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Bill Phelps
Violinist Joshua Bell will perform Sunday, Aug. 5, at Tanglewood.

PREVIEW: Joshua Bell’s childhood fascination with composer Wieniawski to be showcased at Tanglewood

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By Friday, Aug 3, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

Joshua Bell as a child. Photo courtesy th eBell family

Lenox — When Joshua Bell takes the stage at Tanglewood on Sunday, Aug. 5, he’ll be shadowed by a grade-school child, his own 11-year-old self, the precocious young violin student who violated curfew at Meadowmount summer camp 40 years ago by listening — under his bedcovers after lights out — to a cassette tape of “the greatest violinist of the 20th century,” Jascha Heifetz, performing Henryk Wieniawski’s second violin concerto. It was the very first music recording Bell had ever acquired. (The second was a CD recorded by the ensemble he now directs, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, performing Mozart’s Requiem in D minor.)

As his repertoire from the last four decades clearly demonstrates, Bell’s inner wunderkind keeps him well connected to his childhood fascination with the soaring melodies and bravura displays typical of Romantic era violin literature. And there’s no better example of this tradition than Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No 2, a piece Bell has conducted and performed innumerable times with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and will perform at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the afternoon of Sunday, August 5.

Henryk Wienawski

Henryk Wieniawski’s name may be a little less “household” than that of Beethoven or Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky. But his second violin concerto has not been forgotten and, today, many prominent violinists consider it one of the greatest of the Romantic era. It’s pretty safe to say that Joshua Bell is among them.

Are violin concertos by, say, Brahms or Sibelius or Beethoven more “profound” than Wieniawski’s? Maybe.

Bell observes that lush, emotional music is considered “corny” by some listeners, Tchaikovsky’s being a good example. “If it happens to be popular to the common people and accessible,” he says, “it’s often thought of as being not great.” He sees this as “sort of an elitist thing.” There was a period, he explains, when profundity in music was considered inherently at odds with anyone’s ability to understand it, enjoy it or even remember it.

The front cover of the score to Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2

There are, perhaps, alternative ways of defining profundity in music. What could be more profound than instilling in an 11-year-old child a passion for classical music that would last a lifetime and change the world?

Will Bell ever outgrow his childlike affection for “corny” music? Will he ever act his age? (For that matter, will he ever look his age?) We certainly hope not.

Joshua Bell sells a lot of records and plays in a lot of big venues (plenty of small ones, too). But it’s not record company executives or business managers who determine what he is going to play next. That choice is made by the kid in him.


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