Garlands of flowers adorn the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields led by Joshua Bell

The Concert Hall was adorned with garlands of flowers last night as the Sydney Opera House presented the Academy of St Martin in the Fields led by Joshua Bell. A picturesque premise to an evening of truly beautiful music.

This is the renowned orchestra’s first tour to Australia, and there’s definitely something special about listening to them live. One could say even their tuning sounded special! What is definitely unique about St Martin in the Fields though, is that they perform without the presence of a conductor. Music Director and first violin Joshua Bell does all the leading. As he plays however he seems to keep all the quirks and ministrations of a conductor- leading the orchestra with gestations of his bow as would the conductor a baton. He’s also wonderfully active in his movements (again not so unlike a conductor) and seems to use his body to represent how he wants the emotion of the music to be played. Perhaps it is this lack of traditional conductor, but the whole performance feels more real and in the moment.

The program on the evening was a varied selection of perfect choices, each quite unique in its composer and its style. The first was Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides, Op. 26 (Fingal’s Cave), a wonderful opening to the evening. Very accessible, the work tends to a fantastical feeling not unlike that of perhaps starting out on a magical journey. Bell is seated for this segment, but he soon trades stool for a center standing position for the moments of solo violin in Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35”. The performance is divine, and prompts a pre-intermission standing ovation for Bell.

After intermission we are treated with a darker piece, the haunting “Slow movement (Langsam) from the Violin Concerto in D minor” from Schumann. The concert finishes on the lively and instantly recognizable “Symphony No.4 in A major, Op.90, Italian”, another piece from Mendelssohn. It is big and loud, and sounds off the evening on the perfect high note.

The applause continues on so long that Bell returns to perform, as he smiles out to the crowd, “a waltz from Tchaikovsky”.

Virtuoso Bell is truly dazzling leading the orchestra. Perspiration drips from his signature hair flicks, and during his moments of solo the audience are so enraptured and the silence so absolute that you can even hear him breathe. It is not only Bell though, hearing the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields live is also an unforgettable experience- one well worth breaking symphony decorum and applauding post movement (gasp).

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields led by Joshua Bell will perform a different program tonight at the Sydney Opera House (23rd April) before completing their Australian tour in Brisbane on the 26th and 27th April.

The reviewer attended the performance at the Sydney Opera House on the 22nd April, with Program 1.

Photo credit (c) Ken Leanfore