Joshua Bell and Me – Bethany Hensel

When I was little and first learning to play the violin, I always thought that the more your fingers moved towards the bridge on the violin, the harder the piece was that you were playing.

Well, if I were to still go by that 7 year old logic, then the piece Joshua played was hard in the extreme. His fingers were flying up and down that board!

Led by conductor Manfred Honeck in his PSO debut, Joshua and the symphony played the ravishingly gorgeous, if not devilishly difficult, Tchiakovsky’s Violin Concerto. I know that by me just saying "Tchiakovsky’s Violin Concerto" you probably have no idea exactly what piece I’m referring to (unless, of course, you’ve heard it before) but trust me when I say that you’d know the score the minute you heard it. It’s an old war-horse, completely recognizable.

And old war-horse that, unsurprisingly, soloist and superstar Joshua Bell was able to make new again. He was like the Pied Piper, playing a tune so hypnotic that the audience could do nothing but follow him to wherever he took us. There were times, admittedly,I had to remind myself to close my mouth. (It kind of was gaped open the entire time. Embarrassing!)

Now, in answer to what you are all thinking: yes, Joshua Bell’s hair does have life of its own. It was flying in all sorts of directions! Then again, so was he. He bent deep, stretched high, leaned, lunged, jumped. It was a graceful, athletic display – much like his playing.

I’ve heard Tchiakovsky’s Violin Concerto several times, but Joshua seemed to really attack it with a new masculinity I had not heard before. The notes seemed stronger, more robust, more "from the earth" than from the heavens. It was gritty and real and full of sweat (literally).

The PSO held up their own, not at all standing in Joshua’s shadow. They were fabulous. I especially loved the pizzicato (plucking) during the latter part of the first half.

Oh, and that’s another thing: at the symphony, it is, shall we say, uncouth to clap between movements. Let’s just say that between the Canzonetta: Adante and Finale: Allegro Vivacisssimo, I was about as uncouth as you could get! Or at least, as uncouth as the thousand other people who gave the PSO and Joshua a STANDING OVATION! Shouts of Bravo could be heard.

The second movement came in like a hurricane, steadily building speed until it pretty much knocked the wind out of everyone in the room.

Just gorgeous. Real showmanship. Real talent. Joshua Bell is no fluke.

And the ovation once the piece was over was…without engaging in too much hyperbole here….thunderous! Four curtain calls! Wolf-whistles (and yeah, I was one of them), cheers, bravos! it was amazing. Joshua seemed rather pleased as he came out of the side door for the final time, taking his bow and smiling big.

During intermission, Joshua came out and signed autographs. That was really really cool. I met him for the second time then (after having met him in January – thanks, Nicole C!) so it was great to be in his company again. He’s a genuinely good guy, so I was happy to shake his hand when he presented it. 🙂

The entire night was amazing. Manfred Honeck is a master. The PSO is sublime. It’s my wish, one day, to stand at the stage entrance and give each and every single performer a bouquet of roses. They deserve it.

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