15 Mar '20

15 Mar '20

Joshua Bell


Concert dates and locations

  • 15 March 2020 | Tonhalle Maag Zurich | 18:30



Tickets will be refunded. Migros Culture Percentage Classics do not accept donations.

Overture As a prelude to each concert, talented Swiss singers and instrumentalists will have the opportunity to introduce themselves to the public. This is a twofold "overture", which not only serves as an introduction to the concerts but also as a career gateway for our "our stars of tomorrow”.


Brahms' only violin concerto is closely related to the composer's friendship with violinist Joseph Joachim, who was already a widely recognised virtuoso when the two met in 1853. Brahms was a late-comer in the field of orchestral music: it wasn’t until 1878 that he set to work on his Violin Concerto, an instrument of which he knew little regarding its technical possibilities. The composer, therefore, appealed to Joachim as his advisor and left it to him to write a cadenza for the concerto's first movement, even though the two musicians each defended their own opinions regarding other points. Performers nowadays usually chose to play Joachim's cadenza, although there are some twenty other versions available, composed by Leopold Auer, Fritz Kreisler or Eugène Ysaÿe, to name just a few. The Concerto in D major was originally planned to be in four movements, but Brahms finally settled for a single Adagio. This middle movement is based on a simple almost folk-like tune, whereas the dazzling finale shows off the gipsy spirit that Joachim knew and mastered so well. After the lukewarm applause that greeted the work's premiere on 1st January 1879 in Leipzig, conductor Hans von Bülow decided that Brahms had written his concerto "against" the violin. To which the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman answered that it was indeed a concerto "for" the violin, but "against" the orchestra and concluded that "the winner is the violin". Brahms subsequently made extensive revisions, again with the expert advice of his friend Joachim.
Don Juan is not only one of Richard Strauss' first tone poems; it is also one of the most interesting. Unlike later works such as Till Eulenspiegel or Eine Alpensinfonie, Strauss gave no indication regarding the programme, in other words, the content of his composition. The fragments of Lenau's dramatic text quoted in the score solely offer a psychological profile of the hero but do not breathe a word of the plot. And yet, this tone poem can easily be seen as a round of love adventures, highlights, conquests and farewells.
This is mainly due to the conciseness of the themes, which are vividly designed and cleverly orchestrated, such as only a composer like Richard Strauss could achieve. The exuberant verve of the first bars cannot escape the listener: with this ascending line, Don Juan takes over the stage. The music then calms down, creating a climate of intimacy and whispers of love murmured by the solo instruments (violin, flute, oboe). Don Juan does not let himself be held back, on the contrary, his appearances sound increasingly self-confident before he lets himself go, at the height of his triumph, to melancholy and weariness.
This opposition between the worldly and macho boast and the pale and dying swan song in minor key blends seamlessly into the period (1888) in which the symphonic poem was composed: a period marked by faith in progress and optimism, which laboriously concealed the surrounding pessimism. Don Juan was Strauss' first great success.
A rococo opera in 1911? Written by two artists who were seemingly closer to the avant-garde? There was every reason to be sceptical about Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s new project! After the highly ambitious preceding operas Salome and Elektra (the latter on a Hofmannsthal text), the Rosenkavalier seemed like an escape into the perfect world of 1740. The poet, however, contradicted this with the remark that "there is more past in the present than one might think".
A certain topicality, or rather timelessness, is specific to the Rosenkavalier’s concept. This is why Strauss consciously resorted here to the parade dance of the 19th (not the 18th) century, the Viennese waltz. He has associated the latter with a personal style that avoids the modernisms of Elektra but is still obviously contemporary. In terms of content, this attitude is reflected in the Marschallin’s monologue on transience: "Time is a strange thing".
At first glance, the Rosenkavalier makes use of the usual set pieces of a musical comedy, with its intrigues, disguises and love at first sight. The characters are just as familiar: the lustful baron, the ageing lady and the young lovers. Behind this normalisation, the figures are always recognisable, with their doubts and inner contradictions. The orchestral suite was put together from the music of the opera at a much later date (probably in 1944 by Arthur Rodzinski) and does not follow the plot. It nevertheless ends with a rushing waltz episode.

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Good to know

Joshua Bell is known as “the violin poet", and his cantabile, expressive playing is by all means unmistakable. The American violinist already gave his first concerts with a professional orchestra at the age of 14, before making his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York three years later. Artistic curiosity is another of Joshua Bell’s trademarks. His repertoire includes Vivaldi's Four Seasons as well as concertos by Barber, Bloch, Goldmark and other 20th century composers. Besides, he regularly enjoys playing jazz and rock music alongside partners such as Chick Corea and James Taylor. Joshua Bell has released more than forty CDs that have won numerous awards including the Gramophone Award, the Diapason d'Or and a Grammy for the first recording of Nicholas Maw's Violin Concerto. The musician born in 1967 is also a highly successful conductor: In 2011, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields appointed him successor to its legendary founder Sir Neville Marriner.

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