Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan in Santa Barbara

UCSB Arts & Lectures Brought Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan to the Granada in Santa Barbara

Joshua Bell, violin, and Peter Dugan, piano. | Credit: David Bazemore

In an age when one hears so much recorded and amplified sound, the existence of traditional recitals can seem a minor miracle. Two musicians playing acoustic instruments with no amplification can still hold the attention of more than a thousand people in a large hall like the Granada. Rather than being lost, the violin and piano gain power from relying on their innate projection. 

On the opening piece, Schubert’s Sonatina in D Major, Op. 137, no. 1, D. 384, Peter Dugan’s piano showed what was small about the piece — the composition’s “tina” aspect — while Joshua Bell’s violin indicated the greater depths and shadows beyond this sunny surface. When the duo moved on to Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, op. 30, No. 2, Bell’s body torqued like a dancer’s as he made his dramatic entrance. What followed was a sheer delight, by turns dreamy, mystical, and passionate. 

After a very short, COVID-inspired mini-intermission, Bell came on solo for the Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin, BWV 1004 of Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing this celebrated piece any better than Joshua Bell did on Thursday night. For a quarter of an hour, he held the audience spellbound with a sinuous and appropriately monumental account of what may be the most profound composition for a solo instrument in music. The balance Bell achieved between the work’s two voices revealed its emotional core, which has roots in both dance and lament. The impact was breathtaking. 

By contrast, Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2 played like cinema after Bach’s deep blasts of sacred organ music. Bell and Dugan took an attacca route from the second to the third movement, blurring the line between Ravel’s French blues and the finale’s musical vision of the industrial revolution. A gentle encore from Chopin was all that anyone could have asked for on this unforgettable night.


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