Café Concert: Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

VIDEO: Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk Play Franck

Some very successful musical collaborations have been built on shaky personal relationships. Gilbert and Sullivan disliked each other and rarely met. Renata Scotto often sang beautifully with Luciano Pavarotti, but excoriated him in her autobiography.

The team of violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk appears to be different. “Finding the right musical partner is like making best friends,” Bell said. “You make them throughout your life, you sometimes fall into them, but in the end you don’t have a lot of really, really great friends. You have a handful and Jeremy is one of mine.”

Denk concurs. “It’s like when you are talking with someone and you feel this kind-of instant sympathy or empathy.”

Classical musicians often are known to gush around interviewers but Denk and Bell have a track record to back up their mutual admiration society. Both attended Indiana University, but just as Denk entered the school in 1990, Bell had already graduated. The latter was on his way to a big career as a soloist and violin pin-up god.  

But like two ships passing in the night, Bell and Denk kept tabs on each others’ careers. When they finally performed together – playing the Grieg Violin Sonata at the 2004 Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. – sparks flew. They've been touring regularly ever since. This month they release "French Impressions," their first recording, which consists of violin sonatas by Saint-Saens, Franck and Ravel.

In the WQXR Café, Bell and Denk played the blistering finale from Franck’s Sonata in A Major. Bell surmised that he's performed the work "at least 1,000 times," which isn’t entirely surprising. Franck wrote the piece as a wedding present for Eugène Ysaÿe, who gave its premiere. Ysaÿe then taught Josef Gingold, who in turn taught Bell at Indiana (where Bell now holds a professorship himself).

The new recording also marks a turning point: Bell’s last release for Sony, “At Home with Friends,” was a smorgasbord of classical, pop, Latin jazz and film-music arrangements (Denk appeared on one track); Denk’s recent recordings have focused on knotty works by Schoenberg and Stravinsky.

The two artists decided to record "French Impressions" not in a traditional studio but at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ. “Recording is scary because you know it’s going to be down forever,” said Denk. “Especially for this music – it’s so much is about the sound and the color and the pallet of colors from both instruments. That’s very important for us to make sure we have the right sound.”

Tune in to WQXR to hear more performances of Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk on Jan. 10 at 8 pm.

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Interview: Elliott Forrest; Text: Brian Wise

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Comments [5]

yichihara from NJ

Listening to this very special program was supposed to my overarching priority. However, I was unable to leave my office till past 8:30pm due to an unexpected work situation. Nonetheless as soon as I got out of the office, I put my earphone on and turned my little portable radio on. Fortunately I was still able to hear Joshua talking about his Stradivarius history. Unfortunately shortly after the duo started playing Franck’s violin sonata, which is one of my most favorite violin and piano pieces, the shuttle S I was on left the Grand Central Station and the sound was gone away. Several years ago (2005 or 2006), the duo played Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata at Carnegie Hall. I was there, and it is most exquisite Kreutzer sonata I have ever heard to date. I waited waited waited for years for their recording. Joshua and Jeremy, I wish you to record Kreutzer on your next, second album.

Jan. 10 2012 11:58 PM
Elise from NY

LOVE you WQXR! I've listened since before I could walk or talk. My students will enjoy this clip at school to inspire them further in their musical challenges. Your new format and new radio address are the BEST!! I just ordered the French Impressions CD. Its heartwarming that Bell is performing the Franck as a gifted protege in the lineage of Ysaye and Gingold. Bravo!!

Jan. 10 2012 07:22 PM
Rev Leslie M. Celadhan, IFM from Eastern Long Island

Thanks so much for posting this wonderful concert. There are those of us who are unable to attend events like this. I shall treasure this performance with 2 of my favorite musicians.

Jan. 08 2012 08:09 PM
loushalit from san diego

I discovered this brilliant sonata by Franck in St. Thomas in a concert there.I was wow'd. Have loved since.It's a real jewel.

Jan. 07 2012 08:07 PM
Tim Brown from Washington, DC

Sweet! Thanks!

Jan. 05 2012 07:32 AM

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