Looking Forward

He was just 4, when Joshua Bell first began to play the violin. Eight years later, with the support of his family, Bell began to study the violin when he was 12. And at 14, Bell began to play professionally in his home state of Indiana. Later on after graduating from college, Bell moved to New York City in 1990, and has lived there for the last 13 years.

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Today, Bell is renowned for his classical performances while playing the Stradivarius known as the Gibson ex Huberman. The Grammy-winning violinist Joshua Bell recently released his latest record titled “Romance of the Violin.” The album was arranged and produced by Craig Leon who also has worked with other artists, such as countertenor Andreas Scholl and opera legend Luciano Pavarotti.

With a career spanning almost four decades, GRAMMY® Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated artists of his era. Bell has performed with virtually every major orchestra in the world, and continues to maintain engagements as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, conductor and as the Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Bell is currently on tour in the new year.

Gabrielle Burns: Tell us how your recent record came about and what was it like to work with Craig Leon?
Joshua Bell: Well, I started with the idea of making this album of beautiful melodies in classical music. But as I thought about it more, I wanted to do some things like transcriptions, [which] had not been done before on the violin, so that broadened my choices in vocal and piano repertoire. And then Craig was brought in by Sony and we got on well.

GB: Your musical sound and playing is distinct. And currently, with 27 records released, how do you find the time to experiment as you learn to play the different works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Gershwin?
JB: I started touring professionally since I was 14 and learned a lot of repertoires and many of the great violin concertos. As I have gotten older I have expanded on that -- branching out a little with Gershwin or Bernstein. And for me, those did not feel like departures from classical music -- they felt very natural.

And as I go along, what I work on is trying to get inside whatever style I have at hand. So, whether it’s jumping from Tchaikovsky to Ravel or going to Gershwin, that is something classical people do all the time.

GB: Tell us about the recording process for you. What makes it interesting or even different?
JB: The terrible thing about the recording process is that sometimes, you can be doing it for six hours straight in one day. And you will be doing something over and over again –- it is sort of like shooting a movie or doing theater. Some actors would say they prefer theater, because they do [the scenes] just once through and they see the story from the beginning to end and in time. Where as in a movie, it is shot scene by scene and it can be very tedious.

And it’s not so bad with music because often it is broken up and often you find yourself repeating things six times in a row. And to have the same energy each time is very difficult. But on the other side, it gives me an opportunity to let loose and take risks and see what happens. And that is the attitude I am trying to take.

Music Corner 2 Joshua Bell

GB: On your Web site, you seem to have a lot more touring planned for the year. How do you keep touring, on both sides of the Atlantic and how do you keep your energy level up for the demands of being on the road?
JB: I exercise a little, but not enough. I have to allow more time to do exercise, because sometimes I am just so tried from doing everything that I don’t want to exercise when I get home or on the day of a concert, when I have to have all my energy in the evening. Because I expend so much energy when I do that. I play some tennis on tour. But I am doing some yoga and I am experimenting with that.

GB: While you are touring this year, you will be performing Tchaikovsky violin concerto in D major, Op. 35. What makes this work special for you and why?
JB: I am concentrating on that because I have done it so many times and have done it all my life and it is one of the most exciting violin concertos to play. And it will be my next album to record, [with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra] which I am doing at the beginning of 2005.

GB: You have said in other interviews that you had been composing your own classical music works, such as cadenzas for Mozart and Brahms concertos. What has become of that effort?
JB: Right now, I am not really a composer yet, but I do all of my own cadenzas for the major concertos, where they are not already written by the composer like Tchaikovsky. But I did break even that rule with Mendelssohn, where there is an included cadenza in the piece I played in my last recording. I substituted it with my own. I love writing my own cadenzas and it has given me a taste for being a composer, but I have not yet published them, and some day I hope to be a composer.

GB: With many public schools saving money by cutting music programs and even radio stations, such as WNYC-FM New York (93.9), cutting classical music in favor of more talk shows, are you concerned about less classical music being played in America?
JB: It concerns me when we lose radio stations. But it really concerns me when we lose music in school. And so I try to do whatever I can by going into schools and encouraging people to keep their music programs, because that is where it all starts.

GB: What are you currently doing to help promote classical music listening for all people?
JB: I don’t shy away from doing some [movie] projects like “The Red Violin,” which is kind of a mainstream thing, which I hope brings classical music into the conscious mainstream. Certainly the movie “Amadeus” did a lot for classical music. And for me [it’s about] talking with kids and going into schools. Even after my concerts, I go into the lobby and I talk to the kids or the audience.

GB: Would you like to add anything else to what you have said?
JB: The purpose of music is a celebration of life and beauty and that is why we have classical music and that is what it’s all about.

Readers can visit Joshua Bell’s Web site at http://www.joshuabell.com

by Gabrielle Burns

This interview first ran in 2004 and has been updated for the reader.