Joshua Bell Live! MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   Joshua Bell Live!

by R. M., Newton, MA

As I sat listening to Robert J. Lurtsema, (a classical radio announcer for WGBH-Boston) speak about the life and career of violinist Joshua Bell, I was thoroughly impressed. Sitting in the middle of a room in Dorchester full with thirty Timilty Middle Schoolers and numerous reporters, stout Lurtsema looked something like a weathered sailor spinning a tale. He spoke of young Bell, performing over a hundred concerts a year, playing all over the world to sold-out audiences and enthusiastic fans. Bell has been seen on the Johnny Carson show, heard on a number of his own CDs and soloed with the world's finest orchestras. He plays on a Stradivarius violin, a line of violins accepted as the most outstanding. Lurtsema described a world-renowned violinist and a rising star in the classical music field - a star who was coming to speak to the Timilty Middle Schoolers about music and his career.

But when Joshua Bell rushed through the doors, however, he was not glowing with fame, nor shining with virtuosity. Instead he was a young man with shaggy brown hair wearing black jeans and a sweater, a worn black violin case slung across his shoulder. His boyish face (later he commented, with a grin, "I'm 26 but some people think I still look 12.") was anything but imposing. His first statement was not about the art of music-making but rather the basketball team at Indiana University, his alma mater. All eyes were riveted on the young star who set his case down and settled into a seat in the center of the room.

In a slow, calm voice Bell began giving a history of his violin:

"It was made by a man named Stradivarius, who was the best of the violin makers. He was ..."

Lurtsema tried to help Bell out, "He was the Michael Johnson of violin making."

Bell smiled: "The Michael Jordan of violin making. It's Magic Johnson," he corrected and Lurtsema grinned over the mistake.

"Back in Strad's day," Bell continued, "there were no TVs and everyone played music of some kind ... Having a Strad is like having a great Picasso ... and getting the Strad was as exciting as getting a new girlfriend ..." He continued to explain how sound was generated on a violin, how the bow was used and so on. Inevitably the issue of the price of the instrument came up.

"It cost around two million dollars" Bell said, triggering a wave of gasps and nervous laughter. "And I'll be paying for it for the rest of my life."

"How much did you practice when you were young?" one youngster asked. Bell then told a story of how he "goofed off a lot" when he was young. When his mother dropped him off at music school he went in the front door and out the back to a local video arcade. He did practice a few hours a day, however, but he knew people who practiced 9-10 hour. He found that concentrated practicing for a shorter amounts of time was as effective: "There's so much to do [such as] reading books." He loves basketball, tennis, pool, golf and skiing, enjoys driving his Porsche in Germany where he can push its limit at 150 miles an hour. But what he loves most is making music and going to the places and doing the things that comprise his career.

One of Bell's most frightening moments came at his performance on the Johnny Carson show when he had one chance to play for millions of TV viewers. Midway though that performance, however, one of the pegs on his violin (which controls the pitch of string) slipped and unwound the string. The result was an embarrassing falling of the pitch right in the middle of the music he was playing - sounding something like the music a tape player makes when running out of batteries, and he had to fix the peg quickly and continue playing. "We didn't redo the scene - TV time is so expensive - but we made a joke out of it and it turned out well," Bell said with a grin.

When it came time to play, he chose some of "Gypsy Airs," a fast-paced, flashy piece that even the world's greatest violinists sweat over. Bell began playing and a sudden change of atmosphere swept through the room. It was as if all watching were afraid to blink, in fear of missing one moment of the artist's magic. He effortlessly swept through incredibly complex turns, chords and runs with a vibrancy that made it difficult not to concentrate on it. When he stopped he added with a laugh, "I haven't practiced this in a while." Despite his modesty, a warm round of applause filled the classroom of kids, many of whom may not have ever heard a live violinist.

With support from his parents, confidence from his famous teacher, Joseph Gingold and discovery by London Records, Bell has beaten the odds and has become one of the few world-renowned concert violinists. "I was given a gift, and I'm very lucky," Bell explains. Lucky because he's successful, but luckier because he has been able to take something he truly loves and turn it into a successful career, a feat few can boast of.

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This article has 2 comments.

i love this so much!

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on Mar. 25 2012 at 1:21 am
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