After years of guesting with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles that made it our way, Joshua Bell in 2011 played his first ever Tucson solo concert.
Eight years and yet another TSO appearance — back in 2013 — later, Bell is bringing his latest solo recital to Centennial Hall with UA Presents on Friday, Feb. 15.
Bell doesn’t do a whole lot of recitals. In fact, Tucson is the finale of a 10-city solo trek with his longtime accompanist, English pianist Sam Haywood.
“It’s a different experience than playing a concerto with an orchestra, where I fly in, rehearse my one big piece with the orchestra” and perform, Bell, 51, said during a teleconference with West Coast journalists in mid-December. “Playing a big concerto is thrilling, too. You’ve got a lot of people on stage. It’s louder. ... But with a solo recital ... it’s two hours of more intensity from beginning to end. But what I like is I get to offer sort of a tasting menu from classical music. Something from different periods. I get to show different aspects of classical music, different ways the violin can express itself. It’s more intimate. I can talk to the audience between pieces.”
His program opens with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, jumps to the 21st century with Prokofiev’s Sonata 2 in D major and closes with Grieg’s little play Sonata 2 in G major.
“These pieces take you to somewhere,” he explained.
We’ve seen Bell take us to that place during his TSO performances over the years, including when he played Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor with the orchestra in early 2008.
“When you do it well and you are really immersed, it doesn’t feel like you’re going through the actions,” he said of the way the music takes him to that special place. “It doesn’t feel like you’ve been practicing for a thousand hours beforehand.”
Bell said it’s been a while since he played the Grieg, “although I’ve always found it to be an incredible piece and really exciting and incredibly beautiful. It’s something I wanted to bring back into my repertoire.”
He described the Beethoven Fourth Sonata as a “grab-you-by-the-neck-right-out” classic Beethoven, and said the Prokofiev, with its 20th century dissonance, was a nice contrast to the 18th century classical tone palate of the Beethoven and the romantic feel of the Grieg.
“I wanted to give people different things. … That’s what this program is about, contrasts and presenting different styles,” he said.