Peruse the specifics of Joshua Bell's performance Friday night with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and you will discover how everything, from the artist to the program to the very performance setting, is linked.
First, consider the pairing: one of the world's most celebrated classical violinists collaborating with a student orchestra full of players roughly the age Bell was when the Indiana native made his performance debut in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world.
"I enjoy being around young people who are sort of at the cusp of a musical career," the Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone award and Avery Fisher Prize winning Bell says. "I enjoy being around that sort of enthusiasm. I feel at that stage they are still ready to soak things in and learn. They have a real love of music which one should have throughout one's life.
"I spend most of my time playing with professional orchestras, and that can be wonderful, too. But there are times where you get the sense that most professional orchestras are doing it precisely as a profession. Sometimes it feels like you don't get the same sense of youthful enthusiasm of a student orchestra. My point is I enjoy being around young people. I've had 30 years of touring and making music professionally. Hopefully, some of that wisdom might be able to rub off on them."
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Next consider the work that will feature Bell tonight, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, a piece that has long been an integral part of the violinist's performance repertoire. In fact, Bell made his Carnegie Hall debut playing the concerto with the St. Louis Symphony. That was in 1985, when Bell was 17.
"I've played the piece since I was 12 years old. It was also the first concerto I ever recorded, when I was 18. But I wouldn't even dare listen to those recordings now. I approached the piece so differently. That's the wonderful thing about these great classics, it's that you grow with them. The way you look at the piece just changes. The greater the piece, the more depth there is to find. Even though Bruch is not the kind of household name as a Beethoven or a Brahms, this particular piece is really up there with the Beethoven and Brahms concertos, as well as the really great pieces in the repertoire.
"But as you keep looking at a piece, you find different nuances. You look at a phrase and realize that it means something a little bit different than you had thought of before. It's really a wonderful thing about classical music."
Curiously, one of those early recordings of the Bruch concerto links Bell directly to the here and now. It was cut in 1988 with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the acclaimed British orchestra Bell leads today as music director. The only other person to hold that title was Sir Neville Marriner, who served as conductor for the 1988 recording.
"It's probably been the most important musical experience for me of the last 20 years," Bell says of his work with the orchestra. "It's really taught me a lot about leadership, about how to articulate musical ideas and how to show them as a conductor. It's also taught me how to look at music in a far deeper way because I'm so apt to be involved on a deeper level with every instrument in the orchestra. It's made me a better musician, for sure, so I'm incredibly grateful.
"Also, it's expanded my repertoire. Getting to do Beethoven symphonies, like the Eroica Symphony or the Fifth Symphony ... these are pieces I've known my whole life, but it's a dream to get to really interpret them. It's been an amazing experience."