Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mostly Mozart Festival - Mozart, Bach & Schumann - 08/18/15

Conductor: Andrew Manze
Mozart: Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546
Bach: Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042 − Joshua Bell
Bach/Mendelssohn (arr. Milone): Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 − Joshua Bell
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C Major

I was not at L'Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington, DC eight years ago when Joshua Bell selflessly busked there for about 45 minutes during morning rush hour without generating much notice. The Washington Post's article about the experiment, on the other hand, went viral quickly and lastingly (Years after the fact I received a French PowerPoint presentation about it from my mom, followed some time later by a Australian newspaper article relating the story from a friend who lived Down Under) and eventually won The Pulitzer Prize.
According to my calculations, that morning I was on my usual way to work, going from the Eastern Market to the Farragut West metro stations. Therefore, the train I was in had to pass right under the feet of one of the world's top violinists playing some of the world's top classical music − including Bach's almighty Chaconne − in a performance open to all and free for all. So incredibly close and still so infuriatingly far away.
Since then I've heard Joshua Bell perform and the Chaconne being performed, but never together... until this year's Mostly Mozart Festival, which had him tackle an orchestral version of it in an effort undertaken by contemporary English composer and violinist Julian Milone based on Mendelssohn's own take on it with piano accompaniment. Not exactly the real thing, but close enough. And as an added bonus, Bell was throwing in Bach's Violin Concerto in E Major as well. Because one can never hear too much Bach.
The rest of the program included other Bach-influenced works such as Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C Minor and Schumann's Symphony No. 2. What was not to love? Absolutely nothing. So on Wednesday night my friend Christine and I were back in the Avery fisher Hall − Alas, sans champagne this time − and very much looking forward to our last, but obviously not least, Mostly Mozart Festival's concert of the summer.

Mozart's short and impeccably self-contained Adagio and Fugue in C Minor kicked off our musical evening with the perfect combination of Baroque understatement and Classical drama. It was his festival after all, so it was totally fitting that we got to happily revel in a relatively minor but still completely rewarding piece of his impressively eclectic œuvre.
As if to whet our appetite before the Chaconne, Joshua Bell's first appearance of the evening was as violinist and conductor of the orchestra's strings and continuo players for Bach's Violin Concerto in E Major. By turns highlighting the vivacity, exquisiteness and exuberance of the delightful composition, the small ensemble treated us to a brisk, detailed and all-around engaging performance.
Bach's Chaconne is famously one of the pinnacles of the classical music repertoire, so it takes a solid dose of either boldness or cluelessness to even consider doing anything with it. But some people have been bold enough, and this time the result, while in no way surpassing or even equaling the original's rigorous perfection, was fresh and innovative. Joshua Bell used his trademark virtuosic skills with such spontaneity and exactness that it made me wonder why he does not steer away from his usual fare of big Romantic concertos more often. Under his discreet direction, the orchestra flawlessly contributed to the resounding success of the exciting endeavor.
After the intermission, we were back in the hall for Schumann's Symphony No. 2, one last, discreet tribute to Bach and a full emersion into Romantic bipolarity. I may not be Schumann's biggest fan in general, but I'll say that the communicative enthusiasm with which Andrew Manze led the orchestra on Wednesday night brightly emphasized the indisputable qualities of the composition and, in all likelihood, left a lasting impression on the entire audience. So lo and behold, Schuman turned out to be a totally satisfying way to close our Mostly Mozart Festival, but not without one last stop at the L'Arte del Gelato cart located right on the Lincoln Plaza for the de rigueur treat with a view over the Hearst Plaza. A flavorsome ending to a flavorsome festival.

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