I had wondered how superstar violinist Joshua Bell would perform and conduct the Academy of St. Martin in the Field on Thursday night at Krannert Center.
I had a cheap seat ($15) in the choral balcony that afforded me a pretty good view of the classical-violin god in his new role as both conductor and concertmaster of the chamber orchestra.
He displayed his usual energy and verve, at times nearly rising upright from his padded, leather seat. To conduct he waved his bow, when not using it, or a free hand. He smiled and at times appeared to grimace, not in displeasure but in intense concentration, at the players.
As for his solo playing:. The things that have always struck me most are his exquisite high notes, his tone and the strong emotion.
Bell never came off his seat completely while performing or conducting. I later discovered he was dealing with a broken toe, apparently on his left foot. As he walked on and off the Foellinger Hall stageto standing ovations his walk was steady. After he signed CDs and programs in the lobby, I noticed Bell seemed to favor his left foot as he walked to the Krannert Room.
A broken toe is painful; I know because I once broke a small one. He obviously didn’t let it bother him while on stage.
Bell and the Academy — he took over as its music director a year or so ago — presented an all-Beethoven program, ending with the powerful, upbeat Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. It ended on such a strong tempo that an encore — none was played — would have been anti-climactic.
I’m not that much of a fan-girl. But I admit I waited in line for the still boyishly handsome Bell’s autograph. He signed it quickly, over and over, and was gracious to alll. I’ve seen lesser stars refuse to give up their John Hancock..
"He connects with audiences in a special way; he attracts people to classical music in a special way that’s unique and enjoyable," Bridget Lee-Calfas, the advertising and publicity director at Krannert., told me.
She and I attribute that to his Midwestern upbringing. Bell grew up in Bloomington, in the neighboring state of Indiana and studied at the premiere Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He’s now a senior lecturer in violin and chamber music there.
Krannert Center director Mike Ross told me Bell has an affinity for the Midwest and enjoys performing here, while maintaining a formidable touring schedule that takes him all over the world. In addition to performing, Bell promotes his art form whenever and wherever he can; he’s apparently a big draw among younger folks because many of them were in the audience last night.
Before the unforgettable concert I checked out a reception for donors to Krannert. It took place under a big white tent, lit with a couple of chandeliers and other lights, on the southeast plaza.
At that informal soiree Krannert recognized and introduced major donors: Carolyn Burrell, now of the Foellinger Society, for donors who give $500,000 or up; and Colwell Society members Joan and Peter Hood, the estate of Virginia Ivens, and the estate of Jo Ann Trisler. The Colwell Society is for folks who give at least $100,000.
We who enjoy KCPA need to thank donors like them — more than half of the performing arts center'ss direct costs (excluding salaries) comes from private and public donations.