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Pauline Lerner

Joshua Bell at the Kennedy Center

September 27, 2006 at 6:58 AM

I remember very well the first time I heard Joshua Bell. It was years ago, in a previous life, when I had a job and a car, and my hometown, Washington DC, had public radio stations that carried classical music. I was driving my car and listening to the radio, and I heard a stunning performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto 5. As the piece neared its end, I pulled off the side of the road so that I could hear what the recording was, write down the information, and buy it. It was Joshua Bell.

Later I became disenchanted with Joshua Bell. I bought several of his recordings and didn’t like them nearly as well. He sounded too sweet and superficial. I didn’t go to any of his concerts. I reconsidered when I read so many v.commies raving about him. In particular, Karin Lin made a big impression on me. After hearing him play, she returned to playing the violin and nurtured her daughter’s interest in the violin. She even bought a plane ticket and concert ticket so that she could travel hundreds of miles to hear him perform again. She is not alone. Sydney Menees and others are going to travel hundreds of miles to hear him, too. I decided to buy a ticket to hear him perform locally and see for myself.

Now I agree with everything my fellow v.commies have written about JB, except that everything they said were understatements.

JB played the Tchaikovsky Concerto at the opening night of the 2006-2007 concert season at the Kennedy Center. His performance was more than a show-stopper. It was a heart-stopper. If I had been driving a car, I probably would have driven off the edge of the planet. I remember Itzhak Perlman saying on The Art of Violin that the first time he heard Heifetz, he walked around with his mouth hanging open for a week. When Joshua Bell finished the first movement of the Tchaik and paused, I realized that my mouth was hanging wide open and that I was leaning forward from the edge of my seat as if hypnotized. Others in the audience looked the same, but only briefly. People rose to their feet and applauded wildly at the end of the first movement. His cadenza was stunning. It was like a show within a show or a concerto within a concerto. It had that much range of emotion and power of expression. That cadenza alone would have been worth the trip. Joshua Bell worked hard. Several times when the orchestra was playing and he was not, he reached over to the conductor’s podium, grabbed a handkerchief, and mopped his face. His playing sounded completely effortless. He seemed to sail through the music like a boat cutting across deep blue water on a sunny day. The Tchaik has so much show-off pyrotechniques that it lends itself to flashing and banging. It often sounds rather boringly brilliant. It is very different from the solo violin music of Bach, which covers such an incredible range, depth, and intensity of emotion and technique. Joshua Bell did not turn the Tchaik Concerto into a Bach sonata, but he came as close as anyone could. He found an unimagined variety and richness of emotion in the Tchaik and showed it to us. He is truly a genius and an artist, and he gave us a very special gift that night.

If you have been thinking about buying plane and concert tickets to hear Joshua Bell play in Chicago, do it now!

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