Vir­tu­oso vi­o­lin­ist owes it all to his mother

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - VI­O­LIN JES­SICA DUCHEN

JOSHUA BELL’S de­but record­ing in 1986 may have been prophetic. On it, the 18-year-old Amer­i­can vi­o­lin­ist per­formed with the Acad­emy of St Martin in the Fields con­ducted by Sir Neville Mar­riner. To­day, Bell has been music di­rec­tor of the self-same or­ches­tra for six years — and has just signed up for three more.

“I love this or­ches­tra so much,” Bell says. “I feel there’s a spe­cial chem­istry between us. Their at­ti­tude is amaz­ing and they give so much in the con­certs. As we travel to­gether a lot, I spend time with them in a way that I don’t if I’m a guest soloist. We were re­cently in Ice­land and I was out with them in the mid­dle of the night, try­ing to find the North­ern Lights.”

This month, he and the ASMF un­der­take a seven-date UK tour, per­form­ing Vi­valdi’s The Four Sea­sons, Beethoven’s Sym­phony No.2 and the world pre­miere of Edgar Meyer’s

Over­ture for Vi­o­lin and Or­ches­tra, writ­ten es­pe­cially for Bell. It’s a typ­i­cal min­gling of his roles as vi­o­lin soloist, con­duc­tor and cham­pion of new music and, he adds, “in­stead of leav­ing af­ter a half-hour con­certo for a post-con­cert cold beer, I’m in­volved in the whole two hours of the con­cert, which is so much more re­ward­ing.”

Bell, who grew up in Bloom­ing­ton, In­di­ana, cred­its his Jewish mother (“in ev­ery sense!”) with form­ing his cru­cial pat­tern of hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion. “She’s very strong-willed,” he smiles. “I think one rea­son a lot of suc­cess­ful mu­si­cians have been Jewish is that tra­di­tion of work ethic and in­volve­ment from the par­ents.”

His vi­o­lin is, more­over, “the most Jewish Stradi­var­ius you could find”. The “Gib­son-ex-Hu­ber­man” of 1713, it be­longed to Bro­nis­law Hu­ber­man, who founded the Pales­tine Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, later the Is­rael Phil­har­monic. In 1936, Hu­ber­man was per­form­ing at Carnegie Hall to raise funds for the or­ches­tra when the vi­o­lin dis­ap­peared from its case back­stage. “It didn’t resur­face un­til 1985, when a café vi­o­lin­ist called Ju­lian Alt­man ad­mit­ted on his death-bed that he’d stolen it,” Bell re­counts. The in­stru­ment has been mak­ing up for lost time ever since, sold first to Nor­bert Brainin of the Amadeus String Quar­tet and to Bell in 2001.

High­lights for 2018 in­clude a US tour and a CD in which Bell and the ASMF play Bruch’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo and Scot­tish Fan­tasy. “I’m glad that, as I get older, each year I feel I play the vi­o­lin bet­ter than I did the year be­fore,” Bell says. “Hope­fully that will con­tinue for a while. But even­tu­ally if cer­tain phys­i­cal things start to de­cline, then — if, God will­ing, I’m able to live that long — con­duct­ing could ex­tend my life as a mu­si­cian.”

Joshua Bell and the Acad­emy of St Martin in the Fields start their tour on Jan­uary 12 at Cado­gan Hall in Lon­don.


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