Joshua Bell and his great encore

December 2, 2009 at 10:27 PM ·

I saw last week Joshua Bell with the BSO. He played Brahms concerto and everything went fine, he played, we clapped, but then...¡¡yankee doodle!! he played that encore. I found very disrespectful to here this after Brahms, after one of the greatest concerto ever written. What do you think, did someone go? 

Replies (40)

December 3, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

I saw him play it at ISO. Didn't bother me. I thought it was kind of cute.

December 3, 2009 at 12:34 AM ·

One of the reasons Josh is so popular and has a persona that reaches to more general audiences is because he still remembers how to enjoy classics AND have fun. 

Not to mention the Boston-Revolutionary War connection... it's kind of cute, really.

Additionally, I think it wise to remember why Vieuxtemps himself played it so often.  I recall that American audiences were never receptive to his programs unless he first played a few 'light' pieces, most notably his 'Yankee Doodle' Variations.  Thus, it could be argued that it was traditionally played with weightier works. 

December 3, 2009 at 01:11 AM ·


I don`t think it was disrespectful (wasn`t there) but yes,  it -might- have bothered me so I can understand where you are coming from.  What would jarr on my nerves (possibly) would be having been profoundly moved and in that particular space and then being shoved out of my introspection.  

On the other hand maybe one should just be grateful for a superb violnist giving us a bonus....



December 3, 2009 at 03:27 AM ·

Disrespectful?  How?  I wasn't there, but how did Bell playing Yankee Doodle variations (Vieuxtemps, I assume) diminish the Brahms concerto?  I didn't realize that either Brahms or his concerto had been elevated to some sort of sacred status.   Maybe if Bell had started playing the variations DURING the concerto that might have been disrespectful, but I really don't think Brahms cares about what is played after his concerto.   What would be a respectful encore after the Brahms, just so that none of us makes the same mistake in the future?

December 3, 2009 at 03:53 AM ·

Joshua Bell played the same Vieuxtemps Yankee Doodle version before a British audience last summer after playing the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto during the Minnesota Orchestra's European tour. The audience and the British reviewers appeared to respond to it very positively. However, the British might be partial to Yankee Doodle since it was originally a derisive British melody poking fun at crude Americans as backwoods yokels that the American colonists later turned around as an inspiration of pride. Finally, Banjo and Fiddle by the American William Kroll was a "catchy" and whimsical encore favorite of Jascha Heifetz, and I don't think people thought Heifetz would do anything in bad taste.

December 3, 2009 at 05:25 AM ·

Well, actually... what can you play after Brahms? and he said it himself to the audience before playing the encore, that is why it surprised me even more.
If you look in youtube there is a video of Bell playing this piece in a concert at Indiana University (jacobs) conmemorating Gingold 100th bithday and even he says before playing it, that it is a very "silly short piece", why would you play a very silly piece after Brahms concerto infront of a full audience?. That's all, in other setting it would have been lovely



December 3, 2009 at 12:19 PM ·

I was there-- frankly, I thought it was the best part of his evening.

The real question is whether one must be completely solemn to appreciate the greatness of the Brahms concerto. 

If the Vieuxtemps had brought in an audience with no taste or if it had blasted the eardrums of the faithful, I'd say it was a bad thing.  But the concerto had already ended (with a very exuberant, faux-Hungarian last movement), it has been very well-appreciated by the audience, and after a ton of curtain calls the mood was-- very festive.   And  while obviously enjoying the wit and chatter of the encore, Bell was also taking it seriously and playing it brilliantly.  No André Rieu sloppiness at all.  So, no-- I wasn't offended in the least.


December 3, 2009 at 12:40 PM ·

He played the same encore after the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole two weeks ago in DC, and he really laid it on thick, hamming it up outrageously, but I guess playing it any other way wouldn't be faithful to the spirit of the music.   (I originally wrote "after the Brahms concerto" but it was the Lalo that he played--Vadim Repin had played the Brahms concerto, without encore, a couple of weeks earlier.)

