It has been said that Joshua Bell may be the greatest violinist active today. After listening to him play, as well as conduct, at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) last night to a sold-out audience who seemed entirely entranced, that declaration may undeniably be more fact than opinion.
For those who are not familiar with Bell, he is the world-renowned, Grammy-winning soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and conductor who inspired Kathy Stinson’s 2013 award-winning Man with the Violin children’s book (now in its third edition), stemming from a busking, 43-minute social experiment as an incognito street performer at a Metro station in 2007 (where he was virtually unrecognized and ignored by over 1,000 people, despite selling out historic concert halls for an average of $100 per seat) that won the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize and sparked international examination of art and context.
Bell was enthusiastically embraced with thunderous applause and excitement from the very moment he unassumingly set foot on the Concert Hall stage, donning a more casual but welcoming black ensemble that exuded cordiality and comfort.
Delving into his more recent interest in conducting, Bell confidently led the National Symphony Orchestra’s 86th Season, as well as continuing celebration of The Kennedy Center’s namesake’s 100th birthday, with its riveting rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 with bravura and ease.
Dressed in less formal attire than the NSO players, Bell brought a youthful zeal and exuberant vibe to the ordinary symphony atmosphere, which was emphatic and enthralling, particularly for the newer generation of classical concert celebrators who may better appreciate his dynamic gusto.
The second portion of the 90-minute program began with Bell, once again, at center stage for Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21 but this time, he is facing the audience, displaying his masterful musicianship as a violin soloist.
Replete with flourishing figurations and wistful expressions, Bell, alongside the NSO’s wit-filled, lustrous rendering, Brooklyn-based Dance Heginbotham’s seven brightly color-flocked dancers (John Eirich, Lindsey Jones, Courtney Lopes, Spencer Ramirez, Weaver Rhodes, Sarah Stanley, and Macy Sullivan) doubly enhanced the concert experience, reconnoitering the bond between music and movement with its dexterous world premiere choreography of Lola, which one audience member acclaimed was “pure dance genius” upon its theatrical conclusion.
It’s hard to believe that Bell is 49 years-old and has a career which spans over 30 years, as he appears considerably younger, but it is evident from his dual performance as a conductor and violinist Saturday night that he is penetratingly passionate about what he does, and he adds a vibrant vitality that radiates in the usual institutional classical landscape.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.
NSO: An Evening with Joshua Bell performed for one night on February 11, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future events, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.