Ask violin virtuoso Joshua Bell to preview his recital at Benaroya Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and his answer brings out the foodie in him.
“It’s a tasty menu of classical repertoire,” Bell says in a recent telephone interview. “You want to give an audience some things that work well together, but also have enough contrast to make it interesting. The second half of the program gets a bit lighter, as with a dessert. Usually I leave a little space at the end where I can decide spontaneously on some little bonbon.
“Of course, I love food. It’s one of my big hobbies.”
Perhaps so, but it’s hard to imagine Bell, one of the most popular and in-demand musicians in the world, finding time to be in the kitchen given his grueling concert schedule for much of 2014.
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Bell is often in a different city each night for weeks at a time, and his performance activities vary between recitals (accompanied by pianist Sam Haywood), concertos with symphony orchestras, and tours with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
His Seattle concert will indeed serve different tastes with a bill that includes Tartini’s 1740 Sonata in G minor for Violin and Piano (“Devils Trill”), Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G major for Violin and Piano, and Stravinsky’s Divertimento for Violin and Piano (after “The Fairy’s Kiss”).
“There’s no theme that goes through the program,” Bell says. “The Beethoven sonata, I think, is his greatest. It’s very ethereal and deep, satisfying and poetic. I thought I would balance that with the Tartini, which is exciting and adrenaline-pumping, a great contrast to the Beethoven, which starts out in the heavens.
“The Stravinsky is a lot of fun: transcribed ballet music. It’s got a lot of humor, a romp in a way.”
Bell says he is “on a high” from a recent tour with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the beloved, conductorless orchestra of strings and winds founded by Sir Neville Mariner in 1959. Bell is only the second music director of the Academy, leading and playing with the ensemble in a growing repertoire of contemporary as well as Baroque and Classical works.
“It’s a highlight of my ongoing education and creativity and musical fulfillment,” he says, “because I’m getting to explore new territory, which is important for any artist.”
While Bell looks ahead, reminders of a brief event from his past continue to arise.
In 2007, Bell participated in an experiment by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten. Bell played the part of an anonymous busker performing on a 300-year-old violin outside a subway station.
With few exceptions, the Grammy-winning musician who sells out concert halls around the world was ignored for 43 minutes by passers-by. It made no difference to Bell’s playing. (Video can be found on YouTube.)
A new children’s book about the incident, “The Man with the Violin,” just won a Digital Book Award.
“I haven’t heard the end of that experiment for seven years,” Bell says. “It’s spun off into a lot of different things. Ministers use the story in their sermons. Now there’s a children’s book that is very sweet. I have three little kids of my own, so I’m certainly aware of the importance of finding inspirational stories for them. This story is one of those, and it represents music in a nice way.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org