x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Spirited evening with Joshua Bell and Czech orchestra at Emirates Palace

Joshua Bell's Abu Dhabi performance was an evening of technically brilliant musicianship.

The virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.
The virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

With Andrea Bocelli performing on Yas Island on the same night, one might have assumed that this show at the Emirates Palace would have been bereft of audience. Thankfully, this was far from the case.

The chance to see Joshua Bell - the man who's often feted as the world's finest violinist - as well as the esteemed Czech Philharmonic proved just as compelling a prospect as the Italian tenor.

And the near-capacity crowd was truly rewarded with an evening of technically brilliant musicianship.

The concert began with Bedrich Smetana's Vltava from Ma vlast, a rousing eulogy to Czech nationalism that was enhanced by the orchestra's elegant woodwind and richly eloquent strings section.

Next up, Bell joined the ensemble for Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor.

While the former musical wunderkind is now in his mid-40s, his advancing years have not diminished his childlike enthusiasm for his instrument. With his shirt untucked, his trademark shock of floppy hair and jig-like motion on the balls of his feet as he fiddles away, he is an extraordinary force of nature to behold.

After a visceral cadenza accompaniment to the German composer's emotive piece, Bell encored with a take on the folk tune Yankee Doodle Dandy, giving him a chance to show off his dazzling, warp-speed finger work.

After the interval, the orchestra returned for Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No 7 in D minor.

Dvorak conducted the Czech Philharmonic himself back in 1896, and is a national hero in his homeland. So, obviously, the Prague-based players, thoroughly versed in this composition, put on an immaculate performance.

However, while this symphony was an intense and lively number, its lack of hum-along musical refrains did make the piece somewhat inaccessible.

That said, considering the rapturous, repeated standing ovations for the orchestra and its conductor Jiri Belohlavek, all in attendance seemed entirely content with their evening's entertainment.