Joshua Bell Opens NDR Elbphilharmonie’s Season with World Premiere of “The Elements”

6 Sep 2023

Marcus Krüger I NDR.

Artist in Residence Joshua Bell opened NDR Elbphilharmonie and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie seasons with the world premiere of The Elements. Originated by Joshua Bell, the work features six interconnected movements by five leading American composers. Edgar Meyer (“Water” – movement 2) is joined by Kevin Puts (“Earth” and “Earth [reprise and finale]” – movements – 1 & 6), Jake Heggie (“Fire” – movement 3), Jennifer Higdon (“Air” – movement 4) and Jessie Montgomery (“Space” – movement – 5) to create this musically rich and fascinating contribution to contemporary repertoire. The concert, conducted by NDR’s Music Director Alan Gilbert, was live streamed on 2 September 2023.

Bell writes, “I’m so excited to have the opportunity to premiere my new commissions project, The Elements. The idea for this unique endeavor was born during the early moments of the pandemic, and the work consists of five distinct pieces, each written by composers I greatly admire. The process of working with such an incredible collection of talent has been extremely rewarding, and to have them all represented in one epic opus will be truly historic. I am thrilled to have the chance to share this collective work celebrating the beauty of our natural world and look forward to seeing you at an upcoming performance of The Elements!”

The composers write:


“This movement deals with both a gentler side of water and a more forceful side. Music early in the movement is non-specific and maybe evocative of a gentle rain. The music later in the movement comes from a specific vision. I thought of being a particle of water in a high South American waterfall, hurled in seconds down into the swirling silt and sludge at the bottom, and onward from there. I’m not sure if it’s what I would see if I heard this music for the first time, but it certainly is what I saw when I wrote it.”


Earth and Earth (Reprise and Finale) are my contributions to the Elements project. The piece begins on solid ground, with a repeating four-note ostinato over which the solo violin and the orchestral violins trade lyrical phrases. This opening idea was drawn from my Violin Concerto (2006) but takes a different journey here, eventually “taking flight” for a brief period. The “Reprise and Finale” flows seamlessly from the end of Jessie Montgomery’s Space, resuming the development of ideas begun at the suite’s opening and reaching grander heights here. Beyond the fundamental sense of stability and endurance the element Earth suggested to me, I hope the music also conveys a more spiritual reverence for the planet Earth itself and, in some minute way, might inspire its protection.”


“My score for “Fire” begins with a spark. Something possibly beautiful and essential emerges, fascinating and elusive. We cannot hold fire, but it can consume us. It is essential for life but can also be the cause of immense destruction. And then, miraculously, for rebirth. We need it. We fear it. We try to tame and contain it, but it can quickly run out of control. I wanted to explore both physical and metaphysical fire: the passion, the flame that is essential to our spirits – to all spirituality. Where will that initial spark lead? We may never know. And that is part of a beautiful, inexplicable chaos.”


“Air, an element that is everywhere. It feeds our bodies (in our first breath as we enter the world) and the plants and the oceans; we feel it with every change of season. It is also the sigh that we make when listening to the beautiful tone of Joshua Bell. Knowing that this movement would likely be in the middle of all these other dramatic elements with high energy and swirling notes, this moment is a calm spot, a space for breathing and quiet reflection.”


“I am so excited to present this new work for Joshua Bell as part of his Elements project. I was tasked with musically conveying the fifth element, space: one which encompasses all of the elements, all of the planets, and all the matter of the universe.

It’s no small feat to try to encapsulate such immense kinetic energy by portraying all of these elements together. In my composition, the solo violin takes on a melodic journey, pulling the listener both inward, into their own imagination of the universe, and outward, into the very depths of outer space. There are some subtle references to the other elements throughout the piece, particularly in its motivic language and its feeling, while being expansive in its transformative nature.

I’m grateful to be included in this exciting project with the other composers — gifted creators that I’ve admired throughout my career. Special gratitude is reserved for Joshua Bell, with my deep appreciation for premiering this work, and for inspiring this incredible journey.”

The commission of The Elements has been generously sponsored by David and Judith Anderson, Antonia Gordon, Kenneth and Susan Greathouse, Joseph and Bette Hirsch, Carol Kaganov, and Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting.

For more information, behind-the-scenes photos, videos and concert dates, please visit

Joshua Bell photo: Shervin Lainez; Elements artwork: Alex Sopp

The Elements is executive produced by David Lai and project managed by Cindy Liu of Park Avenue Artists.