Josual Bell
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Review: Dallas Symphony Gala 2019 | Dallas Symphony Orchestra | Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Bell and Whistles

The Dallas Symphony's 2019 gala featured a derring-do performance by Joshua Bell.

published Saturday, October 5, 2019

Photo: Bill Phelps
Joshua Bell


Dallas — Gala concerts are events with big name soloists are always festive occasions, and Dallas does glam as well as any city in the world. On Sept. 28 at the Meyerson Symphony Center, it was a tie between the spectacular lighting — both inside and out — and the glittering reflections of all the sequined gowns arrayed inside, all united in supporting one of DFW’s largest performing arts organizations, and to hear superstar violinist Joshua Bell.

The grand sport of gown-, shoe-, and jewelry-gawking was an almost overwhelming endeavor. The frocks ranged from classic to outrageous. Men were stuck in an identical sea of de rigueur black with the only extravagance being a satin lapel and a one-inch stipe down the outer seam of the pant. A few daring gala-goers donned print jackets and sockless dress slippers.

It was all great fun. The reception afterwards was the usual combination of the sacred and the profane.

For the former, delectable deserts were arranged like elaborate jewelry creations on tables scattered throughout half of the lobby. This was a dazzling display of indulgences that had probably been denied for months leading up to the event.

Next, the profane. Somehow, these events feel it necessary to employ a decibel-defying dance band that attracts a sparse handful of participants on the dance floor, but mostly irritates everyone else. Surely there is a band somewhere that would be an acceptable compromise. (The local lounges and jazz clubs are full of them.)

Now to the concert.

The program was festooned with very traditional, albeit magnificent music.  The concert featured Beethoven’s exciting Leonore Overture No. 3 and Brahms’ divine Violin Concerto in D-Major for Violin and Orchestra, in an original take by Joshua Bell, perhaps our greatest — and most famous — living violinist. The young up-and-coming tousle-haired conductor, Christian Reif, dominated the podium.

Reif cuts quite an impressive figure on the podium and his list of accomplishments and recent gigs with top orchestras is certainly impressive. The Leonore Overture No. 3 is a standard in any conductor’s arsenal, even from undergraduate days, and remains a test of mastery right up until a conductor finally helped off of the stage for the last time.

Reif obviously knows the notes and is coming to terms with the music. However, at this point in his career his distortions of tempo, phrasing and dynamics do not come off as deeply pondered insights. He also falls into the trap that captures so many young conductors, of feeling the need to be aware of how he wants to appear to the audience while conducting. The end of the Beethoven brought some giggles because it looked like he was striking a practice pose for some future statue. But all this aside, he is a formidable talent and it will be interesting to see him mature in concept and podium presence.

If any concertgoers expected Bell to approach Brahms with Teutonic dignity, they would have been disappointed.

Bell gave us some stunningly beautiful moments and exceptionally played nuance — even an original first movement cadenza. But overall, his performance favored brilliance and emotionalism over the reverent dignity we usually associate with the more conservatively grounded Brahms.  His connection with Reif was tenuous, probably due to the usual lack of adequate rehearsal time. Concertmaster Alex Kerr, in the historic role of the position, took up the slack on many a treacherous occasion.

Bell’s strikingly unique take on the Brahms concerto will always reside in my musical memory. There is not enough original, albeit risky, approaches to the standard repertoire. My first draft of this review was much harsher on both artists, but my invective prose probably was a reaction born of surprise. The question remains: Did I like the concert? The answer is “no,” but it gets a gold star for derring-do.

The Brahms performance brought Bell’s work with John Corigliano’s music for the film, The Red Violin. Incongruously, the other name that came to mind was the late Shane McConkey, the wild and transcendentally talented Olympic skier and BASE jumper. Of his contributions to the sport, Ski Magazine noted that “skiing will never be the same.”

The same has been said about Bell since he first appeared on the scene. Thanks For Reading

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Bell and Whistles
The Dallas Symphony's 2019 gala featured a derring-do performance by Joshua Bell.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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