Blown Away

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Joshua Bell, presented by CAMA

At the Arlington Theatre, Saturday, November 4.

Reviewed by Sara Barbour

Growing up in Santa Barbara, I’ve been to the Arlington a generous number of times, and whether for the symphony or the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean II, my ritual remains unchanged: I settle myself into my seat, run a cursory glance over the familiar Spanish courtyard façade, and fight the creeping sensation that I’m ensconced in a kitschy underground cavern. Yet after Saturday night’s concert by the LA Philharmonic and Joshua Bell, I find I can no longer look at our eccentric theater in quite the same light; the music cast a spell over not merely every audience member but the theater itself, leaving the Arlington — faux balconies and all — transformed forever.

The Philharmonic, led by charismatic British conductor Jonathan Nott, opened the night with a work by renowned modern composer Hans Werner Henze. Dynamic, stirring, and abrupt, Henze’s “response” to Schubert’s well-known Erlkönig provided a rousing and impressive start to the evening. It was followed by Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 in C Major. Known as Schubert’s “Little” symphony, it showcased the remarkable skill of both the LA Phil and their energetic guest conductor.

From the moment he entered after intermission, Joshua Bell captivated the entire theater with his affable charm and sublime virtuosity. The Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major is not to be taken lightly, and Bell’s performance of the work was one of the finest ever. Even when the solo violin was silent, it seemed the music swelled from his swaying form. Any qualms regarding the popularity of the piece evaporated from the moment Bell’s bow stroked the strings with a sound that stretched every emotion — at once warmly caressing and unbelievably clear.

One moment stood above the rest. Bell’s cadenza was a cascade of voices and themes from the first movement that fell upon spellbound silence. It infused the entire work with a fresh spark of genius that brought back the lost days of the violin, when virtuosos achieved celebrity status with the gift of their interpretations. When Bell’s last note finally sank back into the orchestra, I felt the breath of each and every spectator released, all unaware they had been holding it in amazement. For young and old alike, it was an unforgettable moment of brilliance that only music can achieve. When at last we rose to applaud thunderously, I saw in the awestruck faces around me consensus — we had never heard anything like it.

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