A composer, a violinist and a red violin – Louis Luangkesorn

I remember a year ago, my then girlfriend, now fiancee, was asking about going to a
specific concert, featuring some violinist named Joshua Bell. And not going
because we were be out of town in the weekend in question. Fast
forward to the summer, reading a Washington Post story about
an experiment, where one of the most talented and sought after
violinists of our generation would bring skills and talent, and play in
front of a Washington DC Metro (train) station. And the name of the virtuoso was Joshua
Bell. My thought then was "Brilliant". And so when this year’s
schedule came out, I was looking forward to this concert.

The hall was packed! I was so impressed. We knew something was up when some
of the garages were marked as full, and the poster up front bore the
notice "Standing room only." And going to the pre-talk with (PSO
assistant conductor) Lawrence Loh and (composer) John Corigliano it was
a larger and more varied crowd then we are used to seeing at these.

The
excitement was palpable in the audience. Before the start of the Red
Violin Concerto, Leonard Slatkin came on stage with . . . John
Corigliano and felt the need to apologize and promise that Joshua Bell
was coming. It showed after the first movement, when there was quite a
bit of applause (I know that it is not ‘proper’ and I don’t myself, but
I always view it as a good sign when it happens as it means there are
new people in the audience, and it is honest applause. It also reminded
me of the Washington Post article. Most people at the Washington DC
Metro station ignored Joshua Bell’s playing, but everytime a child came
by, the mother had to tear them away because they were so attracted by
it.) The whole piece was a treat.

One aspect making the evening
different was the extensive interaction between the composer and the
audience. Corigliano came out with Koh for the pre-talk to discuss the
work. Both Bell and Corigliano worked the autograph line after the
first half (which was one of the largest autograph lines I’ve seen at
Heinz Hall). And they both came for the post-concert talk (which was
also much larger then the norm).

I’ve been exposed to the debate
on whether music should be able to stand on its own. And my feeling has
always been no, it is part of a context (well, sometimes it is not, but
sometimes I walk away from a performance wondering what it was all
about.) I have the same attitude towards art (painting and sculpture,
literature, and other media. And for something like this, does it
really matter that why Corigliano was never a musician (which is a
story that my fiancee and I found so honest and realistic about life),
or the fear he has when a new piece is first played and how this comes
from the days of listening to his father perform? Or that Joshua Bell’s
violin was also once upon a time stolen and played in cafes, much like
the referenced Red Violin of the movie. Maybe not, although it does
make it more human. But understanding that the alternative to The Red
Violin Concerto was pieces by period composers such as Bach, Vivaldi
and Paganini, the desire to have a theme cross through musical styles,
the fact (and techniques) that the violin was sometimes played in ways
that changed the quality of the sound to achieve effects, and
identifying some of the themes did enhance my listening. While the
music is able to stand by itself (I have enjoyed my CD, and I’m
listening to it as I write), knowing the choices made in its creation,
the composing, and its performance has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of
it. And the richness of sound as played live by Bell and the PSO in
Heinz Hall only added to it.

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Jan 13