Violinist Joshua Bell says yes to Vail
Ryan Summerlin July 13, 2012
VAIL –Joshua Bell is the type of guy who says yes.
“To anything that sounds interesting,” he said.
As such, Bell’s schedule is packed tighter than suits on a Washington, D.C. subway at 5 p.m. That’s why it took the Bravo folks years to get him on the Ford Amphitheater stage, which he’ll take Saturday night for his debut in Vail. He performs with The Philadelphia Orchestra, which closes out its residency this evening.
Speaking of D.C. subways, it’s because of Bell’s tendency to say yes that he got the chance to take part in an intriguing social experiment at the Metro in 2007. A Washington Post reporter asked if he was interested and, as is his tendency, he said yes.
Thanks to a popular email forward, you may know the story, which in short begs this question: In a ordinary place, in the middle of the day, do we recognize beauty in an out-of-place context?
During rush hour, Bell stood at the top of an escalator, outside the Metro. The musician, who is widely recognized as one of the best violinists in the world, played a set list of intricate classical masterpieces on an instrument worth $3.5 million.
And the result? Well, hardly anyone gave him a second glance. Which is what Bell expected, he said.
“For me, it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking,” Bell said during a recent phone interview. “I know what it takes to appreciate classical music. You have to have all your cylinders firing. You have to have your imagination running. You have to be thinking logically so you see the patterns that emerge and the beauty of symmetry. If you’re running to work, and have it thrown at you, it won’t do anything for you.”
Out of nearly 1,000 people who entered the station, only one woman recognized him.
“She asked if it was me,” Bell said. “Maybe she thought, ‘Wow, the recession. It’s been tough on everybody.'”
The experiment gave Bell a renewed appreciation for a “captive audience.” And it showed him firsthand how out of touch people are with what’s going on around them.
“Everyone is in their own world, rushing to work,” he said. “It made me think about things and how these days we’re not connected with the things going on around us. We’re living in a virtual world. We have headphones on and we’re texting while walking and there’s not always a connection with the people who are walking by.”
Bell, who is 44, made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Riccardo Muti, when he was 14 years old, nearly 30 years ago.
“That was in 1982, so it would be 30 years in September since my debut,” Bell mused, doing the math for the first time. “God, that’s weird.”
Tonight, he’ll perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra on his 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin (which he purchased for $4 million in 2001). Bell uses a late 18th Century French bow by Francois Tourte.
“Philadelphia is a great orchestra,” Bell said. “I have a history with that orchestra and it’s always nice to play with them. And the Mendelssohn I’ve played longer than any other piece of music. I think I first performed it in public when I was 12. And I’ve probably played it thousands of times since then. It endures with the public. It’s always been an audience favorite and it still is. As as performer, it’s a piece I always enjoy. It suits the instrument so well. It’s often refered to as the perfect violin concerto and it really is.”
Bravo’s artistic director, Anne-Marie McDermott, began working to bring Bell here as soon as she started, she said.
“I am so excited that Joshua Bell will be making his Bravo debut this summer,” she said. “To hear him play one of the world’s most-loved, most-famous violin concertos – by Mendelssohn, one of our featured composers this season –will be such a treat.”
Bell’s most recent challenge is his appointment as the new music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the first person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marinner formed the orchestra in 1958. The ensemble’s first 15-concert tour to the U.S. garnered rock concert enthusiasm. The orchestra’s first recording under Bell’s leadership will be the Fourth and Seventh symphonies of Beethoven with plans to eventually perform and record the Beethoven Symphonic Cycle.
Equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and orchestra leader, Bell’s 2012 summer appearances include the premiere of a new concerto for violin and double bass by Edgar Meyer to be performed by Bell and Meyer at Tanglewood, the Hollywood Bowl, and in Aspen, where Bell attended summer camp as a child.
“My first time playing on the streets was as a 15 year old in Aspen,” Bell said. “We used to do quartet gigs. We played in front of restaurants and made some tips. I remember one guy dropping $100 bill in. Of course, it had to be split four ways.”
This summer, Bell will appear also at the Festival del Sole, Ravinia, Verbier, Salzburg, Saratoga and Mostly Mozart festivals. He kicks off the San Francisco Symphony’s fall season followed by performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston, Seattle, Omaha, Cincinnati and Detroit symphonies. Fall highlights also include a tour of South Africa, a European tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and a European recital tour with Sam Haywood.
In short, Bell is very, very busy. But that’s OK, he said.
“It seems to be never let up,” Bell said. “I like being busy, though. I thrive on working and being busy. If I’m not working, I get lazy and don’t get a lot done. I need to be forced to be working. I need deadlines. I need concerts that are actually scheduled, otherwise I’ll goof off for weeks at a time. I am happy to finally be coming to Vail. It’s a beautiful part of the country and I’m glad it finally worked out.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.