Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 18th January

Symphony Hall

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Joshua Bell violin/director

J S Bach (arr J Milone) Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor (for violin & string orchestra)
Brahms Violin Concerto 38
Beethoven Symphony No 3, Eroica 47’

Joshua Bell’s visits to Symphony Hall always create a buzz; and when the Academy of St Martin in the Fields was looking to appoint only its second ever Music Director, this ‘poet of the violin’ (Interview) was the natural choice. Today’s programme celebrates the whole range of their partnership, with Bell performing both as conductor in Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and as peerless soloist in very different concertos by Bach and Brahms.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

This concert brings you the three B’s of classical music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, three composers who are a bit like the crucial foundations of a building. Without such solid foundations, classical music might never have been built to endure, as it has done, for hundreds of years.



Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “this piece and the rest of the programme all players showed a pleasing chemistry, resulting in a warm sound that was both intimate and inviting. A conversational atmosphere emerged, particularly where plucked orchestral strings provided a luscious delicacy in support of Bell’s virtuosity. The cadenza had me wondering how on earth a human being could possibly play that fast, only for Bach to then slow the pace right down for the soulful finish such that the audience finally breathed out again.

Bell was in his element playing the Brahms Violin Concerto and directing it at the same time, with plenty of body language, in which even his floppy fringe played a part! Appropriately enough, Brahms composed this piece for violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim, who received huge acclaim for the first movement’s cadenza, which the composer had left unwritten in deference to his friend’s musical prowess. Tonight’s crowd relished Bell’s take on this section with pin-drop attention, then burst into inter-movement applause after the beauty and explosive drama of the coda. The soloist himself had a moment or two to catch his breath and step out of the spotlight while the oboe, supported by woodwind colleagues, launched the Adagio, which the violin then beautifully echoed and embroidered, exploring a variety of keys. The finale took us into Hungarian territory, the country of Joachim’s birth. The playful folk dance rhythms were a breath of fresh air and I could sense a collective foot-tapping. A brief period of a calmer tempo intervened, to be followed by a transformation of the gypsy theme into an accented, exciting march in which the flutes in particular added to the general high spirits.

After the interval Bell directed Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony from the leader’s chair – or virtually out of it at times. His energy was reflected by the whole ensemble, and there was an atmosphere of intense concentration and a sense of urgency, an urge to convey the necessary heroism, in fact.”     …



Review by Ian Harvey, Native Monster:

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…     “Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor, is all dramatic runs up and down the neck of the violin, Bell performing an arrangement with just the orchestra’s strings that saw the sold-out audience rapt throughout.

Brahm’s Violin Concerto is one of the masterpieces of the romantic repertoire, at once dramatic and beguiling, sweeping and charging. Bell acted as both soloist and conductor, using his bow to count in the orchestra before taking up the violin’s sumptuous opening melody and showing why he is so often referred to as “the poet of the violin”.

For Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, Bell took his place among the first violins, conducting not from a podium but from a stool at the front of the stage, so that he occasionally almost leapt to his feet to get the message to the orchestral sections at the rear of the stage while seemingly conducting the string players around him with a mixture of eye commands, nods and sweeps of his bow.

True to its name, this was a truly heroic performance, the chamber orchestra reacting to the demands of both music and conductor to create a performance that was rich and polished with a fully enveloping sound.”  



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A performance of Brahms’ violin concerto by a soloist of Bell’s immense talent cannot fail to have some passages of great beauty; here the slow movement did, and the first movement’s flourish with Bell’s bow pointing skywards drew a round of applause. But his decision to conduct (Maxim Vengerov School of vague arm-waving) made the concerto tasteful rather than titanic. Nothing to frighten the horses – nothing to make the angels weep. Bell’s decision to play Bach’s Chaconne from the second Partita for solo violin in an execrable and superfluous arrangement with string orchestra, by Julian Milone, was unfathomable”

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