Violinist Joshua Bell has debt he gladly pays; will perform with ASO

Violin superstar Joshua Bell, who will play with the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, is like
Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell

ALBANY — Violin superstar Joshua Bell, who will play with the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, is like everyone else. He has bills to pay. It’s just that some of his debts are not your usual household expenses.

In 2002, Bell bought the 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius for $4 million, and even that purchase has a special cachet. The violin was stolen twice from Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, the second time in 1936 from his dressing room at Carnegie Hall. More than 50 years later, Julian Altman, a cabaret violinist, confessed on his deathbed to the Carnegie Hall theft and the violin was recovered. The instrument passed through other hands, including Amadeus Quartet violinist Norbert Brainin, before Bell purchased it.

Last year, Bell received some unexpected monetary assistance. He won the Avery Fisher Prize, which honors career achievement and came with a $75,000 award.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to use the money yet,” Bell said last month from New York City. “It will help pay off my Strad payments. I’m still paying them off.”

The prize was especially appreciated because members of the music profession voted for him.

“It’s a nice kind of thing. I hadn’t known I was being considered,” Bell said.

Looking back

At 40, Bell can already look back on a phenomenal career.

Music attracted him early when at 4, his psychologist parents found him plucking out tunes on rubber bands that he’d stretched around the handles of his dresser drawers. He enjoyed life on the Indiana farm with his two sisters, as well as competitive tennis and computer games. But playing violin was a joy that took on special significance when he began studies at 12 with famed teacher Josef Gingold, who was like a grandfather to him, Bell said.

At 14, Bell came to national attention when he debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Riccardo Muti. In the next few years, he debuted at Carnegie Hall, received the 1986 Avery Fisher Career Grant and made his first recording at 18. In 1989, he received an Artist Diploma from Indiana University.

His long list of honors reflects not only his wizardry on the violin but Bell’s other interests. Besides several Grammy Award nominations, Bell received the 2000 Grammy and has performed on the Grammy telecast, received the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award and was named in 2000 an “Indiana Living Legend.”

In 2005, he was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, was the only U.S. musician to be named last year as one of the 250 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, named one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 2000 by People magazine, was the 1996 Crystal Caliburn World Windows champion and was named Billboard Magazine’s 2004 Classical Artist of the Year.

He has also appeared on several late-night talk shows, been the subject of several documentaries, acted as himself in the 1999 film “Music of the Heart,” hits the golf course and tennis court whenever he can, and records film soundtracks. His most famous is for the 1999 film “The Red Violin,” which composer John Corigliano recently expanded into the “Red Violin Concerto.” Bell recorded it last year with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Also on the disc is Corigliano’s Violin Sonata with pianist Jeremy Denk, who recently played so wonderfully at his own recital at Union College. To date, Bell has made more than 30 CDs and since 1996 has recorded exclusively for Sony Classical.

Organization is the key to Bell’s ability to travel the world. He annually plays more than 100 solo concerts, including numerous festivals, about 20 recitals, records and beginning last year, to act as senior lecturer at Indiana University. Fortunately, things like hotel and plane reservations and limousines to the hall or airport are handled by managers and publicists. The rest he deals with.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 14. So I’m not overwhelmed,” Bell said. “I have a personal assistant who travels with me sometimes, but I’m able to stay on track myself.”

Staying fresh

He prepares up to 10 concertos each season, including one world premiere, and tries to space his concerts out so he can stay fresh, he said. His popularity, which has led to his ubiquitous presence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center each summer as well as his appearances at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, are all part of a life that Bell said he never dreamed he’d have.

“I take it as it comes. It’s always an adventure,” Bell said. “It’s turned out a very fulfilling existence. I love doing it, I’m paid for it, and I don’t have to have a day job. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

His goals are to learn more of the repertoire, compose more and perhaps to conduct.

Albany Symphony’s audience on Saturday will hear some of Bell’s ideas when he plays the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto because he’ll play his own cadenzas. He’ll also play his own cadenza toward the end of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story Suite.” Bell calls the piece “a small bonbon.”

Also scheduled is the world premiere of Peter Child’s “Washington Park,” which was inspired by Albany’s Washington Park, and Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Death and Transfiguration.” David Alan Miller will conduct.

Albany Symphony Orchestra

WHO: Guest soloist Joshua Bell, violin

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Jan. 26

WHERE: Palace Theatre

HOW MUCH: $65, $55, $38.50

MORE INFO: 465-4755

Categories: Life and Arts

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