Joshua Bell Lends a Hand to Music Educators, LA Phil Cellist Ben Hong Coaches a Hollywood Star
Violin virtuoso Joshua Bell spends a good amount of his time in famed concert halls, but in May he was to be honored for his work in equally important venues—study halls. Education Through Music, a nonprofit founded in 1991 that offers music instruction to more than 9,000 students at 20 inner-city schools in New York City, has dedicated its 8th annual Children’s Benefit Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan to Bell.
Bell has been involved with the organization, which also has sites in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, since 2003. He has served as an ETM advisory committee member since 2004.
“As a child, I was fortunate enough to have access to quality music education in school,” Bell says. “Not every child has such opportunities, and having seen first-hand how ETM’s programming can positively impact a child’s life, it’s my hope that in the future, ETM can provide every child, regardless of talent or socioeconomic status, access to a complete education which includes music and the arts.”
At the gala, ETM students joined Bell in playing “Yankee Doodle,” which he had performed for President Barack Obama during a February gala that celebrated the birth of Abraham Lincoln. “I am so excited about the work Education Through Music is doing and that I can make it a priority to meet with their students as often as my schedule permits,”
“Receiving an award from this organization is really an honor, and one that I hope will help raise awareness of how vitally important music education is to a child’s life.”
Mall of the Macabre
You may know of the Dead Poets Society, but have you heard of the Dead Strad Society? Inspired by a trip to Cremona, Italy, Kevin Bennett, owner of the Cupertino Strings instrument shop in Cupertino, California, has created an online repository of Antonio Stradivari gravesite marker photos at cupertinostrings.com. And he’s looking for additions. “There were a lot of people taking pictures of Stradivari’s house and of themselves standing next to the gravesite marker,” Bennett says. “I sat down for a comical photo next to the marker, and I thought, ‘There have to be more people like me.’ I’ve got a little bit of response so far, but I’m sure there are more photos out there.”
Showing a sense of humor has been good for business, he adds. “It’s a good ice breaker for people who want to buy an instrument,” Bennett says. “People want to talk to somebody they feel comfortable with.”
The Man Behind the Music
Los Angeles Philharmonic assistant principal cellist Ben Hong recently made his major-motion-picture debut in The Soloist, and he did it without delivering a single line. But Hong, who coyly admits he can be seen briefly during a few shots, is hardly an extra.
As the music technical consultant for the film, Hong was tasked with performing the solo cello parts of the score for the film’s main character, Nathaniel Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) and supporting character Graham Clayton (played by Tom Hollander). The Soloist is based on a friendship forged between the schizophrenic and homeless Ayers and Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.
When the two had met in a city park, Ayers revealed that he had attended the Juilliard School before landing on the street and dreamed of playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“I had to play in a very disturbed way at times—very violently at times and very aggressive, in a very exaggerated version—in order for the scene to make sense,” Hong says. “For the disturbed, more angry characters, that’s actually rather simple: it’s just a matter of letting it go and not worrying about making ugly sounds and just really being angry. It’s like how we play when we play a concerto—just getting into character, really pushing the limit that kind of way.”
Actually, Foxx, Hollander, and Justin Martin, who plays the young Ayers, are accomplished musicians, though none is a cellist. So, Hong was also called in to coach the basics, soap their bows, and teach them to fake it, which turned out to be a demanding task.
“With the cello, everything is in plain view,” he says. “If the hand position is bad, if the finger is not nicely rounded, if the bow grip is bad, if the bow stroke is bad, right away it doesn’t look good. It’s extra difficult if you’re not making the sound yourself.”
You can catch Hong on-screen sitting next to Hollander during a scene with conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen and the rest of the LA Phil.
A first-section violinist from the Philadelphia Orchestra has taken on Nicolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices and at press time was set to blast through all of them in May at a marathon two-hour solo program dedicated to the exiting Guarneri String Quartet. Jason De Pue, 32, began studying the Caprices at 12. “When you play all of them, it’s easier than having to go out and play two of them,” he says. “When you only have five minutes or two minutes to work with, it’s very different from having a full concert to work with. It’s a very different mentality and approach.”
De Pue planned to donate some of the proceeds from the performance to his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, where the original Guarneris began teaching in 1968.
Patelson Shutters Shop
After nearly 70 years serving as a haven for such musicians as Isaac Stern and David Oistrakh, during rehearsal breaks at Carnegie Hall, the Joseph Patelson Music House was scheduled to close in late April, as of press time.
The landmark 1879 carriage house on 56th Street looks to the stage door of the famed venue. It housed more than 60,000 sheet-music titles and various accoutrements of the serious musician.
The store’s demise has been attributed to slow business and increased competition on the Internet, where many publishers offer their music as a direct download. “I feel that I gave it another five years that it would have probably not had,” owner Marsha Patelson says.
Patelson—a cellist, teacher, and photographer—had poured money into the ailing business, took on loans, and even hosted events subsequent to taking over after her husband, Dan Patelson, died of cancer in 2004. Dan had been given the store in 1992 by his father, the late Joseph Patelson, who had been willed the business in 1939 by Ernest Cook, who founded it in 1920 under a different name in another location. Marsha couldn’t say who was interested in buying the location, but she hopes it remains a music center of some sort.
The closing is a bittersweet goodbye for Patelson. She’s relieved to be free of the many responsibilities of running a music business in New York City, but says she’ll miss the store that also served as a home and even the site of her marriage.
“It took a long time for the reality [of taking over the business] to set in,” Patelson says, “but I picked up what I needed to learn and there were a lot of good times and lots of headaches. It was an out-of-the-box experience, but I need to get back to retired life of teaching six days a week and performing.”