Golijov, Tchaikovsky and Joshua Bell – A Perfect Mix of Exceptional Class

The outstanding performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Joshua Bell October 1 was a thrill for the entire audience that filled symphony hall.

Osvaldo Golijov’s (1960-) “Sidereus,” Overture for Small Orchestra began the evening with celestial awe. The combination of strings and woodwinds created the background for the “twinkling” of the stars. The drums and brass were like the journey through space. The piece is brief, soft and sweet, yet the textures were powerful and carried much depth and meaning. The work’s title is in reference to a book by Galileo, Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger) and Golijov was inspired by the Italian astronomer to look through his own telescope, so to speak, to create rich themes of nature.

For symphony-world enthusiasts, the piece was originally written last year in honor of retiring president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, Henry Fogel. Thirty-seven orchestras in the United States and Canada, including Atlanta Symphony, participated in the commission of Golijov’s piece and it will have its final performance by June of 2012.

Violinist Joshua Bell (photo: Chris Lee)

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, op. 35 was the second piece on the program with Joshua Bell performing. This concerto has become one of my newest favorites. The opening in the first movement, “Allegro moderato,” is captivating and enticing. Bell was indeed a particular treat to watch. His first few strokes on the violin were precise and graceful. Was I swayed by the music’s sensuality or bell’s rock-star appeal? Possibly. But Bell and Tchaikovsky, together, are like carbonation in ginger ale—you can’t have one without the other without being flat.

There is a moment in the first movement where it is just the violin solo and all eyes and ears are on the violinist. It is a moment to reflect and to be captivated, drawn into the violin’s conversation just before the flute and violins join him once again. Bell’s playing is athletic, engaging and vibrant.

The woodwinds give the second movement, “Canzonetta: Andante,” a soft entrance. The solo violin is soulful, dramatic. It is as if it has a heart-wrenching tale to share and yet it heals itself through its musical words. The movement is brief, a peaceful respite between the first and finale. Bell engaged the orchestra, sang to them, in a way, and complemented Tchaikovsky’s brilliance.

The second movement leaps into the final, “Finale: Allegro vivacissimo,” without pause. Bell plucked on his 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius and his bow danced a jig across the strings with controlled movements. The sensuality returns with a slower, romantic tone before reverting to a “Flight of the Bumblebee” kind of pace for a moment. Bell’s agility showcased the violin’s range here.

The orchestra was equally energetic and was a perfect partner to the violin and composer.

Following the final, rousing note, the audience’s continued applause and cheers begged Bell to return. By his fourth appearance on the stage, the violinist delighted the audience with a boisterous, lively encore of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

If the reception of the audience is any indication to a great performance, then the wild applause and cheers, the whistles and bravos proved that Bell’s “rock-star” status remains intact.

The ASO finished the evening with Johannes Brahms’s (1833-1897) Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98. The strings open the first movement, “Allegro non troppo,” and it is like a waltz on the ballroom floor—graceful and flowing. The brass contributes to the deep undertones of the piece.

There is a distinct theme in the opening that carries itself throughout the symphony. It’s similar to the architecture of a fine building. You begin with the foundation then build around it, adding detail to the columns, doorways and walls.

I adore the flute in the fourth movement, “Allegro energico e passionato.” It is a passionate melody and soon welcomes the cello, which expresses its concentrated sentiment before the violins and brass join in the conversation.

Music Director Robert Spano maintained an intense expression on his face throughout the piece, as if he was absorbed in the composer, determined to bring his music out expressly as Brahms might have envisioned it.

What about you? Have you experienced Joshua Bell in concert? The Atlanta Symphony? Tchaikovsky or Brahms? Share your experiences with us…

*Note: A special thank you to the ASO for the complementary tickets to this concert.

Upcoming Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Performance:
Oct. 6 & 8, 2011

Glowing Ravel, Gorgeous Franck
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
Terrence Wilson
Franck: Symphony in D Minor

Upcoming Sidereus Performances:
Nov. 5, 2011

Fort Wayne Philharmonic

Dec. 1, 2011
National Symphony Orchestra

Upcoming Joshua Bell Performances:
Oct. 5, 6, 8 & 9, 2011

San Francisco Symphony

Nov. 8, 2011
Constella Festival
Cincinnati, OH

Nov. 9, 2011
Broadway Center for the Performing Arts
Tacoma, WA

Jan. 7, 2012
Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra

Another Tchaikovsky Violin Performance:
Nov. 3-5, 2011

Nashville Symphony

Another Brahms Symphony No. 4 Performance:
Feb. 16-18, 2011

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra




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