He played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, the same piece that introduced him to Tucson in 1986 when he was an 18-year-old wunderkind. Bell is now 45 and the father of three young boys, but he still possess that boyhood enthusiasm, which seems to be at its peak when he stands with an orchestra that he respects.
Judging by his performance Saturday night, Bell has a lot of respect for the TSO. You can tell as much by the way Bell squeezed the hands of Conductor George Hanson and acting concertmaster Carla Ecker; there was a sense of comfortable familiarity, like old friends reuniting. He also made a point of standing with his back to the audience so he could watch the orchestra. From our seat in the hall it played like a sign of respect for what the orchestra was doing.
Mendelssohn’s concerto is a beautiful piece of music and largely regarded as one of the most important works in the violin concerto repertoire. It places a heavy burden on the soloist from the start and never lets up. It is a work that continues to challenge Bell, even if he made it look like second nature Saturday night.
But most of the soldout audience, which included a healthy representation of high-schoolers and college students, did not come to the Music Hall Saturday night solely to hear the Mendelssohn. We came to see if Bell, a violinist of nearly unrivaled talent and charisma, could seduce us in a way that makes us forget where we are.
For 40 minutes Saturday night he succeeded in taking us away from our lives and into a place where notes spilled off the page and floated seamlessly from his nimble fingers and bow and swallowed the Music Hall.
With each pull of his bow across his priceless 1713 Huberman Stradivarius, Bell coaxed a honeyed tone that sounded like it was coming from two or three instruments. When the tempo kicked into the frenetic zone in the final movement, we found ourselves holding our breath waiting for the climax. And when he delivered it with dramatic flair that was not overly showy, we exhaled in a rush of thundering applause that went on through a trio of curtain calls that led to an encore with the orchestra.
Next season, the TSO is bringing in Bell’s rival for best violinist in the world, Itzhak Perlman.