Catalogue Number: 88725491762
Label: Sony Classical
UK Release date: 18 March 2013

On 18 March 2013 the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF) and its new Music Director Joshua Bell release their first recording on Sony Classical under his leadership. Bell leads the Academy in Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 from the violin. He both directs and plays from the leader’s chair, sometimes contributing to the fabric of sound with his instrument; other times lifting his bow to exhort and emphasize.

Joshua Bell’s relationship with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields goes back to 1988, when at the age of 21 he made his first ever concerto recording of Bruch and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concertos. Since then he has made a further two recordings with the Academy, including the album Romance of the Violin which was named Billboard’s ‘Classical CD of the Year in 2004’. Their most recent disc of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (2008) also received high praise including Classics Today who said, ‘it scorches and sizzles…Bell and his first-rate partners make beautiful music out of Vivaldi’s conceptions.’

Bell made his debut as the Academy’s Music Director in April 2012 at London’s Cadogan Hall with a programme including Beethoven’s Symphony No 4. This was followed by a US tour which received great acclaim and included both symphonies now recorded on disc for Sony Classical. Over four seasons the Academy will perform the complete Beethoven symphonies directed by Joshua Bell from the leader’s chair.

Over his 30 years as a top soloist, Bell has come to know Beethoven intimately through playing his Violin Concerto. He has had the chance to study many of the great conductors of his day and to interpret the symphonic repertoire that is inevitably paired with a concerto on any given program. Bell says: “That has been my education-- watching conductors deal with the corners and details of the music. Part of the excitement of doing these Beethoven symphonies is the opportunity to try and get them to sound the way I’ve always imagined. The Seventh was probably the first symphony I fell in love with, at 13 or 14 years old which I listened to over and over. I had a video of Carlos Kleiber conducting the Fourth and Seventh that I loved as teenager, he totally inhabits the music as he stands in front of the orchestra; the music always front and centre, with nothing over done or under done. John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Roger Norrington were conductors I worked with who were also of great influence.”

Explaining the technique of directing a symphony from the violin, Bell says: ‘If you have the right chemistry and the right language with an orchestra, you can give quite a bit of information to the ensemble from the first violin chair. Of course, there are limitations to the cues you can give when you’re just playing, so there are many times during a performance when I don’t play but rather conduct using my bow as a sort of baton. In these two Beethoven symphonies, much of the music is driven from the first violins, so that my cues as leader of the section can really spur the orchestra. Because of this, the pieces feel like chamber music in that everyone in the orchestra is listening closely, whether it’s to me or to the principal cellist or to another part of the orchestra.’

‘Everyone has to play on the edge of their seats,” Bell adds. “The way you approach making music shouldn’t be different whether you’re in a string quartet or a symphony orchestra or the soloist in a concerto. The ideal should be the same: close listening, give and take.’


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