Classical music used to study grossly underappreciated by students

Kimberly Givant || Arts & Entertainment Editor

As finals creep closer here at F&M, classical music for many starts becoming their study music of choice. Unfortunately, it seems as though many don’t actually know what they’re listening to or that classical music is still an active and exciting musical scene, with many new releases of original works and brilliant, even unconventional, arrangements of acclaimed classics. So instead of listening to something entitled “15 Hours of Relaxing Classical Music” or “3 Hours of Zen Mind” on YouTube, know what you’re listening to, educate yourself, and explore some of classical music’s phenomenal new material. Who wants a 15 hour YouTube slideshow of pixelated waterfalls, anyway?

This past September, for instance, renowned violinist and musical icon Joshua Bell released his new album, Bach, with the distinguished London-based English chamber orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. In 2011, Bell was appointed as the Academy’s musical director, which was surprising to many given the musician’s intense touring schedule, often playing up to 140 concerts internationally every year. However the violinist, globally recognized as the greatest of our era, has the ability to play first violin and solo violin while he is recording and performing with the orchestra.

This union between Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is a large part of what makes this album’s collection of some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest pieces both daringly unique and flawlessly executed. While many of the Academy’s members have immense experience playing with original instrument groups, they support Bell’s desire to incorporate the old and the new, in turn revolutionizing the way we listen to Baroque music.

Working with early musician specialists to create this album, Bell includes the three parts of both the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor and Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, as well as the famous “Air” from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major. The album also includes Gavotte en Rondeau from the Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major in which Romantic composer Robert Schumann’s accompaniment to the piece is also used.

The most daring piece on the album is the Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor. The Chaconne has always been performed as a solo piece. The arrangement on Bell’s album has never been done before: It includes a backing orchestra as well as a Felix Mendelssohn accompaniment to the piece (a tribute perhaps to the composer’s work in rejuvenating Bach’s reputation in the nineteenth century Romantic period).

This album is special because for decades the world has been waiting for Bell, now 47, to record a Bach album, especially after stating numerous times how influential the composer was to his career as a classical musician. Bell even made his first appearance as a solo violinist with an accompanying orchestra playing Bach when he was 7 years old. The artist became recognized as one of the world’s greatest violinist’s when he made his professional debut at 14 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and even more so when he made his New York Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 17. Only now has he felt mature enough in his craft to take on Bach in a lasting record.

Bach exemplifies Bell’s inventiveness and his ability to combine masterful technique with passion-filled performance. Bach is only the newest edition to Bell’s discography, which consists of over 25 albums ranging from classical bluegrass to jazz to rock and pop. His wide range of classical interest and his talent in various classical genres brings an originality and sophistication to the Bach album. So this finals season, remember that classical music encompasses an enormous new assortment of musical genius that is well worth appreciating and exploring.

Sophomore Kimberly Givant is the Arts & Entertainment Editor. Her email is kgivant@fandm.edu.

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