January 2007

Joshua Bell Concert: Vanishing Voice, Audacious Audience, and Pilfered Pupils

January 29, 2007 19:01


As some of you know, I fell ill on Thursday January 25; a mere two days before I was supposed to attend a concert of Joshua Bell in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Ironically I hadn’t been sick in over six months. I didn’t think it would be a big deal as I normally get over colds within a day or two, but this cold was malevolent. I stayed home from school on Thursday thinking that, I would be going to school on Friday, but I was much worse Friday. My mother was sicker too and we were contemplating not going because Iowa is over five hours from Kansas (where I live). I ate triple servings of fruit that day and drank lots of tea. That night, bedtime was 8:00 pm. On Saturday morning I woke up and felt miraculously better! My stuffy nose had vanished, my headache was gone, and my fever was nonexistent! I leaped out of bed with vitality I hadn’t felt since Christmas and got ready for the car ride up to Iowa. As I was getting ready, the phone rang. ‘Heck, I’m feeling so good, I’ll just answer it!’ With a smile and deep breath, I picked up the phone. “Helllooooo?” I croaked. Something was terribly wrong. My voice! What happened to my voice? I didn’t sound excited or energetic, but rather, the opposite: death personified. My poor voice had become scratchy and broken. ‘Ah,’ I thought ‘And there’s the caveat.’

Because my only ailment was my voice, my mom and I drove to Iowa as planned. I really owe my mom; she was still feeling lousy. In the most extreme attempt I have ever made to achieve a speedy recovery, I drank: 4 juice boxes, 2 bottles of water, and a Frapuccino. At about 4:00 pm when we were almost there and I had given up all hope of the return of my voice, my voice began to creep back! If I continued to suck on throat lozenges and drink my weight in liquids, maybe, just maybe, it would be back by the evening….


My voice was, for the most part, back. It was very touchy, though. Too much talking or too little liquid and it reverted to its raspy, froggy state. Colleen, her mom, my mom, and I had eaten dinner and were in the lobby of Gallagher-Bluedorn Hall. Colleen and I ordered tickets for this concert in July, but neither of us remembered where they were. Colleen came back with the tickets from Will-Call. “Uh, Syd? Are you going to kill me if they are too close?” She said cautiously. “Psh, no.” I said. I remembered something about the 6th or 7th row, which was fine. “We’re in the second row!” Colleen said. As we made our way to our seats, I began to get nervous. Closer…closer…closer… Ten feet from the stage were our seats. Good gravy.

All of a sudden, Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk stride onto the stage! Whenever this happens with most famous artists, I can’t keep myself from thinking “Wow! They’re actually real!!” I guess I’m relieved that they aren’t just people of legend. After they acknowledge the applause, they wait a little to prepare for the piece.

With a breath, the turbulent Schumann Sonata No. 1 begins. For the first minute or so, I am trying to get accustomed to how much Bell and Denk move. I am amazed at Bell’s ability to move so much without producing extraneous noises. Nonetheless, they are a lot of fun to watch! At the end of the first movement, I restrain myself from applauding only because I know it’s not good concert etiquette. Apparently the audience doesn’t know that, though. Applause echoes throughout the hall and Bell stares across the audience, his bow in the air and even mouths the word “No”, but to no avail. It’s very obvious that he doesn’t want a break between movements, but the audience can’t grasp that concept. But the sonata continues with a more peaceful second movement. After that movement ends and the audience applauds again. Bell again tries to quiet them, but the audience is totally clueless! The third movement really showcases the intensity the duo plays with. It actually looked as though they might attack each other! The sonata ends brilliantly and, this time, the audience is correct in their applause efforts. I’m really glad that they chose to program the Schumann. I had never heard of it before, but it’s just beautiful.

The carefree first movement of the Beethoven Sonata No. 10 begins. It’s much less intense than the Schumann, but very aesthetically pleasing. Bell and Denk play it with such lyricism and it’s quite relaxing to listen to. At the end of the first movement, I’m brought back to reality by the audience’s enthusiastic applause. Colleen gives me a very alarmed look and I double over in silent laughter because I can’t believe the audience still hasn’t caught on. Bell is smiling too. The rest of the sonata is wonderful, but one thing sticks out in particular: The ability Bell has to make every note count. I heard this great quote once “Artistry is measured by the number of notes one cares about.” And this was manifested in Bell's performance.

At intermission, nothing much happens. The only thing is, my voice is fading fast after being deprived of liquids for almost an hour.

Back in our seats, I notice a huge piece of cardboard sitting on the stand. It’s covered in about seven pages of music! Bell and Denk return to the stage. It’s time to hear the 6-month-old Meyer Sonata! It’s a very intricate sonata quite exhilarating. And the cardboard of music? That was just the fourth movement! The fourth movement… that was amazing. Only a true virtuoso would be able to play – or write – that. It’s just awesome and I loved it. Any of you who are going to see it are in for a real treat. And, Bell trained the audience in this one! Between the second and third movement, Bell waves his bow while holding it in the air and the applause stops.