December 3, 2009 at 01:05 PM ·

If the Brahms was good... Why worry?

December 3, 2009 at 03:39 PM ·

The juxtaposition of music with radically different styles is programmed all of the time, so why not with encores. I seem to recall years ago that either Yehudi Menuhin or some other great violinist was severely criticized for having the audacity to play an encore at a Carnegie Hall concert. To define the performing arts in general and classical music in particular as simply "entertainment" isn't quite right. At the same time, we're not talking about a religious service, either. So, in the spirit of mixing apples and oranges, here is a suggested pairing:

Program: Schoenberg Violin Concerto
Violinist's encore: Love in Bloom

Can you think of any more?
:) Sandy

December 3, 2009 at 05:37 PM ·

Berg Violin Concerto:

Encore:  "L'chaim" from Fiddler on the Roof

December 3, 2009 at 07:20 PM ·

During her many serious recitals in her home, Clara Schuman at the very end would summon Johannes Brahms to join her in playing piano duets. Invariably Brahms would choose to play a few of his own  "Hungarian Dances".  Clara tried to dissuade him from playing the Hungarian Dances, but he always insisted saying "But I love them so !!"

December 3, 2009 at 07:54 PM ·


Thomas: Bach on authentic instrument.

Followed by `it ain`t necessarily so.`



December 3, 2009 at 08:09 PM ·

Have to laugh at this thread a little.  Classical musicians can be so lofty at times, no wonder people don't want to go concerts anymore.  I fail to see how any music can offend anybody, he wasn't biting the heads off bats was he?  He was playing Yankee Doodle. I love Brahms, but since when the concerto become sacred music? 

It does make you think about the purpose of an encore though.  My thoughts about it are that an encore is a musical gift to the audience, and also something that gives you insight into the performer's character.  I love Joshua Bell, he's talented and very respectful to the music each I've seen him perform.  But he is also the most "American" violinist we have, championing music like Barber and Corigliano and it's absolutely fitting that he would play Yankee Doodle.

Years ago I saw AnnaSophie Mutter perform all 3 brahms sonatas in lincoln center.  For her encore she played Brahms' lullaby.  Very simple not at all flashy, but very fitting and sweet.

December 3, 2009 at 10:33 PM ·


could we not paraphrase what Heifetz used to tell the troops on his cocnert tours during the war:

Brahms first. Its good for you, like spinach. After that the music we -really -enjoy.



December 4, 2009 at 04:12 PM ·

"Followed by `it ain`t necessarily so.`"

Also on a Baroque period violin with a pike's-head bow, of course.


December 7, 2009 at 02:57 AM ·

Jose, I am a bit surprised by your  commentary regarding an old gem by Vieuxtemps.

Everyone in the violin world knows that Henri V. occupies an important place in violin  history  as a prominent exponent of the Franco-Belgian  school of the mid 1800s.

Henri Vieuxtemps wrote violin music for his own use on extended concert tours that took him to the major cities of Europe, Russia and the United States of America.

For these tours, he composed such pieces as Souvenir de Russie (Fantasie), Op.21 (c.1845), Souvenir d’Amérique – Variations burlesques sur Yankee Doodle, Op.17 (1844), Bouquet américain – 6 Variations sur mélodies populaires, Op.33 (c.1855) and others.

I heard Joshua Bell in Seattle last April where he played Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" after which he got a standing ovation.

He offered a dazzling encore by Henri Vieuxtemps' acrobatic take on "Yankee Doodle Dandy," Souvenir d’Amérique – Variations burlesques sur Yankee Doodle, Op.17

A rarely heard piece (these days), played like a true virtuoso that he is.

Bravo Josh!!


December 7, 2009 at 04:14 AM ·

Man... I was there for the same concert on a different night and he didn't play an encore (but believe me, there was a pretty lengthy applause, quite deserving of an encore!)! I feel cheated!

