Monday, February 9, 2009

Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk - Janacek, Brahms, Ysaye & Franck - 02/08/09

Janacek: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
Ysaye: Violin Sonata No 2 in A Minor
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major

Being a hopeless noise-magnet is not an easy life when you're a fan of the performing arts, but sometimes good timing helps make things a little more bearable. Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be at Strathmore for the Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk concert, but not lucky enough to be able to enjoy it as fully as I could have. I had the misfortune of finding myself sitting next to a gratingly loud heavy-breather (imagine Darth Vader with a thick Russian accent and an even thicker waistline), who was providing a rhythmically consistent but nevertheless most unwelcome accompaniment to Janacek's composition.
So as soon as the music ended I quickly grab my coat, hat, gloves, scarf, program and bag and dashed to another seat nearby before Brahms' sonata and found myself next to a sympathetic usher, who was finally getting around to turning off her cell phone. Things could have been worse, I guess. And from then on, calm was pretty much restored, never mind the woman behind me intermittently scratching what sounded like cheap polyester pants. In the end though, there was still this nagging feeling of unfinished business about the whole outing stubbornly lingering in the air...
After two inconclusive attempts, I had never clicked with and had pretty much given up on the Avery Fisher Hall at New York's Lincoln Center, but it never gave up on me and I still receive regular e-mails from them. Therefore, I was aware of the concert yesterday afternoon, and since I was in town for the Guarneri String Quartet the night before, the call was just too compelling not to be answered. So I got a ticket and went for a last-minute comparative study and, most importantly, a little peace and quiet and music.

The mission has been accomplished and the verdict is in. Regarding outside distractions, this was a vast improvement, except for the occasionally fidgety neighbor and the signal watch abruptly informing our whole section that it was 5:00 p.m. during Méditation, that is. On the acoustics side, Strathmore wins hands-down, but the AFH was not as bad as I remembered it, and I may even give it another chance one of these days. Oh, yes, and for the performance, it's another loud and clear A+.
As a matter of fact, I believe that a lot has to be said about the benefits of attending more than one performance of the same program. Having another opportunity to fully indulge my ears, heart and mind allowed me to dwell deeper into these beautifully crafted works, and surely brought my understanding of them to another level. Instead of the dazzling technical fireworks of Ysaye, this time it is probably Franck's stunning sonata that really stood out for me as I got to appreciate its rich textures and exquisite harmonies in yet another light.

All in all, this second concert, a true luxury for sure, turned out to be both a blessing, for the sheer pleasure it brought, and a curse, for fueling an appetite for more. It was also, ultimately, another proof that not giving up and going the extra 200+ miles for a worthy goal has its own priceless rewards.

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