NEW YORK—The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra finishes tuning; some wind instruments squeeze in a few short A’s, and then there is silence. The crowd hushes as they wait for former child prodigy Joshua Bell to enter the stage. Alas, the deafening silence continues—Bell is running a little late. Synchronized shuffling is heard among the audience seats.
After three minutes, Bell walks on stage with his confident yet casual walk, and he is greeted with roaring applause on Aug. 18 at the Lincoln Center.
The orchestra begins playing the tranquil introduction of Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, Allegro non troppo, slowly and intricately setting up the themes that will come into play.
Bell listens attentively while standing with his weight shifted on one leg. The Grammy award-winning violinist is now in his early 40s, but he has preserved his stage presence from his first solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra when he was 14 years old.
Although the violin solo is written with an abrupt, powerful entrance, Bell captures the compelling feeling while maintaining his trademark honey-sweet tone.
Critics have claimed that the Brahms violin concerto has many needless difficulties. Johannes Brahms was not a violinist. Conductor Hans von Bülow once called the piece a “concerto against the violin.”
But played by Bell, the piece doesn’t sound that hard to play. His clean, bright individual notes flow naturally from the chaotic shifts in position and abrupt changes to distant keys.
The famous—or infamous—wild bodily movements that come with Bell’s playing seem to send an additional message that evening. As Bell makes exchanges with the orchestra, his brusque lunges seem to say, “Is that all you got, Brahms?”
Composers after Beethoven rarely incorporated cadenzas into their music, but Brahms did.
Most performers stay with Joseph Joachim’s version of the cadenza, for whom Brahms dedicated the piece. But the audience got a special opportunity to hear Bell’s own cadenza that evening.
Bell certainly didn’t take the freedom to write his own notes as a breather from the highly difficult piece. His cadenza was filled with lush double stops, and his bow flew in dramatic angles although the sound was still sweet. He let out a cascade of speedy notes that were almost unbelievable to the ear.
It wasn’t just his interpretation of the cadenza that left the audience in awe, but also his interpretation of the piece’s feeling.
The violin concerto was inspired by Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, which Brahms composed in the Austrian Alps. Although the violin concerto only has a few passages that contain gypsy flavor, Bell still managed to sweep the audience to a mysterious Alpine forest in a few moments.
He plays with such romanticism that one can almost picture a beautiful gypsy woman, peering at his serenade from behind the trees of an enchanted forest.
The Mostly Mozart Orchestra is the only orchestra in the United States dedicated to music from the Classical period. Every August, the Mostly Mozart Festival celebrates the genius of Mozart and other composers who were influenced by his style.
French conductor Louis Langrée has been the orchestra’s music director for 10 years. The festival has toured to notable venues such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Bunkamura in Tokyo, and it has been returning to the Lincoln Center since 2005.
The only Mozart piece played on Aug. 18 was Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, K.16, the first piece that Mozart composed when he was 8 years old. Joseph Haydn later put it together into a symphony.
As the legend goes, Mozart’s father was sick and orders were that the house needed silence. Out of sheer boredom from being separated from his piano, Mozart decided to compose a symphony, in the style of Johann Christian Bach, whom he recently met.
As Mozart composed, his older sister Nannerl copied down the piece. In her written records, she recalled her brother saying, “Remind me to give the horn something worthwhile to do.” Hence, the horn received its “worthwhile” C-D-F-E motive that eventually became his finale’s motto in his last symphony, the “Jupiter.”
The other piece played that night was Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor (“Tragic”). The long, languishing introduction seemed to be inspired by Mozart’s C-minor Fantasy for Piano and “Dissonance” Quartet.
Upcoming Mostly Mozart Festival events include conductor Andrew Manze and pianist Stephen Hough, performing Bach, Mendelssohn, and Mozart on Aug. 22. Louis Langrée will again be conducting Beethoven and Mozart with the Concert Chorale of New York on Aug. 24–25.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.