Joshua Bell: A Classical Rock Star

joshuabell-1000x330What more can I say? After enjoying a wonderful concert with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, with accompanying guest classical superstar violinist Joshua Bell, I left inspired and starstruck!

Getting Pumped for the Concert

Getting Pumped for the Concert

I am not a music critic, but I am an avid music fan. Those that know me are aware that I am a 70s rock ‘n roller and an collector of cover songs. But, I grew up listening to classical music, I’ve married a classical violinist and I have classical music in my life and I enjoy it as well, and do include it in my collections.

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Though not a critic, this is my review of the concert from April 3 based upon my experience with music.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

The UKSO opened with two luscious pieces. The first piece was a very delightful, indeed festive offering by Dmitri Shostakovich. Entitled “Festive Overture“, it is filled with catchy melodies and straightforward harmonies, perhaps a reflection of the Socialist regime’s push for simplicity in the 1950s. The piece started with with a grand brass fanfare, a perfect opening for a concert. Soon the tempo abruptly changed into high gear for the main theme, which included a bubbly clarinet tune. From there the pace of the music was breakneck and whimsical. I loved this opening piece and was only disappointed in its brevity.

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

I had not heard Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in many years. I recall an old album my Dad had in the 1960s, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I was not too endeared to it back in the 1960s.  In terms of classical I was more prone to listen to my Dad’s Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms albums. As I grew older and listened to it again in the 1970s, I enjoyed it more as I was able to understand the story that the music elicited about an evil king, a prince and a Firebird that saved the day. The UKSO performance, conducted by John Nardolillo, was moving.

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

Outside the rain was pouring buckets and, from my third row seat in the Singletary Center, I could hear it flowing down the side of the building.  This background “music” of the flowing water added to the mysteriously flowing stanzas of the seven movements.  After so many years of not listening to it, I was enthralled by all of the musical movement coming from the various sections.  But, I also had a great angle to catch a profile of Dr. Nardolillo and could see his amazing expressiveness. It was almost as if he were yelling out to the orchestra. It was obvious that he put his entire self into the music and not just his arms. Throughout the entire performance my eyes were glued on him as the music filled my ears. Indeed, it was an enjoyable piece and it was actually the first time I ever heard it performed live and I was grateful I had the opportunity.

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center...3rd Row and awesome place to sit

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center…3rd Row and awesome place to sit

After intermission, the highlight of the night was having the rare opportunity to see a world-class violinist perform. What made it even more fascinating and rare was knowing that Joshua Bell was performing with his 300 year old Gibson Stradivarius violin (named after one of its early owners, the English violinist George Alfred Gibson), which is valued at over $4 million. This antique violin was fabricated by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona in 1713.. The Gibson, while owned by Bronisław Huberman, was stolen twice. Read the complete story here.

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell opened with Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, which was written in 1866. This concerto, according to some, is one of the finest concertos in the violin repertoire. It is also considered to be the German composer’s finest score. Ironically, this was the same piece that Joshua Bell performed in his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985, when he was only 17. The flowing water coupled with the rumbling timpani and the smooth sounds of the woodwinds backing the soloist was an absolute delight.

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

And of course, Bell did not fail to impress.  He had passion written all over him in the amazing Bruch concerto. Once again, from my angle and close proximity I could see every facial crease, every smile of joy in his face and the look of contentment with this youthful college orchestra, which stepped up their game to match the intensity of the word renowned Joshua Bell. He was both colorful and provided all with a chance to hear the tones of his 300 year old violin.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

The performance closed with a fantastic rendering of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which he wrote in 1863. This performance mixed excitement with the exotic.  The tune was colorful and lyrical and made me want to get up and dance gleefully (which I can’t imagine trying to do!!).  Bell’s fingers just rolled down the strings.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Overall it was an amazing evening of music, despite the torrential weather outside.  Ny the time the concert had ended, so had the rains.  It was a cool and refreshing walk back to the parking lot as my wife’s dreams were fulfilled in seeing Joshua Bell and my soul was filled with delight from the whimsical and mysterious music that filled the Singletary Center for the Arts.

 

#TBT Special – 2001: A Space Odyssey with Live Orchestra & Chorus

imageLast weekend I had the unique opportunity to attend a historic event at the Singletary  Center at the University of Kentucky. The 1970s movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” was shown on a big screen. Along with that was a live orchestra and a live chorus that performed all of the music in the movie and they only played the vocal tracks of the movie to the sound system.  For me, this was a real “Throwback” to days gone by.

UK Orchestra and 2001

The UK Orchestra prepares for the live performance of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The huge movie screen sits above them.

It has been nearly 30 years since I last saw this movie and I had only seen it one time before that when it first came out in the 1970s. I have always been a Stanley Kubrick fan (my faves are 2001, The Shining and A Clockwork OrangeI actually wrote a final exam analysis in a class in college on Clockwork in 1982 and got an A+). I could give a review of the 2001, but it is had thousands of reviews that are mush better than I could do. (see some HERE)

With Julianne to see 2001

With Julianne to see 2001: A Space Odyssey with LIVE Orchestra

Many call this movie one of the greatest movies of all time (#22 on IMDB, #26 on Filmsite.org, #22 on AMC#22 on American Film Institute, #43 on France’s Cahiers du Cinema, #10 by famed film critic Roger Ebert). And in terms of its artistic fashion, the unique and sometimes complexly strange subject matter, and the way that cupric filmed the movie was indeed amazing.

Sumoflam at 2001

Sumoflam with the program for the production

But, never before have I seen a movie with LIVE music (other than an old silent Charlie Chaplin film with a Wurlitzer), especially a full orchestra and a chorus. Indeed, the chorus alone was amazing because of the type of singing that they were required to do. Each individual had unique tones and there were many dissonant chords. They were singing the parts for the sound of the monolith, the big black rectangular monolith of the movie.

2001space043The University of Kentucky had a detailed article about the movie and its setup HERE. This program has been presented by an exclusive selection of the world’s greatest orchestras including the London Philharmonia Symphony, The New York Philharmonic, The Brussels Symphony, and the National Symphony. (See a review of the performance by the New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Center in 2013). The UK Symphony Orchestra and UK Chorale received the prestigious honor of being the first university ensembles to perform this concert.

According to the article:

To be prepared for such a different concert, UK Chorale had to develop its own rehearsal methods beyond just screening the film. “2001” calls for approximately 20 individual sounds from the vocalists performed in a group. In order to be ready to sing the notes given to them, members of UK Chorale practiced not only as a group but often individually with their smart phones and metronome apps that helped them properly time their individual parts.”

Then there was the complexity of the orchestra and chorus matching the movie in proper synchronization.

2001 Equipment

Big projection system and massive sound system were brought in for this special presentation

I also understand that the school had to bring in lots of equipment for the unique and amazing sound system that reverberated through the hall. In fact, one of the staff members noted that it required “special projectors and sound systems that [they] had to scour the United States to find, and did find them.”

György Ligeti (1923-2006)

György Ligeti (1923-2006)

The music, which included the spooky and eerily dissonant chords of Hungarian composer György Ligeti’s “Atmospheres played live to the film and the haunting “Jupiter and Beyond: Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs” also by Ligeti (see more about him HERE) were absolutely stunning.

2001-a-space-odyssey-originalUltimately this was a maximum sensory experience in all ways. There is nothing better than a live orchestra with a movie. It was absolutely an amazing experience. Totally phenomenal.  Kudos to the UK Orchestra and conductor John Nardolillo as well as the UK Chorale and conductor Jefferson Johnson for a spectacular performance!!