From Bell and Bringuier to Mephistopheles in One Night

Joshua Bell, the George Clooney of the violin world, has a swagger.  The problem with his swagger, though, is that he actually has the goods to back it up; he talks the talk and walks the classical music walk.  You can see him in action with the LA Philharmonic this weekend under the direction of Lionel Bringuier.

Assistant music director for the LA Phil, Bringuier conducts as if he’s having a conversation with both the musicians and their instruments.  He conveys each feeling just before the musicians do and with each sad, beautiful violin chord, he looks as if he’ll cry right along with you.

The concert leaves behind canonical Mozart or Bach and instead features enticing and lasting works by Maurice Ravel, Edouard Lalo, Florent Schmitt, and Franz Liszt.  Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso  opens the performance on a disjointed, yet powerful and beautiful note.  Lasting all of eight minutes, it’s not long before Joshua Bell graces us with his presence and performs Lalo’s Symphonie espangole  that, throughout its five sections, has plenty of opportunities for Bell to impress.  Bell’s animated movements (along with his silky, brunette locks) compliment his style of play so well – he commands the violin to communicate his emotion and the audience, in turn, becomes enthralled.  Lalo’s Symphonie espangole is jovial, light, and calmer than the other pieces and has a clear focus on instrumentality.

Following Bell’s dramatic exit, the LA Phil performs Florent Schmitt’s La tragedie de Salome , which undoubtedly steals the show.  Without meaning to trump Bell’s performance, Schmitt utilizes the entire orchestra throughout most of his piece and the result is an overwhelming, intense beauty; the kind of music you let just wash over you.  Lastly is Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 , which is haunting, strong, and inspired by the German story of Faust – a man who strikes a deal with the devil in return for knowledge.  The legend of Faust has been used by composers such as Liszt, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Wagner, by such writers as Goethe and Thomas Mann, and in such films as F.W. Murnau’s Faust and the recent V for Vendetta. Liszt’s Waltz doesn’t spell the story out for you, but it’s a clear display of his focus on and love of individual instrumentality.

The highlight of the evening, for some, was Joshua Bell’s encore performance during which he played “Yankee Doodle” in every way imaginable.  He moved quickly, slowly, and through every octave a violin is capable of in an impressive show of creative ability. My money is still on Florent Schmitt, though.  I have a feeling that guy’s got a whole new level of posthumous celebrity coming to him.


Joshua Bell and Lionel Bringuier’s concerts continue tonight (Friday, April 24), Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.  For more information, please call (323) 850-2000.

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