Academy of St. Martin makes its Bravo! debut |

Academy of St. Martin makes its Bravo! debut

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields' Joshua Bell bows to his fellow musicians in thanks after performing Mozart's Fourth Violin Concerto on Thursday at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Bell and the Academy continue their residency on Saturday with an evening of Prokfiev, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens and Beethoven.
Matt Munson | Special to the Daily |

VAIL — However unpredictable, Vail’s summer weather does have a sense of the occasion.

Just as it did when cellist Yo-Yo Ma opened Bravo! Vail in 2010, the skies cleared for violinist Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields for its debut at the summer music festival at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on Thursday.

Bell and the British chamber ensemble — the first foreign orchestra to take residency in the 29 years of Bravo! Vail — were equal to the sparking weather with a program of Mozart’s 25th Symphony as well as the composer’s Fourth Violin Concerto, followed by Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony.

“This marks a new chapter in Bravo! Vail’s history as we welcome this extraordinary international orchestra, the famed Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with director Joshua Bell,” said Bravo! artistic director Anne-Marie McDermott in her remarks prior to the concert from the stage.

Music lovers come prepared

Tom and Barbara Painter, of Edwards, staked out seats on the lawn early, equipped with all the essentials — lawn seats, umbrellas and, most importantly, food.

“Tuna tortellini,” Tom said. “One of my specialties.”

The Painters have been picking out a few concerts a year to attend for about 17 years. Thursday night’s performance, they said, was obvious, given the reputation of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

“This is the most unique venue in the country, “ Tom said of the Ford Amphitheater. “And it’s amazing the caliber of orchestras we get.”

The Academy is the first of four for Bravo! Vail this summer. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic dot the schedule through July.

John and Kate McCord, of Colorado Springs, are up in the mountains for the summer.

“I have his CDs. I’ve had them for years,” Kate said. “The fact that Joshua Bell was coming, and, of course, the other orchestras are incredible.”

Taking the stage

Concert-goers had a rare sight as they entered the amphitheater — an empty stage.

“Their flight was delayed,” McDermott joked.

McDermott went on to explain that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields takes the stage in a “European start,” entering from stage left and right, which the musicians did to considerable applause.

Bell, who is no stranger to Bravo! Vail, then entered, wearing his traditional summer-casual all-black with an open-collared dress shirt, vest and slacks.

After the national anthem, the Academy opened with Mozart’s 25th, whose opening movement some may remember from the movie, “Amadeus.” Said symphony remains the essence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Classical period.

During the Fourth Violin Concerto, Bell held the capacity crowd spell bound, pausing at the end of the first movement to wipe his face with a handkerchief to appreciative laughter. In the third and final movement, Bell and the Academy were able to bring out the playfulness of Mozart’s work.

Bell took two curtain calls after the concerto to a standing ovation.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony was an appropriately joyful work for the beginning of a summer of music. While his title is musical director of the Academy, Bell is not a conductor of the group in a traditional sense. That said, he did lead the ensemble with the occasional flick of his bow, a head nod or by arching his shoulders.

The audience leapt to its feet at the end of the Mendelssohn, and was eagerly anticipating an encore, which was delivered.

“Thank you so much,” Bell said from the stage. “We’d like to give you a tiny preview of our concert on Saturday, the last movement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony.”

That work will be the opener of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields’ next concert, “Denk & Beethoven 8.” Pianist Jeremy Deny joins Bell for Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra, aka “Double.” The finale is Ludvig van Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

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