At the conclusion of this summer’s season, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell will have set foot in five of the world’s seven continents. It doesn’t matter where in the world music takes the 47-year-old, Bell still considers his birth city Bloomington, Indiana, home.
Bell, who splits time at his homes in New York City and Bloomington, returns to Indiana on Sept. 27 to perform on Toyota’s Opening Night of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra at the Victory Theatre, 600 Main St. The evening, in commemoration of the University of Southern Indiana’s 50th anniversary, will be a reunion of sorts for Bell, who says he likely will see his mother and sisters in attendance. The violinist first performed in Evansville as a teenager and has played with the EPO several times over the years since.
Bell’s passion for music can be traced back to when he received his first violin at age 4 after plucking tunes with rubber bands stretched around dresser drawer handles. By 12, he was serious about the instrument and two years later, he debuted with Riccardo Muti at the Philadelphia Orchestra. At 17, he first played at Carnegie Hall with the St. Louis Symphony. He won his first Grammy Award in his 30s. Today, Bell serves as the music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in London, works as a senior lecturer at his alma mater Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has three kids, and travels the world performing on his 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin with his 18th century French bow by François Tourte.
Evansville Living caught up with Bell to talk about his upcoming performance.
After more than 40 years of playing the violin, what is left for you to learn and improve on?
That’s the thing about the violin — I have figured a lot of it out but it’s an ongoing puzzle. The instrument itself is very temperamental. I play a 300-year-old Stradivarius and day-to-day, it will respond in different ways. I have to learn how to adjust to it. You don’t ever go into automatic mode and you’re always trying to get better. The piece I’m playing in Evansville — the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 —is one of the warhorses of the violin repertoire. Violinists have been playing it since they were 12 and it’s a piece we all know so well, but yet you have to keep finding ways to bring new life into it.
When you travel all over the world, how does the violin travel?
The only way I can compare it for anyone who doesn’t have a Stradivarius is it’s like having a baby. Sure, it’s worth a lot of money (Bell purchased it in 2001; it was stolen in 1936 and gone for 50 years), but it’s really irreplaceable. You have a connection with it and you take care of it and are very careful, but yet you can’t stress every second that you are going to lose it. Like having a baby, you get used to traveling with this precious cargo. The violin is rather portable. I can take it on planes and put it right above me or near me. My friends who play the cello struggle and have more issues. I’m glad I took up the violin.
What kind of impact does music have on the education of our youth?
Music can have a humongous impact. Obviously, it did for me. It became my life. I’m a part of an organization called Education Through Music in New York City, which is involved with inner-city schools that have no music programs at all. Seeing the effect it has had on those kids is unbelievable. Kids who have musical instruments learn how to work together, learn how music works and its relationship to mathematics, language, self-expression.
For more information about Joshua Bell’s performance atthe Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, call 812-425-5050or visit evansvillephilharmonic.org.