Joshua Bell Was Great; Houston's Audience Not So Much

Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell
Photo by Eric Kabik

It was Brahms and bad manners Friday night at the Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood concert. We'll get to the bad manners in a bit, so let's start with the Brahms: It was glorious. Thanks to Bell, we fell in love with Brahms all over again. Bell, who still has a boyish mop of hair that he tosses around as he plays, found the dramatic dynamics of the piece and played a wonderfully stormy Allegro; the Adagio was full of longing and yet, wasn't mournful; Bell gave the audience a triumphant Presto agitato.

After intermission, it was time for Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano. The second movement, Blues: Moderato, was a real treat. Bell managed to give the piece a sense of delicacy without losing any of its musical complexity. He wrung every ounce of emotion from the music, and was clearly pleased with the piece's dramatic finish.

It's evident that as a recital partner, Bell is generous; his musical relationship with Haywood was more of an equal partnership than that of a star and his accompanist.

The only piece Bell performed without Haywood was Ysaÿe's Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 27, No. 3, "Ballade." Bell has a direct musical connection to Ysaÿe: his teacher, Josef Gingold, studied with Ysaÿe. Given that emotional connection, it was no surprise that Bell fully realized the piece's emotional impact.

Now to the bit about bad manners: The program started with Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata in F major, a work with three movements. Usually the audience waits for the end of the work, rather than the end of a movement, to applaud, so as not to disrupt the flow of the music. No such luck on Friday.

Things went from faux pas to total screw-up when, after Mendelssohn's Sonata, Bell and Haywood walked off stage (standard procedure for a recital setting). Thinking it was intermission, much the audience got up and walked out of the hall. A good number of them made it to the lobby before the ushers got hold of the doors and sent people back to their seats. Apparently no one told Bell and Haywood the audience was being re-seated because they came back out on stage. Realizing the situation, Bell smiled and quipped, "It gets better." His smile faded as the audience s-l-o-w-l-y found their seats.

The duo started Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor, Op. 108 and after the first movement, the doors opened and even more of the early intermission crowd came in. Bell didn't even bother to smile.

The program went on with Bell and Haywood earning several standing ovations. That brought a crack of a smile back to Bell's face, though we swear at one point it seemed he held out his bow at the audience as if to say, "Don't you dare clap, yet!" Maybe it was just our imagination, but the gesture worked.

Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood were presented by the Society for the Performing Arts at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information about the SPA's upcoming performances, visit or call 713-227-4772.

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