Bell briefly announced the next piece on the program – Vocalise. As he plays, it seems the audience is lulled into a dreamlike state. The tone lingers a while in the air before the clapping begins. The next VOTV piece is Estrellita. The notes shimmer through the hall like stars. My mom is convinced that it sounds like something Kreisler copied. I’m very grateful about the selection of the final piece, Introduction and Tarantella by Sarasate, because he played this at the last concert of his I was at. At that concert, I hadn’t even heard of I&T, but I was blown away by it. Since then (September 2005), I have become a classical music junkie. How does he play so fast? It looks easy when he does it, but obviously it’s not. The audience gives him a standing ovation almost immediately and we are granted an encore – None But the Lonely Heart. The tones are so rich and warm that I would have been content just sitting in my seat the rest of the night thinking about them. Alas, it’s over too soon and the audience is filtering into the foyer.


One person is in front of us – a kid, but he’s having some trouble getting the wrapping off the CD and gets out of line. Colleen rushes up to Bell partially pushing me along. She introduces herself reminding him of how they met backstage in Chicago and then Colleen says, “And this is…” referring to me. Bell turns his attention to me. I take a deep breath, hoping my voice will not act up. “I’m Sydney. I was trying to get you on Oprah.” The cloud of confusion gives way to dawning comprehension and a smile. “Oh!” He exclaims, hugging me. “Thanks.” Then we talk about the audience’s clapping problems a little as he signs our CDs. “They didn’t clap.” My mom says, referring to Colleen and me (although she failed to say “between movements”). I suddenly notice Denk sitting next to Bell. ‘Oh my gosh!’ I think, feeling terrible. ‘How did I forget him?’ “You guys play really well together.” I say. “Thanks.” They both respond in unison. “I really liked the Meyer piece.” I continue. “Yeah, it’s great isn’t it?” Bell responds. “I especially liked the fourth movement.” I reply. Bell and Denk both laugh at this and I think this is because it was deathly difficult. Then it was time for a picture:


It never fails. I always lose my pupils in pictures with Joshua Bell. Colleen had a theory: “His playing is so amazing that your pupils just vanish!”

As we’re leaving, Josh says “It was nice having you guys in the audience.” Colleen says something about seeing him in 2008 which makes me remember one of my questions. “Oh yeah!” I say, turning around. “Do you know what you’re playing for that?” I actually don’t expect him to know, but it’s worth a shot. “Uh, the Corigliano Chaconne…” He names some more works, but I don’t remember because I’m taken by surprise. I was expecting him to say _____ Concerto. At any rate, it doesn’t sound like a normal concert and I’m looking forward to it!

9 replies

Maura and Barnabás come to Kansas City

January 21, 2007 12:18

I’m sorry about the monster entry, but the concert I was at last night was jaw dropping and awe-inspiring and this is the best way I can think of to do it justice. Luckily, fellow v.commer Maura Gerety also got to enjoy the show. But it all began Friday.

Friday December 19 (Open rehearsal) -
Michael Stern, the Kansas City Symphony's conductor, walks on stage and greets the audience. He's a very personable man and speaks well. The rehearsal begins with Charles Ives' Three Places in New England. It's a tone poem and not my favorite classical piece, although, I'll admit it was very interesting (especially after hearing the commentary on Saturday). My favorite movement was the second with a jubilant circus theme. About 20 minutes into the rehearsal of the Ives, a violinist walks onto the stage. 'Gosh! He's late!' I think, but as he faces the audience, I realize that it's Barnabás Kelemen. He leaves the stage and I lean over and whisper to my mom what just happened. The Ives rehearsal ends and Barnabás leaves the audience and walks onto the stage. The eerie, beautiful Sibelius Violin Concerto begins. Barnabás plays it excellently, but it was only a taste of what was coming on Saturday.

Stern and Kelemen answer questions from the audience during "intermission." The audience is composed of middle/high school students and some of the questions were funny. For example:
Kid 1: "Why did you get him?" ("him" being Barnabás)
Stern: "Because he's GOOD!"
Kid 2: "Do you get paid?"
Stern: "Um, yes. This is work. It takes a lot of work to become a musician and it's very hard to get into this orchestra."
Kid 2: "How much do you make?"
Stern: (in a joking way) "That's none of your business!"
I asked a question too.
Me: "I've heard that the Sibelius is one of the hardest violin concertos. Would you say that's true?"
Stern: "Yes, because the violin has to do things that it doesn't normally do...are you a violinist?"
Me: "Yes."
Stern: "Have you played the Sibelius?"
Me: "No!"
Stern: "I think you should study it."
Me: "Haha, I hope to someday."
Somebody asked Barnabás how long it took him to learn the Sibelius.
Kelemen: "Honestly, to learn the notes, I would say seven days."

Saturday January 20 (concert) -
My family and I arrive at Lyric Theater shortly before 7:00 pm to attend the pre-concert talk. My mom is buying a CD and I walk up to her just as some other girl and her mom are buying a CD. As I talk to my mom, the girl glances at me. Could it be...? "Sydney?" She asks. "Yes?" I respond. "Hi! I'm Maura Gerety." We had arranged to meet at this concert a couple of weeks before, we just hadn't decided on a time and place. She's really nice and a lot closer to my age than I had expected her to be. Her writing on here made me think she was at least college age, but she is only a year older than me. Maura and her mom are really nice and I'm very glad I knew ahead of time that she was attending this concert.

