Back in Heinz Hall: Joshua Bell and old friends – Ruthie Snoke

It was with great anticipation that I arrived at Heinz Hall on Saturday night and took my seat in the audience. Not only had I been missing the sublime PSO since moving to Chicago, I had also been greatly disappointed to think that I would miss Joshua Bell’s performance of ‘The Red Violin.’ So my excitement upon realizing that I would still be in town during the show was, needless to say, immense.   

Not much has changed at Heinz Hall. The familiar crowd of happy
concertgoers was there, the same sparkling interior, and the
refreshing, exhilarating sounds of the orchestra tuning. To my
eyes—made new from such a long absence, for after all, my last concert
with the PSO was in May—it was like a familiar, yet exciting new
experience, like a dream that one returns to in the morning after
waking.

The first piece, ‘Second Essay for Orchestra,’ was wonderful, but I
confess I was waiting for Mr. Bell with baited breath. Last year I had
been so surprised by his skill and passion that this time around I
could not wait for him to take the stage. I must say, when John
Corigliano explained his piece, I was highly interested in and slightly
apprehensive of the ‘crunching’ that was to accompany the last
movement, but my doubts fled as Joshua Bell himself stepped out onto
the stage. In his simple shirt he made an unassuming presence, but from
the first note I was, once again, entranced. My brother, who is
studying music at Duquesne University, tensed beside me, and I recalled
what he had told me about when Mr. Bell visited the campus; Daniel had
raved about Joshua Bell’s perfect pitch, his exceptional ability to
keep the beat, and his obvious passion for the music. In his mind, I’m
sure my brother (and all the other musicians in the audience) was
listening in sweet suspense to the perfect pitches and clear notes. As
for myself, I was simply spellbound by the music—the high, clear, sweet
notes that captured me and held me prisoner, the short, breathless
twittering of the notes that filled the room with their insistent
buzzing, and the harsh, fascinating crunching sounds.

I listened spellbound, hoping that it would never end. It did, of
course, and Mr. Bell stepped off the stage amid thunderous applause. As
so often used to happen, as the lights came up for intermission I could
have left right then and there, content, and I confess that I wondered
how I would respond to the second half after just listening to and
watching Joshua Bell work his magic. Yet almost as soon as it started,
Ravel’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ (edited by Leonard Slatkin, the
enigmatic conductor) delighted and enchanted me. The music was
familiar, and as always that made it enjoyable. The piece played by
Joshua Bell had been exciting and new, but the second half of the show
was like an old friend that I was revisiting, after having been away
for a long, long time. Quite like the whole night, in fact—for as I
stood to leave I couldn’t stop my neck from turning to catch one last
glimpse of Heinz Hall in all its glory, hoping to hear the enticing
strains of more beautiful music. I don’t really know when I’ll be back,
but I have no doubt that Heinz Hall, and the PSO, will welcome me back
like an old, dear friend.

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Jan 17