One of the most humbling experiences in my life would be having the opportunity to be a member of Joshua Bell’s audience. A guest put it best when he said, “I had never thought that ‘Yankee Doodle’ could take my breath away.” His entire performance was truly awe-inspiring: not only did the man play the music, but he performed it as a true musician should— with grace, admiration, and embodiment of each note that fell upon the ears of those in his audience. Bell on violin was accompanied by Frederic Chui on piano, and just as lovely yellow flowers cascaded over the stage. Each of their harmonies flowed about the audience and resonated through the hall. It was a mesmerizing and impressionable performance for listeners and musicians alike.
The pair opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in A minor.” The sonata was stunning, to say the least, and the harmony between the two was absolutely perfect. Bell became lost in the the rising and falling phrases, such that each movement of his was representative of a physical epithet of the music itself. The four movements, Presto, Andanta scherzoso, Più allegretto, and Allegro molto, exuded a delicate quickness and romantic harmony, each having their own words to convey to the audience through their melodies.
Following this was Edvard Grieg’s “Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in C minor.” If I even dare say, I will admit that I fell more in love with this one than the previous sonata. The light and airy chords that began each movement were contrasted by deeper and darker notes in the following measures, as is characteristic to Grieg’s robust style; the piece then volleyed back and forth, soft in some instances and much bolder in others, grabbing the audience’s attention at its every change.
Bell then addressed the audience, mentioning that it was a privilege to perform in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall and that he specifically appreciated the number of people in attendance. The evening then continued with a melody by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a piece by Pablo de Sarasate; both were equally eloquent and stunning pieces.
Bell’s performance was followed by an appearance from none other than Stephen van Rensselaer and professor Amos Eaton. The pair acted as if they had appeared in present day RPI, surprised and proud of the advances of the Institute. The skit was a nice comedic pause in the course of the night. Van Rensselaer then sought out Eaton, assuming he was busy working in the lab, only to find him asleep. As he snored he talked in his sleep, saying things like, “Go Engineers, beat Cornell, crush Colgate!”—much to the crowd’s amusement. The two then marveled over EMPAC, saying things such as “It’s as if we aren’t in Troy anymore.” They then handed over the stage to the speakers to address the advancements of the Institute and President Shirley Ann Jackson’s involvement over the past 10 years.
Among trustees and faculty members, the Grand Marshal Michael Zwack spoke and thanked Jackson on behalf of the student body for the opportunities she has provided them. Provost Robert E. Palazzo spoke after Zwack about the success of the “Renaissance at Rensselaer.” The speakers were not limited to members of the RPI community; Congressman Paul Tonko thanked Jackson for her impact on the surrounding community and praised her premiere leadership.
After several speakers, Jackson was presented with a collage of various RPI achievements from the past 10 years. Jackson thanked everyone and went on to tell the story of how she was offered the position of the 18th president of RPI. To end the evening, Bell returned to conclude his performance with a fabulously cheeky rendition of “Yankee Doodle” that exploited the range of his talent from not only the delicate shape he painted as he sped through the octaves, but also the craftsmanship of his fingers on the strings and bow to produce such compelling tones. It was an amazing experience. His performance was a tribute to the masters in every sense of the word.