We all sit in the hall about 5 rows from the stage and the symphony director, Michael Stern, and Barnabás Kelemen enter the stage. They talk about the Sibelius and Barnabás first because he had to go warm up. The State of Hungary gave his Guarneri to him for a few years until they “examine” him to decide if he can continue to play it. They talk some more about the Sibelius and then it’s time to answer questions. The first lady asks for audition tips. Maura and I find this an incredibly helpful question as we both had auditions earlier that day. Kelemen says “If you want a short answer: practice. If you want a long answer: Practice, practice, practice.” The audience laughs. Stern says it’s important to remember why you love the music. Then someone asks Barnabás “How old are you?!” I can see why this question is asked because Barnabás looks quite boyish. Michael suddenly responds, “I’m in my early thirties.” smiling and stroking his hair. “Not YOU, Michael!” The audience member replies. “I’m 28.” Barnabás says, grinning. Then Barnabás leaves with his lovely Guarneri. Stern and the symphony commence with speaking about the Ives. It’s basically about the Civil War and marching soldiers. After they discuss the Ives more in-depth, they ask for questions again. Nobody raises his hand. “Going once…” the symphony director says. My hand shoots up. “Yes?” I remember what Stern had said earlier about picturing soldiers marching and statues turning real and ask, “I had a clinician once who said that it was very important to have a picture in your head while you are playing music or else it won’t sound like anything. Is that true?” Stern answers my question very well and to sum it up you should not CREATE an image to fit with the music, but rather listen to the music and have your image reflect what you’re hearing. We left for our real seats and the orchestra members began to drift onto the stage.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Kansas City Symphony, so there was a brief recognition before the concert began. Stern then talked about his selection of the Ives and Three Places in New England began. It’s a very somber piece except for the middle movement, which is, like I said before, like a circus. It ends and applause echoes throughout the hall. The first chair and her stand partner move their stand back to get ready for Barnabás.

Stern and Kelemen return to the stage. Kelemen is attired in a long, black Paganini coat and red tie and a red cumberbund. The opening snowflakes of the Sibelius whisper through the hall and Kelemen’s violin enters, singing above it, resonating throughout the hall. His virtuosity is something to be coveted by all. I like his style more than the other two recordings I have (Perlman and Bell). The runs and string crossings appear easy with a relaxed hand and flicking wrist (something I constantly struggle with). The cadenza begins and I can tell the entire audience is captivated. Even my brother, who is not a classical fan, was leaning forward in his seat, entranced. Kelemen draws the audience in rather than playing out. The first movement ends in a whirlwind of double stops and Kelemen closes perfectly with the orchestra on the final note, glancing up at Stern to make sure everyone ends together. The second movement really showcased Kelemen’s violin and its ability to produce “spun gold.” I loved the way he slid into some of the shifts. It wasn’t really schmaltzy, but there isn’t a good way to describe it, other than in Maura’s words, “tasteful schmaltz.” The third movement begins with the “run pony” rhythm. It’s faster than I have ever heard, but very clean. I am in awe at how Kelemen fits all the arpeggios and scales into the small amount of time allotted to him. He seems to enjoy playing very much and it looks as though the Sibelius is child’s play for him. Again, Kelemen ends perfectly with the orchestra and is almost immediately given a standing ovation. He comes out 3 times and finally grants us an encore. It is Bach’s Serabande from the D-minor partita. Once again, the audience is drawn in and he easily projects throughout the hall. The audience responds with wild applause again and then it’s time for intermission.

I run into Maura and her mom coming down the stairs. We are both in shock. “That was amazing!” we say to each other, beaming. We can’t wait to meet him. Maura and I stand by the signing table jabbering about how good it was as we wait for Kelemen to emerge. Suddenly Maura goes “Oh!” And I turn around to see Barnabás standing right behind me at the table. Maura greets him first, talking to him in Hungarian. He seems happy to find a Hungarian speaker in the audience. They get a picture and then it’s my turn. “Your Sibelius was amazing!” I blurt out. “Thank you!” He grins, signing my CD. “I was sitting in the back of the hall and I could hear you perfectly.”

Barnabás left the building and Maura and I bid each other farewell as the next half of the concert began. Kansas City Symphony played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with coherency and poise. It was very majestic and was played very cleanly. Michael Stern was completely without music for this symphony. My brother kept laughing during the first movement when they would play the four most famous notes in classical music: dun dun dun DAAAH! My favorite, however, was the fourth movement with the whole strings section playing a couple of measures in unison completely together. It was so neat to see all the bows going in the same direction! It ended with Stern coming out for three curtain calls, but, alas, no encore.

I wish I could go and see the concert again today, but snow prevents my parents from allowing it (along with the fact that the theater is half an hour away). It was a wonderful evening and part of me wishes that it did never end!

19 replies

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