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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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