Violinist Joshua Bell is one of the few classical artists who is a household name, and can also sell out a major house in no time. Bell will be the featured soloist with the Dallas Symphony on Saturday, Sept. 17 for the Dallas Symphony's 2011 DSO AT&T Gala.
Part of his fame among nonconcert goers comes from his performance of the solo part in John Corigliano's Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film The Red Violin. Another part of his fame results from his bold experiment as a street busker in the Metro subway station L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C. The piece about that experience by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Bell, by the way, earned about $50. When I made a quick reference to that experiment, he good-humoredly quipped, "But let's not talk about that."
TheaterJones was able to speak to him in a roundtable interview with five other critics. The questions below, attributed to TJ, are a combination of what all six interviewers on the conference call asked.
TheaterJones: What will you be playing for the DSO gala?
Joshua Bell: A favorite of mine; Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. I always try to play something different than I played when I toured before. It has been a while since I took the Bruch on the road. You don't want people to think that I have a limited repertoire.
How is playing at a gala different?
You want to do a much-loved and popular piece. The Bruch certainly fits that category. The concert is a social event as well. There is a dinner and after party. You wouldn't want to do something experimental.
Will you shake hands with your fans or are you concerned about that since your hands are a valuable asset?
I don't worry about it. I shake a lot of hands [laughs].
Jaap Van Zweden is a distinguished violinist himself. Does that make a difference in the performance?
It certainly helps to play with a conductor who really knows the piece so well. It helps even more when the conductor has played it [him or herself]. As two violinists, we speak the same language.
What are your thoughts during a performance? Do you think that a certain passage went really well or have a revelation on how something could go better?
Well, I certainly don't want to dwell on what went right or wrong while I am playing. I have to be in the moment. However, afterwards, I could go back and tell you measure by measure what went on. There is room for movement, give and take, in a concert. Sometimes things go great. You can remember how it went and keep what works.
Every string player's nightmare is a broken string in a concert. What do you usually do?
That depends on where I am in the piece. If it is in the beginning, I can go offstage and replace it.
Doesn't that create intonation challenges since the new string will continue to stretch?
I can deal with that and easily accommodate. If it is later in the piece, I can always switch violins with the Concertmaster and then everyone hands their instrument down the line. These are the things that happen in a live performance.
And adds to the excitement. You are now also the Musical Director of Saint Martin of the Fields chamber orchestra. How is that working out?
I have played with them for so many years that if won't be a completely new experience. But, I haven't started yet and I am really looking forward to beginning.
We know that you play on the "Gibson ex Huberman" 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, which was made in 1713. That was during Antonio Stradivari's "Golden Era."
I tried out a few Guarnerius violins. But I really am more of a Strad player.
How about your bow? I think you use one by François Tourte. Do you ever use a heavier bow for certain pieces?
Interesting you should ask that. I am trying out some heavier bows now. I may buy one for some pieces, but I really like the combination of bow and violin that I have.