Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Joshua Bell at Strathmore

On January 26th there supposed to be a performance by Joshua Bell at Strathmore. It was snowing in the afternoon but the performance was not canceled. I took the Metro and got to the Strathmore station surprisingly quickly, even though the Metro had problems the whole day and seemed to have been on its last legs, even more so than usual.

The foyer of the Hall was surprisingly dim. I checked in my coat at the dark cloak room (staff there used flashlights) and went towards the Hall. An usher tore off the stub of my ticket and let me in. As I grabbed a sandwich and a glass of wine (long line, dark counter, cash only, credit card processing line down) and sat down reading the Program, the Hall staff members hurried passed us yelling, “No power in the Hall, performance canceled 15 min ago, Joshua Bell in the lobby!” The small crowd, bewildered, streamed back to the entrance, and—lo and behold—there, in almost complete darkness, backed into the corner of the lobby near the cloakroom Joshua Bell whipped out his Stradivarius and proceeded to play his own variations on “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

He then said apologetically that he'd love to play at the Hall but the regulations forbid him to do so when there is no electricity, so the concert will have to be rescheduled. Having finished playing, he indulged the autograph collectors—a consolation prize, I guess…

And the day before president of this country, in his “State of the Union” address was talking about the enduring optimism and the “sputnik moment.” Yeah, right—when two inches of snow shut the capital of the great superpower down and the modern performance venue doesn't have a backup electric system. A “sputnik moment” indeed. And our tea party friends keep dutifully droning on their mantras, insisting that no investment in the infrastructure is necessary… What a ship of fools! By the way, in my 27 years of living in Leningrad, I don't remember a single concert being canceled because of the weather, and we routinely had up to three yards of snow lying around for five winter months, and the −15F° temperatures. Go figure… They talk about optimism? It seems to be entirely unwarranted. Better read "Decline and Fall..."

The Reliable Source, Violinist Joshua Bell rewards snowy fans with impromptu performance, Washington Post, January 27, 2011.
Scott Simon, Violinist Joshua Bell Plays On The Street Again, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday, January 29, 2011.
 The concert was indeed rescheduled, and took place exactly one week later, on February 2, 2011. The highlight of the evening, undoubtedly, was rarely performed Schubert's Fantasy in C. What struck me about Bell's playing was the tonal unity of his playing: rather than contrasting the timbres of playing in the low and high registers, he has achieved a remarkable consistency of sound. This reminded me of two kinds of dramatic sopranos: some, like Callas, seem to have several juxtaposing voices in one; others, like Sutherland, maintain consistency of tone throughout their wide diapason. Bell's violin playing definitely belongs to the latter school.
Robert Battey, Music review: Another memorable visit by violinist Joshua Bell, Washington Post, February 3, 2011.

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