A rather short rant on how Joshua Bell weakened my love for violin

I’m sure many of you recognise that video of a famous violinist playing “undercover” at D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, being completely ignored by majority of people and barely noticed by few. That was nobody else but Joshua Bell.

If you’re not into classical music, you probably have never heard of the guy. To be honest, I can’t say I’m a dedicated fan either, and when I noticed his name on the Royal Festival Hall‘s listings it took me a while to recognise him. Eventually I remembered his rather good album At Home with Friends from 2009 and decided to give it a go. It seemed even more interesting since I’ve never experienced live violin concert with full symphonic support and, well, I’m not much of a classical music enthusiast (I know — it’s strange considering my love for opera).

Joshua Bell performing live

Did I like it? Sure. Would I do it again? Probably not. Wait, whuuuuut?

Well… it was pleasant, probably very difficult to perform, although not being an expert on the subject doesn’t give me any right to judge, but… I nearly snoozed couple of times! Perhaps I was just tired or perhaps not in a mood for this kind of music, but a fact is a fact.

Fortunately Joshua was gone after the first half and replaced by a fantastic London Philharmonic Choir, whose vocal strength woke me up all right. There was also a tenor on stage — Jeremy Ovenden — but his voice was a poor match for dozens of people behind him, so he could have been easily replaced by a mop and noone would notice.

Still, it was a very average experience so far, so you can imagine my surprise when rather intense waves of goose bumps started to appear on my body. It was the last composition of the night: Karol Szymanowski‘s Symphony No.3: The Song of the Night. Sure, the first few minutes were rather amusing — natives sweating their asses off at singing Polish lyrics always is — but that’s pretty much where the fun part ended.

You may think I’m trying to blindly promote Polish creations, but I ensure you it’s nothing like this. In fact, and it may seem a surprise to some, I have never heard this being played, not to mention performed live.

It’s a difficult music. Even the lyrics (written by the 13th century Persian poet جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى) are. If you’re unprepared, as I was, it will punch you in your face, rape you couple of times, simultaneously giving you extremely calming and thought-rich experience. It will force you to follow it, never lose its scent, even when it turns and snakes all over the musical range. And when it’s finished you’ll sit in your place completely dumbfounded, wondering what the hell just happened. And just for that it’s worth every millisecond of your time.

If someone asked me whether I’d enjoyed the evening, I would have to say I indeed had. It’s a shame that Joshua Bell was not a part of it though. When I think about it now, I also consider the possibility that while he still is a brilliant musician, the chosen repertoire for the night was not something I would find thrilling or inspiring. And no offence to Mr Mozart and Brahms(;

Vladimir Jurowski conducting London Philharmonic Orchestra

Finally I do have to give props to London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski who made a good job throughout the night and completely smashed it in the last part. I hope I will be given the opportunity to see them in action again one day.

For now I’ll leave you with the piece that left me all shaken, and although it’s not something you should listen to outside of a concert hall, it’s still absolutely astonishing piece of art.

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