An evening with Joshua Bell is always a treat, and given his status as one of the world’s foremost violinists, he is highly sought after. But it felt extraordinary to have him perform alongside the New York Philharmonic for three evenings around Thanksgiving, especially as it has only been a few months since the Philharmonic began hosting indoor shows again. Bell was the soloist for just the first part of the program, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61. Rounding out the rest of the evening were Chen Yi’s Duo Ye and Stravinsky’s Suite from the Pulcinella ballet.
With their regular space, David Geffen Hall, undergoing construction, the Philharmonic has been performing in various locations, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, as was the setting for this evening. Musical director Jaap van Zweden and the rest of the Symphony were just across the street from their future home and likely are salivating at the thought of returning to their home.
Bell’s strong, nuanced performance brought rich elements to the Beethoven work. It was undoubtedly a high-caliber draw for the audience. While it was ultimately a rewarding listen, particularly the larghetto portion, the overall grandiosity in the final rondo turned the atmosphere staid going into intermission.
Fortunately, the mood changed as the reconfigured musicians reseated to perform Yi’s chamber orchestra piece — Alice Tully Hall felt charged with an adventurous spirit as propulsive energy ran through van Zweden. However, Duo Ye was relatively brief, and that dynamism tapered off (though van Zweden himself remained exuberant throughout the night).
The variety within the Pulcinella suite is one of its strengths, as it offers many moments for the orchestra, upright bass at the center, to shine bright. Stravinsky was a very satisfying close to an enjoyable evening with the world-renowned Philharmonic.