Bell and Beethoven

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(I had originally posted a video of Bell's performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major but there was a problem activating the video because, I believe, of its length. As a result, I've removed it but you can find it here - and I hope you do!)

If you listen to classical music on the radio then you're accustomed to hearing the announcer often describe a selection you just heard as the work of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, one of the most recorded chamber orchestras in the world.

On a spectacular Sunday afternoon in April, in Boston's Symphony Hall, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the Academy in performance with its music director, violinist Joshua Bell.  The all-Beethoven program included: Coriolan Overture; Violin Concerto in D Major; and Symphony No. 7 in A Major.

A guest of two friends, we had great seats in the orchestra section of the hall.  Any seat in this venue benefits from the room's superb acoustics but I was especially grateful at this performance to have a close-up view of the ensemble on stage.

To concentrate on the music at a concert, I often close my eyes but the visual aspects of this performance found me watching as intently as I was listening.  For the Coriolan and the 7th, Bell played and led from the first chair and for the concerto he simultaneously played, standing in the soloist's position, and led the orchestra.  In both modes, there was a neatly woven synchronicity between Bell's playing, his sometimes intense, always expressive physical movement and the orchestra's pure sound.  Leader, soloist and orchestra were an organic whole of shared artistic energy: one performing body with many members.

I only recall one other performance which moved me as much as this one: a concert by Chanticleer in Pittsburgh some years ago.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Of the three numbers on the program, I would most like to hear (and see) again the Violin Concerto in D Major.  This video features Bell in that selection but with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, not the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

I know that for many New Englanders, spring begins with this -- but for me, spring began with a trip with friends into Boston on a splendid Sunday afternoon to hear this glorious music.


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  1. That violin concerto is one of Beethoven's finest works. In a number of the slow movements of his concerti, the music seems to me to express longing for heaven. Maybe it is even more apparent in some of the piano concerti than in this, but I think it's there in this one as well.

  2. There is a true story about Joshua Bell playing the violin during the rush hour at a Metro Station in Washington DC on a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. Only 6 people stopped and he collected $32. When he finished no-one applauded or showed any sign of recognition. The event was organised by The Washington Post as part of an experiment. The questions were : in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it ? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context ?
    If we don't recognise one of the best musicians in the world how many other beautiful things do we miss in the course of a normal day ? If we can learn to become aware and listen with the ear of our heart we miss so much.

  3. Sorry:- that last comment should have read if we listen with the ear of our heart then we would NOT miss so much. :-)

  4. You might be interested in this review of the concert from the Boston Musical Intelligencer.


    The reviewer summarizes his take on the performance of violin concerto as follows, "This was simply the finest performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto I have ever heard."

  5. Oh my, lucky you! Blessed indeed.

    I listen to 99.5 FM, especially during Advent and Christmas, and the Academy of St Martin In the Fields always calls me out of my busyness. (Also, that's just a great name :-)


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