The world-renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell performed a sold-out recital at the Harris Fine Arts Center on Nov. 14, 2013.
“I love doing recitals,” Bell said. “My career has ended up running around doing solos with big orchestras, which is nice, but this intimate evening of a solo recital is something that I treasure more than anything else.”
For those not tuned in to the world of classical music, he is also known for a Washington Post experiment that went viral several years ago.
“It’s something you might have seen on YouTube,” said Kory Katseanes, director of the School of Music at BYU. “It made big headlines; it was a very interesting experiment.”
Bell stood in a subway station in Washington, D.C., and performed with his repertoire from his concert the night before. More than a thousand commuters passed him as he played but only seven stopped to listen.
“The Washington Post experiment is something I’m grateful for, because I think it’s expanded my audience,” Bell said. “I’ve gotten people into concert halls. I’ve seen people come that never would have come had they not read that.”
Even though he is a world-famous violinist and well known in the classical music community, Bell seems to be just a regular guy.
“He’s comfortable being casual even though his career is in this very formal setting,” Katseanes said. “You’ll find him in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. It’s a normal life for him, so I think that’s one of the things that makes him attractive. It makes him so approachable.”
While many parents pressure their children in classical music programs to practice hard, Bell attributes much of his success to a different upbringing.
“I was already playing concerts professionally at the age of 14, but my parents were very adamant that I was not locked in the room practicing all day long,” Bell said. “They let me be involved when I was a kid, playing sports, doing the so-called ‘normal things.’ I think being well-rounded is a very important thing, and I’m grateful to my parents for letting me live a relatively normal childhood. I think it’s kept me sane.”
At 45 years old, he has been playing a long time, has won a Grammy, has performed in many concert halls and continents and has even commissioned new works to perform.
“This year I commissioned a piece by Edgar Meyers, an old friend, the double bass player that I’ve done several projects with and someone whose music I really believe in,” Bell said. “I commissioned him to write a double concerto for bass and violin, which we premiered with the Boston Symphony. That’s very exciting to me to give birth to a piece like that.”
Katseanes says that everyone in the School of Music knows who Bell is and they all wanted to attend.
“At BYU we have a regular series of forums,” Katseanes said. “To hear Josh Bell play would be like listening to John Roberts or David McCullough speak at a forum. That’s the equivalent of American culture and intellect, but in the arts, not necessarily in law or literature.”
Bell makes a point of visiting with younger musicians to support their growing love for music.
“I like going to schools and talking to young people because I feel so blessed to have a life in music,” Bell said. “So I think that’s very important to me to pass on my enthusiasm for music to the younger generation.”
Bell advised musicians who want to follow in his footsteps to, after determining that they want to do music professionally, make it their way of life.
“The point is, I think, that there isn’t a clear path,” Bell said. “I think everyone has to forge their own path in music, because I think there are so many ways to be a musician. You have to start by knowing that music is something you can’t live without.”
From introducing new works to performing his favorite classics, Bell has built his life around his music, and that has taken him all over the world.
“It can be kind of stressful, this lifestyle,” Bell said. “It’s a lot of travel and a lot of stress and pressure. But I seem to like that, apparently.”
Bell performed pieces by Beethoven, Stravinsky and other notable composers.
“You only have to be in the concert hall for two minutes before you’ll be completely swept up in the experience of watching and listening to Josh Bell play,” Katseanes said.