Sarah’s Space: Review- Joshua Bell


By: Sarah Michaels- Great Barrington, MA

“Dress like you have more class than anyone in that theater”.

That was what I kept telling myself. I didn’t want to dress so causal that I was looked down on, yet I didn’t want to dress to the nines like I was going to a black tie gala. Simple black dress, matching black heels, hair tied up, clean. Neat. Put together. I walked out of the front door forgetting how cold it was. In New England I’ve always found the month of October difficult to dress for.
I’ve been to see Train, Dave Matthews Band, The Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20, and a bunch other concerts where the environment is completely different. At rock shows, wearing shorts and a T-shirt is the norm; you don’t need to look all fancy. Honestly I like that. I am far more comfortable in my jeans and sweatshirt than I am in a dress. This wasn’t like those concerts, however.
The Mahaiwe Theater is one of the more well-known landmarks of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A small little theater in an equally small little town, yet The Mahaiwe’s reputation is big enough to attract a world renowned violinist and his extremely talented pianist.
I had only ever been to the theatre once before, and that was for an event nowhere near as as formal as this.
My sister and I arrived at the theater about an hour before the show. Looking across the sea of people lined up at the entrance I felt a bit out of place. You could smell the perfume of an old rich lady, the cologne of the fancy young man. Everyone carried themselves as if they were a somebody. As my sister and I walked in we found a familiar face in the crowd, got our tickets from the box office, and waited in the line that led to our seats. In this time I think I probably was pushed and shoved out of the way at least 10 times as self-important people cut their way past those who are being patient enough to wait their turn to enter the auditorium. I did my best to maintain my manners, always being the one saying “excuse me”, yet going unnoticed as the rude and inconsiderate carried about their business unaware of anything beyond their bubbles.
We reached the main auditorium entry doors and made our way to our seats. Our tickets had us in the upper balcony, which meant stairs… A twisted ankle, a frustrated usher, and 10 minutes of confusion later, my group and I finally found our seats. Being in the upper balcony we had a nice view of the stage, overlooked by the beautiful woodwork that adorned the inside of the Mahawie. Lights lined the ceiling, some of the spotlights pointed towards the stage while others remained turned off. I was seated for about 20 minutes before the lights dimmed and the director of the Mahawie came out and gave her spiel thanking the sponsors. Once she was done, the audience applauded her as she walked off the stage. The lights stayed dim, as we were told about emergency exits, in the prohibition of photography.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the real show started. Joshua Bell walked on to the stage, a beautiful 1773 violin and bow in his hands, his pianist following behind him. Both men looked extremely sophisticated, dressed in well tailored suits.
I honestly had no idea what to expect, but after the first song had been played, I was completely stunned. Not a single sharp or flat that didn’t belong was played. Obviously, they had months of practice together, but the fact that neither of them had played a single incorrect note in the first 20 minutes of their performance amazed me. Each note that resonated throughout the theater somehow seemed more beautifully than the one that came before it. Every crescendo and decrescendo was in perfect control as it flowed from Bells’ instrument.
Many of the pieces played dated back to the times of Bach and Beethoven. As someone who has played the violin for seven years, this artist represented everything I aspire to be.
The performance lasted for about two hours with a 15 minute intermission. During the intermission I ventured downstairs and met up with my friend and fellow orchestra member, who was also at the show. As we stood in line at the concession stand he and I talked about how we were both amazed at the way Joshua Bell carried himself. His confidence radiated all around him. If there was a shred of nervousness, you couldn’t tell. The intermission ended, so we made our way back at our seats, eager for what was next.
To open the second half, Joshua Bell came back on to the stage alone and started playing an amazing solo. He had the ability to make it sound as if there was more than one instrument being played. His extremely delicate violin was able to fill the small theater perfectly, without having to be amplified at all. Still, not a single incorrect note was played.
When the solo came to an end, Alessio Bax (the pianist) came back onstage for another duet. The two of them playing together sounded like a small orchestra, their music filling The theater to its farthest reaches. The fluidity of each note into the next was like water, steady and unrelenting. Still, there wasn’t a single error.
I honestly think that’s what amazed me most. All of the pieces played sounded as if they were recorded versions being played directly off of a CD.
After the last note of the night was played, the entire audience gave Bell and Bax a standing ovation. The roar of the crowd continued even after they had exited the stage. It continued for almost 10 minutes before finally subsiding. The lights came back on and I gathered my things. I started walking down the stairs, one of the songs stuck on repeat in my head.
I believe everybody in the theater that night would say it had been an experience that they would never forget. If you’ve never been to a classical concert with a modern violinist, I feel it is without a doubt something you should put on your bucket list. If you’re young like I am, it’s something that can shape your future. It can show you what you could be if you try hard enough. For me, it makes me want to try even harder to become that good.
When I got home I sat on my bed and took off my heels. I thought to myself that even though I had stepped outside of my comfort zone and dressed up in a different way than I normally would, I realized that people weren’t there simply to show off their looks or fashion or stature. They were there for the same reason I was, and that made us all the same. They were there for the music.