Violinist Joshua Bell is a classical music icon and legend, and is certainly one of the most celebrated and familiar violinists in the world. He continues to amaze audiences and attract accolades for his talent and career that spans over 30 years.
If his name or legacy doesn’t ring a bell (pun definitely intended), perhaps you’re familiar with the renowned experiment conducted by Gene Weingarten at The Washington Post in 2007. In Pearls Before Breakfast, Weingarten details how Bell staged a nondescript and unannounced performance at a metro station in New York, going virtually unnoticed and garnering only $32 from passersby for a performance that people would normally pay hundreds of dollars to see in a concert hall.
Bell’s famous violin, a 1713 Huberman Stradivarius, is integral to Bell’s career with its own impressive history. As Bell himself writes, “it is overwhelming to think of how many amazing people have held it and heard it . . . I am always touched to think . . . of the musicians Huberman saved from the Holocaust — with funds raised by concerts performed on the very same instrument I play every day”. Bell says he considers it an honour to be the Huberman’s caregiver on its 300th Birthday this year.
Bell will be performing at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton for an exclusive engagement — one of the only Canadian tour dates this year — on September 24, 2013, which marks his first return to the city since 2008. Playing alongside the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO), Bell’s performance will include Tchaikovsky’s beautiful Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35.
Bell says he was first in Edmonton over 25 years ago near the beginning of his career “around the time the mall had just opened up”. Ah, the still-defining West Edmonton Mall. “I’m looking forward to coming back to Edmonton,” Bell says. “In the past I’ve been very impressed with the ESO, it’s a very good orchestra for a city of that size. I’ve found that Edmonton’s commitment to the symphony and to the arts is very good, it’s very commendable, and it really stands out in an unexpected way. Playing with the ESO is memorable.”
Bell has spent the summer touring different cities and says playing in a variety of cities is an opportunity to refresh familiar pieces and prevents him from getting burned out. “I may be playing a piece I’ve done a lot of times — I’ve performed the Tchaikovsky concerto over 35 times this summer, it’s just one of the standards of the repertoire that is really wonderful to play — but with a new orchestra to play with and a new conductor, it always allows for a new take on the piece which is good. The audience’s reaction is also very unique and their energy and response adds to the performance.”
Those without a referent to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35 may have no idea what such a performance entails, but one need not be familiar with Bell’s style or any classical music to enjoy the upcoming performance. “The nice thing about the Tchaikovsky concerto is that it does two things,” Bell says. “Classical connoisseurs will be familiar with it as a work of genius, it has so much in it and they’ll adore the piece. Then someone who may have never even heard classical music before will be immediately drawn to the piece.
“[Tchaikovsky's concerto] is engaging, it’s a good entry way pieces because you can immediately fall in love with it. You don’t need any prior knowledge or technical interest to enjoy it, it’s very easily likeable upon first hearing it. It’s a very visceral and exciting and beautiful piece, it’s one that gets the adrenaline rushing and is just so engaging. Even for kids or teenagers who have ever only gone to rock concert before and think this sort of music is boring, I say… come to this one! It’s different than what you might think of classical musical; it’s one that will get you excited and engaged.”
If that still seems daunting, most audiences will be familiar with the music on Bell’s forthcoming holiday album, Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends. Bell says he decided on a holiday theme for the album because the holidays have always been very important to him. “The Christmas holidays were always just a special, significant time for family and friends, we’d get together and exchange gifts and play music together. The album is more than just Christmas songs but it still has a holiday feel.” Bell says he really liked the formula of his 2009 album At Home with Friends where he collaborated with some recognizable artists — and, appropriately, friends of his — from all different genres to make a “soiree of music”. “I brought that same idea to the holiday album, that lovely collaborative aspect of performance, to play some Christmas songs and some just related to holidays.” The album features performances with Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss, Kristin Chenoweth, trumpeter Chris Botti, and opera stars Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming.
Joshua Bell performs with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the Winspear Centre on Tuesday, September 24, 7:30 pm. Tickets available at www.winspearcentre.com or 1-800-563-5081.
Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends will be available on October 15, 2013 from Sony Masterworks.
— Breanna Mroczek