Joshua Bell brought his virtuoso violin playing to Abravanel
wasn’t sold out.
Now that was a disappointment. Maybe not that much of a disappointment,
since I got better seats than usual. Nevertheless, one of the most
talented musicians of his age made his third appearance in Salt
Lake City and it wasn’t standing-room only.
Joshua Bell first came to Salt Lake City a few years ago as one
of the featured artists in the University of Utah’s Virtuoso
Series at Libby Gardner Hall. This time, the larger Abravanel Hall
was the locale for the wunderkind from the Midwest to strut his
The concert, conducted by Maestro Keith Lockhart, was the standard
fare: a virtuoso concerto sandwiched between an overture and a large
symphony. But there was a twist. Instead of playing a single work
of technical prowess, Bell opened his appearance with the unassuming
Adagio in E Major for Violin and Orchestra, K.261 by Mozart. Although
this piece doesn’t by any means display the technical faculty
of a violinist through complex double stops, wailing arpeggios and
lightning-quick scale passages, it does expose the sensitivity and
emotive energy of the performer. The simple melodious phrases were
relaxed and languid. It would be easy for a performer of the same
caliber as Bell to play the piece in a very pretty way. Yet Bell’s
playing adhered to every nuance. From dynamics to phrasing, there
wasn’t any detail left uncovered. Although the attention to
such details was subtle, it was obvious that Bell isn’t a
robotic, technical prodigy, but an emotionally mature artist. Even
the cadenza near the end of the piece—where a performer can
pull out all of the stops of technique—was done in a tasteful,
Max Bruch is rarely known in our time, but was rarely forgotten
in his own. Living at the height of romanticism, Bruch composed
his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor in 1866. Although it was composed
in the classical three movement concerto form, the form is more
free than strict. It is the quintessential work for the accomplished
violinist, ranking among the concertos by Brahms and Mendelssohn.
The technical and emotive abilities of Bell were well-exposed in
The work is more like an exotic fantasy than a German concerto.
The constant change between the quick, brash splaying of fantastical
passages and the upper-register lyricism in the concerto provided
Bell with ample opportunity to display why he is Joshua Bell. The
concerto’s magical moment came at the transition between the
first and second movement. After an incredibly difficult cadenza,
Bell came in on the second movement with a soft and sweet sound.
When the orchestra entered it was tranquil and quiet, but also intense.
Bell also excelled in the third movement. The recurring gypsy-like
theme played over the four strings of the violin exuded exasperating
energy and excitement. Bell played a flawless, tireless performance
of unmatched skill.
After the dramatic ending of the piece, the audience was in a frenzy.
With sweat dripping down his face, Bell exited the stage three times
before the audience finally realized that there weren’t going
to be any encores.
If opening night at the symphony was any indication of what kind
of season is in store, then a sold-out hall might not be too far
off the horizon. Then again, Joshua Bell won’t be playing