With Strings Attached
Violinist Joshua Bell is hot. The artist's latest release, Romance of the Violin, a collection of thirteen works that span 400 years, is currently burning up the classical-music charts.
"There are so many great melodies out there to choose from," says Bell, who will warm up the stages of the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek and the University of Denver's Newman Center this week. "I had a long list, from Kreisler to Tchaikovsky. I could fill a whole CD with Chopin or Schubert. All of the Schubert lieder could be reworked for the violin and sound beautiful."
The Indiana native explains his inspiration: It comes from a realm beyond the notes, connecting to the masters themselves. "The music itself is so inspiring," Bell says. "When you play Tchaikovsky or Mozart or Chopin, you are actually in the presence of the greatest minds that ever lived."
Bell picked up a violin at the age of four and successfully debuted at fourteen with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. However, it was his incandescent performance in the 1999 Academy Award-winning Red Violin that turned him into a pop star. The film follows the fictional path of a much-sought-after crimson violin. Ironically, Bell's own reddish 1713 Gibson ex Huberman instrument may have traveled a path similar to its cinematic counterpart's colorful history.
"The story is that it was owned and played by a violinist named Bronislaw Huberman, one of the great violinists from the early part of the twentieth century," Bell explains. "He was playing a concert in Carnegie Hall and left it back stage for only a moment, and it disappeared, completely vanishing. It was fifty years later that the thief confessed on his deathbed. I ran into it at a violin shop in London and played it for only a minute before I fell in love with it. I guess it does look kind of like the red violin."
Bell recently completed a European tour with the Minnesota Orchestra, and his Colorado visit is part of an eighteen-city jaunt that included a stop at New York's aforementioned Carnegie Hall. The classical man will have a day or two off, then hop right into the studio to record the soundtrack for an upcoming motion picture starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. "I seem to be cut out for this sort of lifestyle. I enjoy it. I thrive under the pressure and stress; I seek it," Bell says. "I love what I'm doing."
For his upcoming performances, Bell has put together a collection of pieces to highlight his range and spark the audience. He'll ignite Schubert, Chopin, Grieg, Ravel and Sarasate. "It's mostly about balance," says Bell. "Sometimes I'll pick a theme and do all Brahms sonatas, or sometimes I'll plan to have a well- balanced-meal sort of thing and have music from different periods. I like introducing new things into my own personal repertoire, and for each recital program, I try to do a few things that are new."
That's what keeps the fire stoked.
After the performance, Bell will join accompanying pianist Simon Mulligan to sign autographs for fans. And it's true that Bell's heartstrings are still up for grabs. "It's not easy to not be single with my lifestyle," Bell confesses. "Eventually I plan on having a family. I'm not sure how, but right now, I'm just enjoying myself."
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