December 7, 2009 at 05:11 AM ·

If you think about it, the last movement of the Brahms concerto has that folksy rhythm which if done with the right kind of swagger and lilt makes a wonderful lively happy, positive experience. I don't see that movement quite the same way as the second or first movements of the concerto. The Vieuxtemps does not seem such a bad choice after that movement. I wouldn't play the Vieuxtemps as an encore after Chausson Poeme for example but then again, a brilliant artist, playing from the heart with conviction, as Joshuah Bell consistently does, can make any piece an engrossing, captivating experience.

December 7, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·

OK, here's another potentially peculiar pairing:

Vaughn-Williams: The Lark Ascending
Violin soloist's encore: Hot Canary

December 7, 2009 at 08:00 PM ·

 The Bee followed by arrangements of Sting?

December 7, 2009 at 09:30 PM ·

Disrespectful is when a soloist comes up, butchers a concerto, then has the nerve to bring an encore up, as if the audience actually wanted to hear any more.

December 7, 2009 at 11:53 PM ·

Gene I agree but the soloist may not think he butchered the concerto... (maybe he or she likes it like this...)  I once saw a very good soloist do a modern "TERRIBLY NOISY AND PAINFUL TO LISTEN" concerto. People in the audience were terrorized from what I saw. But she then did Saint-Saens introduction and rondo capricsioso. And fortunately because the people saw she could do beautiful music. (well we all know that a violinist who plays an "ugly" or "disliked" concerto isn't less good but many people tend to associate the beauty of the concerto with the artist's ability or talent)

For Joshua Bell's encore, as one poster said, he is also American and this piece is cultural for Americans. (the same way a french violinist could do "la Marseilleise", a Russian could do a popular polka, a Jewish some klezmer etc)


December 8, 2009 at 03:51 AM ·


>a Russian could do a popular polka,

er,  I think you may have just aggravated the Czechs and Poles.;)



December 8, 2009 at 06:21 PM ·



December 8, 2009 at 08:22 PM ·

(the same way a french violinist could do "la Marseilleise", a Russian could do a popular polka, a Jewish some klezmer etc)


 Interesting that you consider being Jewish as a citizenship. Do they live in Klezmerland ?


December 9, 2009 at 02:07 AM ·

Yes well I meant what is familiar for someone (usually).  Don't mean any offense be sure! 

I don't know about Klezmerland ; ) but my sister played clarinet for one year and we had lot of fun with such music!


December 9, 2009 at 11:40 PM ·

Hello all,

I don't see any problem with playing a light-hearted piece after a major work; even Mozart played "just for fun" music. The most artful players have always recognized the need to vary the emotional impact of the event or risk losing the audience. There is a point where one's emotions become numb. To avoid this, a good entertainer (who, in this context we will stipulate is also a great player) will lead the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride.How well this is done is a mark of a different kind of craft and even art! Bell's version of Yankee Doodle might be quite a revelation to a large number of the audience that even musical doggerel can be elegantly delivered. I see it as a mark of his mastery, not only of his instrument but also as a performer.

For those of us who want to savor the experience a little longer, we need only avoid multi-piece programs and double-feature films. That is why I avoid double-features. Curiously though, I like my music to be more varied!

What, no link? Try this:



December 10, 2009 at 02:31 AM ·

LOL.....lighten up

December 14, 2009 at 04:08 PM ·

Music is not part of the entertainment business

December 14, 2009 at 05:32 PM ·

I agree it's not a "circus" but it is still an entertainment for the listiners and a real discipline ans lifestyle for the performers.  When you are boared, what do you do... you put a cd or dvd or go to a concert. When you are in the car for a long trip, what do you do... put some music.  I think it's different when you play the music because it becomes your "life" and lifestyle but think of the people who don't play, it is an entertainment even if it's not a "stupid" entertainment

We need more "serious" entertainments such as music for the listeners and more "stupid" entertainments as well to be balenced.  (ex, looking at a comedy is maybe "stupid" but even the number one musician need to laugh a good heartly laught once in a while)   I saw a video showing the life of a few famous violinists on an event. It was too funny to see Maxim Vengerov attacking another violinist with a giant teady bear and playing table soccer like a 5 yo but they are like everybody else even if super talented.  

