By Jared Murray
The Kentucky Center certainly was bustling last Wednesday night. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, one of the premier chamber orchestras in the world, stopped in Louisville as part of their 15-city American tour with their new music director, acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell.
The concert hall was buzzing with almost tangible excitement by the time the concert began around 7:40, possibly due to the drought of classical music in the Louisville area. The orchestra and Bell received a warm applause as Bell walked on stage.
The chamber group wasted no time after their welcome. They quickly plunged themselves into Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62. The overture was composed for a revival of Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s play, Coriolan, not the Shakespearian play entitled Coriolanus. The piece quickly busied the chamber group with chromatic passages and soaring melodies, all executed to perfection.
Next up was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, with Bell playing the virtuosic solo part. The first movement, almost 25 minutes in length, showcases the entire range of the violin, and was played with a clear, sparkling tone by Bell. The more tranquil second movement allowed Bell to relax, at least until it directly rushed in to the relentless Rondo, where Bell’s virtuosity was displayed at its finest. The entire concerto was brilliantly played throughout; the orchestra was very tight and exhibited supreme control throughout the piece and allowed Bell to speak even in his lower range.
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A Major quickly followed, but not after a well-deserved applause for Bell. The first movement, full of joyful, skipping melodies surely struck a chord with the audience because they could hardly control their applause after the movement finished. The always popular second movement also received the same audience reaction, and the before the symphony was finished the audience was on its feet, applauding feverishly. An encore of the first movement of Mozart’s 25 symphony followed after a 10-minute standing ovation.
While the program itself is impressive, the most admirable part was that it was conducted entirely by Bell both sitting and standing. Bell lead the orchestra through his body movement; at times it looked as though he would fall out of his seat from flailing around so forcefully; occasionally he stopped playing all together and conducted with his bow.
The most satisfying part of the concert was not just the music, but the attendance. The community, starved of classical music due the absence of the Louisville Orchestra (LO), devoured the concert. Even more satisfying was the many different types of people in the audience. For every old LO fan in their nicest suit, eager for music, there was a teenager dressed in jeans and a t-shirt equally excited to be there. The concert hall filled with the sounds of coughing audience members during pieces, and clapping between movements was tolerated from even the sternest of orchestral fans. The feverish standing ovation provided by everyone was not just the product of the performance, but of the audience’s joy for classical music coming back to Louisville for one more night.