To provide a uniquely joyful musical experience and to celebrate the October release of Joshua Bell’s new album, Musical Gifts, WFYI Public Media and Adrienne Arsht sponsored a special event at violinist Bell’s private New York residence. This extraordinary evening took place November 26th, and featured the amazingly gifted violinist performing a diverse assortment of festive Christmas (and Chanukah!) melodies with some of his collaborators on the album. The august presenters included: Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and Frankie Moreno, Rob Moose, and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. This was the first ever broadcast of its kind: “Musical Gifts: Joshua Bell and Friends – Live from Joshua’s New York Home.” The webcast of the event will be available for streaming until January 31st, 2014 on medici.tv.
The eminent group of performers casually gathered around an antique Steinway grand piano in the center of Bell’s large, elongated living room, while the children of the Young People’s chorus sat decoratively along a candlelit staircase, leading to the rooftop terrace.
The heartwarming performances included singers, pianists, and even a harpist, who all took turns partnering with Bell, who humorously referred to the slight hint of inherent exhibitionism that accompanies being a lifelong, prodigal performer. “After all,” he remarked on his place as the center of attention and the fact that he was participating in every number, “…this is my house.”
Photo: Courtesy of Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullen.com
While my coat was being checked at Joshua Bell’s remarkable home in New York’s Flatiron district, I couldn’t help but admire his personal autograph collection that includes iconic figures such as Albert Einstein posing with Bronislaw Huberman, the founder of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, precursor to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Huberman also happens to be the previous owner of the 300 year-old Stradivarius that Bell now plays, and lovingly acknowledges as his most prized and precious possession.
Heidi, Bell’s personal assistant of ten years, gave a grand tour of the two floors and rooftop of Bell’s luxurious penthouse, in which he has lived for the past decade. She explains: “It’s designed by the great architect Charles Rose and it was deliberately laid out for evenings like this in mind. The space can host around 150 people.” As I passed a sparingly decorated media room on the lower level, where the medici.tv crew had put up their wildly cabled domain, I espied another obsession of Bell’s. When not involved with performing, travelling or rehearsing for performances, Bell, who is turning 45 on December 9th, “is also a huge football fanatic who records every game so as to not miss a single one. He is an especially hardcore fan of his home team: The Indianapolis Colts,” according to Heidi.
Fundraisers and other musical house soirées, which serve up both great music and culinary treats to a mixed host of guests including celebrities, press, musicians, friends, and colleagues, are not a rarity at Bell’s home.
Evidently, this Grammy award-winning artist, who started to play violin at age 4, doesn’t leave his love for sharing music behind on the world’s stages, but rather feels inclined to transform his private space into his own, personal performance venue, reminiscent of the style of the great salons.
Bell’s enthusiasm for the up-close experience of making and presenting music within the familiar surroundings of smaller-sized spaces to achieve a more direct, intense, and intimate emotional exchange, represents a current trend within the classical music world.
Even the New York Philharmonic has realized the potential of new interest in smaller, eclectic presentations, scheduling concerts at New York’s downtown venue SUBCULTURE, which has joined the onrush of classical music events at downtown music hubs like Le Poisson Rouge and Joe’s Pub.
Classical Salon events like GetClassical are also being featured in aesthetically sophisticated, yet prominently ‘cool’ New York night-life lounges like the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar. These new venues promote classical music to new audiences and enhance the experience through the element of a relaxed environment; they also add the enticing prospect of enjoying a glass of wine during the performance, not just during intermission.
The personal element of these new presentations of classical music is something in the air that was without a doubt picked up on by the charming Frenchman Hervé Boissière, founder of medici.tv, inspiring him and Joshua to plan this event. This program represented medici.tv’s first broadcast of Bell in New York, and the channel’s first broadcast directly from a private home: “I had previously broadcasted Joshua’s performances at the Verbier Festival and on several other occasions. The decision to make this happen took place in May, when we last broadcast him while concertizing in Germany,” says Hervé.
Medici.tv launched in 2008, but was already renowned in Europe before becoming a household name in the U.S. as well. The innovative medici.tv team brought in remote-controlled cameras to enable a direct focus on the performers, and a close-up perspective of instrumental details during the live stream. Bringing together a worldwide community of music lovers via subscription-based, technologically advanced, live concert streaming, and a diverse on-demand video library, medici.tv now features client universities including Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, the Juilliard School, and the Manhattan School of Music.
Hervé works closely with his teammates, the majority of whom, including the production’s director, are part of his French crew; his team usually consists mostly of individuals from medici.tv’s French staff, even when they are shooting in the US. But things are changing slowly: “In the beginning, we brought the entire crew over from France, but in the meantime, we also worked in collaboration. This time, in partnership with WFYI Public Media, five of the crewmembers and producers are American-based, and we merely brought ten members of our original set along.”
Granting public access to the closeness of a private concert performance such as “Musical Gifts” seems like the ultimate remedy for sleepy crowds, and a magical tonic for energetic concert attendants.