Under a settlement agreement, the companies began paying into the fund to support music education and appreciation for state residents, reports the paper.

7/11/06 – The Western Australia Symphony is now minus a music director, and no one is saying why. "The reason [Matthias] Bamert fell out of favour depends on who you ask, although no one can say on the record because players have received written and verbal warnings not to make any public comment. Before the China tour they signed a code of conduct that reminded them that section 70 of the Crimes Act made it an offence to publicly disclose company matters," reports The Australian. Then, the next day, and other outlets were speculating that Edo De Waart might be the orchestra’s next music director: "De Waart, a former music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra and Netherlands Opera, would be quite a catch for a band in such a far-flung town as Perth. (The city is roughly 2,000 miles from Sydney and 2,400 miles from Singapore.) But de Waart's career has been concentrated in that part of the world lately: in 2004 he finished up a very successful 10-year stint as chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony and went directly to the Hong Kong Philharmonic, where he is now artistic director."

From Ben Clapton
Posted on July 20, 2006 at 2:11 AM
Well, I don't want to get anyone that I know in trouble, but I can tell you that the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) were having troubles with their conductor. A number of their players weren't happy with him, and especially his conduct on the recent chinese tour. They hence voted him out (sounding very big brother like almost).

Edo de Waart would be a great catch, I'm certainly looking forward to it. I'm going to a concert soon of a performance of Mahler 6, conducted by Simone Young, and that's shaping up to be a great concert.

From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on July 20, 2006 at 4:32 AM
I'm thrilled that Joshua Bell could elicit such a response from an audience. I'd love to have been there.
From John Chew
Posted on July 20, 2006 at 4:42 AM
I wish I was at that performance as well.
From Karin Lin
Posted on July 20, 2006 at 5:02 AM
I was there at the Napa concert, and Joshua was phenomenal. No one plays the Tchaikovsky like he does. I never even liked the concerto much until I heard Josh play it in 2004...but I was so moved, and so blown away by his performance, that I was inspired to pick up my violin again after a 14-year hiatus. Without exaggeration, I have him to thank for the fact that the violin is back in my life and in the lives of my children.
From Carolyn Shields
Posted on July 20, 2006 at 9:58 PM
I wonder what the incidence of broken strings, downed bridges, etc. is in performance. I saw Joshua Bell break a string at the Hollywood Bowl in 2001 (West Side Story). The switch in positions and instruments and the pass of his instrument back for a string change was pretty seamless, if I remember it right.
From Karin Lin
Posted on July 21, 2006 at 3:47 AM
Carolyn, my teacher was at that same concert. She says that not only was the exchange seamless, but that Josh took the unfamiliar instrument and played perfectly on it. In her words, "Jealous, jealous, jealous!"

I saw Sarah Chang break a string in recital; she went off-stage to fix it, then returned to finish the piece. I was really impressed with her poise, as she was quite young at the time.

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