At times, he held his mouth in a straight line, taut as the strings on his bow, his determination and passion shown in the set of his jaw. Closing his eyes, he swayed to and fro, back and forth, right to left with the rhythm of the music. Forcing the music from the violin, the haunting refrain came forth. Wearing a dramatic expression, his eyes ever expressive, his body arched in response to the music which emanated from not only his instrument, but also in response to the orchestra as well. Initially, his hair tossed with each movement. Before his performance had concluded, it was flat against his head, wet with perspiration from his effort.
Joshua Bell returned to his alma mater on Wednesday evening, September 18. He joined the Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Leonard Slatkin, conductor, to perform The Red Violin concerto.
Sitting in the sixth row, I was close enough to hear Bell as he drew in each breath. Just as a vocalist does, he seemed to breathe with the phrasing of the piece. I sat transfixed with a permanent smile painted upon my face. So enraptured at times as I sat, forgetting to record my thoughts and feelings, nearly forgetting to breath. When one listens to Joshua Bell, it is easy to lose touch with reality. It is easy to be transported to another place. He leads his listeners as the pied piper, leading us into a land of nirvana.
Surely, a never more powerful piece, than the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (The Red Violin Concerto) by John Corigliano. Bell's 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius, which is nearly 300 years old and known for its resemblance to the human voice, screamed out the highest piercing notes. His instrument chirps, whines and moans in protest to the demands that Bell places upon the strings. Bell's beautiful hands gently hold his violin as one would hold a newborn or a similarly precious object. Yet, there is strength in the hands that cradle his child, the violin, and even more strength in the hand which drives the bow over the strings. The powerful duo of Bell and his instrument challenged the orchestra, taunting them to respond to him. Despite the fact that I have attended numerous orchestral performances, this stellar performance causes me to feel as if I am experiencing this type of music for the first time ever. I doubt that I am the only audience member to feel this way. In response to Bell's passion, I scribble my notes, my words covering every bit of white space on my program.
At the conclusion of his performance, he lowers his violin and Bell's face breaks into a smile. The audience calls him back to the stage three times to take a bow. Finally, he returns and speaks to us, telling the audience that one of the orchestra members who had seen the movie by the same name had expressed regret that one of her favorite pieces form the movie was not included in Bell's performance. He then informed us that he would play that piece for us. Bell lifted his violin once more and played "the Pope's Concert."
Bell was born in Bloomington, IN and in 1989 received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance from Indiana University. He was also honored with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award just two years after his graduation. Named an "Indiana Living Legend," he also received the Indiana Governor's Arts Award. Currently serving on the Artist Committee of the Kennedy Center Honors, he was inducted in the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005. He serves Indiana University Jacobs School of Music as senior lecturer. The Red Violin film featured Bell on the Oscar -winning soundtrack for Best Original Score.
Friday, September 19, 2008
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