So for the listener, I think it's an entertainment even if some might disagree.

Interesting discussion!



January 19, 2010 at 10:03 PM ·

 Gilles Apap often plays Irish tunes or jazz pieces in his encores. He just likes to play good music. Isn't that a nice attitude for a musician to have?

January 19, 2010 at 11:11 PM ·

 The violinist who premiered the Beethoven Violin Concerto played some variations with his violin upside down between movements of the concerto. 

Classical music as a sacred experience is a later phenomenon.

January 19, 2010 at 11:34 PM ·


Well, I wasn't there, so I probably shouldn't say anything. Mr. Bell is a passably good violinist (I'm sure that will draw some fire), who is more than capable of doing justice to the Brahms. Yankee Doodle may not have been in the best taste, but H.V. was quite a violinist and he wrote it! What do you play after the Brahms?  A Paganini Caprice, a movement from a Bach Partita?

Probably a better idea, but let's not crucify JB, at least he played an encore, and these days that's saying something!




January 20, 2010 at 12:37 AM ·


Well, I wasn't there, so I probably shouldn't say anything. Mr. Bell is a passably good violinist (I'm sure that will draw some fire), who is more than capable of doing justice to the Brahms. Yankee Doodle may not have been in the best taste, but H.V. was quite a violinist and he wrote it! What do you play after the Brahms?  A Paganini Caprice, a movement from a Bach Partita?

Probably a better idea, but let's not crucify JB, at least he played an encore, and these days that's saying something!




January 20, 2010 at 05:28 AM ·

What? MORE music than was paid for?  Astounding. Perhaps you should have been taxed on leaving the hall to cover the extra notes.

No, I seem to recall that taxation issues vex Bostonians. Best just enjoy the music, or throw vegetables at the performer if you feel that to be a more appropriate response. (Aged tomatoes are colorful and effective, without causing undue injury).

January 21, 2010 at 02:42 PM ·

Hi all. I'm back after a long and very busy haitus that included lots of gigging, some travelling, and a couple of solo performances. By coincidence, last night I was lucky enough to attend a 'by-invitation-only' dress rehearsal of Joshua Bell's program for tonight's "Live from Lincoln Center" performance. I highly recommend that anyone who can get it on their tv on PBS, see it.

It was a most varied, unusual and entertaining cross-over program, and I was lucky enough to sit right in the first row in Lincoln Center's "Penthouse" space. Dry acoustics, but lots of fun. His collaborators ranged from Renee Flemming, to Sting, to - Rachmanninov!! I kid you not! You'll have to see/hear it.

The program did include "Yankee Doodle", but in this context hardly controversial. Oddly enough, what's always bothered me a bit in listening to this fun bit of fluff, is how Vieuxtemps begins by reversing the first and 2nd sections of the traditional opening phrase. I don't know why that should disturb me. But anyway, do catch it tonight on TV, if you can!

January 22, 2010 at 12:21 AM ·

Oh, as for fitting pairings, how about this? At my next recital I play 2 encores:

1. My own arrangement of the John Cage "4'33'. For those who don't know it, it calls for a pianist to sit in absolute silence at the keyboard for exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds. I think it will work nicely on the violin as well - though I may have to change the key ;-)

2. I follow that with an arrangement of Gershwin's "I Got Plenty o' Nothin"!

January 22, 2010 at 02:13 AM ·

If anyone mentioned this befor then I'm sorry but.... Yesterday I heard Joshua Bell play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He played Bruch 1, Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso..... and as an encore...... Vieuxtemps Yankee Doodle. I mean, its a little unusal but I liked. But not as good as the Rachel Barton Pine version on her website


January 22, 2010 at 12:42 PM ·

 He was also on "Live from Lincoln Center" last night and he played "Yankee Doodle".  I thought it was a great way to end his recital.

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