Joshua Bell © www.lukasbeck.com (Ausschnitt)
Joshua Bell isn't a soloist who is just happy to rest on the laurels of his virtuosity. The US star is a violinist who uses the latest knowledge about period performance practice to get under the skin of the pieces he plays. And he is always keen to try out new roles. In the Wiener Konzerthaus, audiences won't only have the opportunity to experience him as top soloist, but also as an extremely musical comedian.
The starting point for Joshua Bell's career is his stupendous technique and the absolute security of his command over the instrument's sound. He acquired these skills from his teacher Josef Gingold. Although he was born in Russia, Gingold – a pupil of the Belgian virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe – is very much a member of the traditional Franco-Belgian school of violin playing. «From Gingold I learned how to alter the sound of the violin through the speed of the bow,» Joshua Bell explains. «That is the difference between the French and Russian schools. And my Stradivari is simply perfect for this way of playing. It responds perfectly to the bow's speed and it can conjure up a variety of colours that simply isn't possible on a Guarneri.»
The Wiener Konzerthaus' portrait series featuring Joshua Bell comprises four concerts. He will perform Ernest Chausson's «Poème» and Maurice Ravel's «Tzigane» with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, two pieces that give him full rein to unfold his dazzling palette of colours and phrasing. For the other evenings, the versatile violinist will slip into other roles: just before Christmas, he will join Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo to celebrate «A Little Silent Night Music». «I've known the two of them for a long time. We have frequently played chamber music in Vienna's legendary Broadway-Bar», he grins. «Aleksey and Hyung-ki are not just incredibly funny, but they're also fantastic musicians.»
Joshua Bell will also appear as soloist and concertmaster in January. As artistic director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, he leads the London-based orchestra from the front desk. «The members of Academy have come to know my body language. They respond to even the slightest movements,» he enthuses. Alongside Beethoven's programmatic Sixth Symphony, known as the «Pastorale», they will also perform the same composer's Violin Concerto. It's a tricky piece that Joshua Bell learned very early on: «I was thirteen at the time. I learned it in nine days and played it to Gingold by heart. It was probably completely dreadful,» he laughs.
As much as he has been influenced by the French school, Joshua Bell is not somebody to let himself be tied down by it. He very consciously chooses not to play baroque and classical repertoire in a romantic style. He says his collaborations with musicians such as Sir Roger Norrington and Sir John Eliot Gardiner have changed his understanding of this music: «If I listen to recordings by the heroes of my youth, they sound much too stodgy and ponderous when they play baroque and classical repertoire. Sometimes their bowing is simply wrong.»
Fans of high-wire violin virtuosity are in for a treat in Joshua Bell's recital in March with his British pianist, Sam Haywood. He has nothing but praise for his musical partner. «With Sam Haywood, I can perform virtuoso repertoire with someone who is my equal,» he raves. It will also be an opportunity to hear Bell's legendary «Gibson ex-Huberman» Stradivari. Joshua Bell says he caught the Stradivari bug very early on: the first Stradivari he ever held in his hands belonged to his teacher Gingold: «He let me play on it and I immediately fell in love with its sweet soprano voice. That's how a violin should sound!»