VAIL — It’s not often in the world of classical music that a work such as Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is almost overshadowed.
On the other hand, Joshua Bell doesn’t play at Bravo! Vail often either. The acclaimed violinist brought down the house in front a sellout crowd at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater with Bruch’s First Violin Concerto as The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Cristian Macelaru, opened its annual residency on Saturday at the summer music festival.
“I was blown away, really, to be so close to him as he performed,” said Nancy Groff, of Edwards and Denver. “It’s unbelievable. We did see him (in 2012) here. As soon as the tickets were available this year, we got six.”
After the playing of the national anthem, an orchestral tradition for the opening of a season or residency, and the playing of Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” a late addition to the scheduled program, Bell appeared.
Clad in his traditional all-black outfit, with a touch of summer casual — an open-collared dress shirt with a matching vest — Bell took to the stage to warm applause and launched himself into the Bruch.
He seemed to dig himself into his 1713 Stradivarius, trying to become one with it as if that would generate just that extra ounce of passion for the work.
Bell and The Philadelphia Orchestra played the three-movement violin concerto without interruption. Bell held the audience spellbound with each passage.
“It’s extraordinary,” said David Keller, who was sitting on the lawn with Julie Meyers. “He is certainly the greatest violinist of this century, probably one of the best ones ever.”
Although they were equipped with all the trappings of proper concert-going — legless chairs, blankets, cheese and grapes — this was their first Bravo! Vail concert for the Denver couple.
“It’s amazing,” Meyers said. “I’ve wanted to see him ever since I saw that YouTube video of him playing in the subway and people walking by. That was such a compelling incident.”
One of the many landmarks of Bell’s career was playing incognito in a Washington D.C. metro station. Bell, who made his debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra at 14, played for 45 minutes with only one passerby recognizing him in 2007. Others were kind enough to toss $32.17 into his violin case during the experiment, conducted by The Washington Post.
When Bell finished on Saturday, there was instant recognition and an exuberant standing ovation. After two curtain calls, Bell gave a rare mid-concert encore with a selection of Tchaikovsky.
And the Fourth
While Bell was the headliner, The Philadelphia Orchestra performed a majestic version of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, beginning with its signature bassoon and horn A-flat motif.
Macelaru deftly guided the orchestra through the emotional gamut of the symphony, including giving a light touch to the percussion, particularly late in the first movement of the work.
After an expressive interpretation of the second and third movements of the Fourth, The Philadelphia Orchestra sent the crowd into another standing ovation with a stirring conclusion. Macelaru and the orchestra played a brief passage of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” for an encore.
Bravo! Vail continues tonight with The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Donald Runnicles, performing Mahler’s First Symphony.