Music Under the Stars: Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer at the Hollywood Bowl
July 25th, 2012
Some of my most vivid childhood memories growing up in Los Angeles include summer family outings to the Hollywood Bowl. Whenever we had guests visit from out-of-town, my parents would always pack a picnic dinner, load everyone up in the car, and off we would go for a
music-filled night under the stars. Summer nights at the Hollywood Bowl are one of those quintessential LA experiences that my sister
and I absolutely dreaded going to as kids.
At the time, my musical interests lay somewhere between Madonna, Bon Jovi and Depeche Mode, so the very thought of having to sit still through hour upon hour of classical music was less than appealing. In fact, as a child, I never even knew that anything but classical was featured at the Bowl because we only saw acts like Itzhak Perlman or Pinchas Zukerman performing the likes of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, or Bach.
Needless to say, my tastes have since evolved. Now I’m the one eagerly circling different nights on the Hollywood Bowl calendar and packing the picnic baskets. So when I saw that former Linked Music guest Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer would be performing the west coast premiere of Meyer’s Double Concerto for Violin, Double Bass, and Orchestra after its debut at Tanglewood’s opening week and the Aspen Music Festival, I decided it was time for us to revisit our family tradition.
Longtime childhood friends, Bell and Meyer met in their teens studying music at Indiana University
and have since collaborated on a number of projects. Meyer, whose numerous concertos have
been performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Hilary Hahn and Emanuel Ax, has also established a reputation for his crossover new music projects with artists like Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Stuart Duncan. As quoted
in the program notes, Meyer says, “Most of the music I’ve become interested in is hybrid in its origins…
By exploring music, you’re exploring everything.”
Composed specifically for Bell, the Double Concerto is separated into three movements, beginning
with a playful violin melody that flitted its way contrapuntally over the low alto of Meyer’s bass and
the subtle sway of the orchestra. The second movement took on more of a melancholic tone, as
the program noted that this section had been written in the days following the tragic death of
Meyer’s fellow bass player friend, to whom he had dedicated the piece. Sumptuous string arrange-
ments swept across the canyon and filled the hushed Bowl, overlaid with contemplative cantinelas
for both solo bass and violin. For the third movement, the soloists and orchestra joined together
in a colorful fusion of musical styles befitting of Meyer, making their way through funky bluegrass
notes and Indian polyrhythms, before descending into a dramatic reprise of the central theme.
To bookend Meyer’s Double Concerto, up-and-coming Seattle Symphony’s recently appointed music director and LA Philharmonic guest conductor, Ludovic Morlot, selected two works by the German Romantic, Carl Maria von Weber. Much to our horror—though not surprise—a helicopter appeared
at one point and circled overhead, whirring noisily during a quiet passage from Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture. I have to say, though, that one almost expects these types of things to happen at the
Hollywood Bowl. While other members of the audience shot dirty glances in the direction of our
unwelcome visitor, I felt myself cringe, recalling Peter’s interview this month with the LA Philharmonic’s second bassoonist, Michele Grego, who told us that such disruptions are audible even to the orchestra. Thankfully, the helicopter went on its way after what seemed like forever, and the rest of the evening passed without incident.
Morlot opened the second portion of the evening’s program with Weber’s Oberon Overture before
Bell won every heart in the Bowl with his dazzling rendition of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in
E minor, Op. 64. Looking over, I saw my father tapping his fingers along to the familiar melody
until Bell inserted his own variation of the original cadenza into the first movement, holding both
the orchestra and his audience captive at bow’s length. From the large screens flanking the
bandshell, we saw Bell smile back at the orchestra as he led them into the second movement.
Completely mesmerized by the gentle sweetness of Bell’s “poetic” artistry wafting through the
canyon, I couldn’t imagine myself wanting to be anywhere else on this perfect summer night.
Los Angeles Philharmonic: www.laphil.org
Hollywood Bowl: www.hollywood bowl.com