Famed master violinist Joshua Bell may best be known in the pop-culture world for two things. First, he played the beautiful solo arrangement for the violin-centered 1998 film The Red Violin.
Second, he was part of an experiment conducted in a subway a handful of years ago, in which he, performing sort of incognito (he had a baseball cap on, anyway), failed to attract much attention in a D.C. metro station. It made clear how little we pay attention to our surroundings. One more claim to fame: Bell also owns and plays on a 300-year-old $4 million Stradivarius, which has its own intriguing Red Violin
-esque history (read about it here
He may be tired of these references, but in the age of Lorde and 2 Chainz, it's quite a feat to command any widespread attention in popular culture as a touring classical musician. And this weekend, we've got him. The Kauffman Center and Michael Stern's Kansas City Symphony play host to Bell for Friday through Sunday performances of a lesser-known but exciting piece, Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole
. The symphony will also perform Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra
. More information and tickets available at the Kauffman Center's website here
got a few moments last month to speak with Joshua Bell over the phone about his KC appearance. He discussed the Lalo piece, keeping the work fresh and an early musical inspiration.
The Pitch: You're coming to KC to play Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole. I read that you've been playing this piece since you were 11 years old. What is it about this piece that is worth revisiting?
Yes, it is a piece I've played since I was very young, but it's a piece that used to be very popular in the old days with Heifetz. In the first half of the 20th century, it was a popular show piece for violin and orchestra. It's a brilliant piece but has a little bit fallen out of fashion, which happens with some pieces. I feel it's a piece that audiences love. It's got more depth than people give it credit for. It's a piece that deserves to be played more, and I love playing it, so I've been working it back into my repertoire lately and am happy to be playing it this season quite a lot. And, of course, to be playing it with Michael Stern, my great friend, is going to be a lot of fun.
What do you do to keep it fresh? Is it inherent in the piece or is there anything that you are adding to it?
Well, you know, it's not something that I get to do that often, so although I've done it since I was little, it's not a piece I do constantly. I'll do it every few seasons a few times, and that's it, so compared to the Mendelssohns and the Beethoven and the Brahms that I do a lot all the time, for me it's a nice little breath of fresh air to do something like this anyway. But like all pieces that you've done for many years, you keep exploring it and trying new things. It's a romantic-era piece. It's got a lot of room for different kinds of expression and rubato. You can play around with it quite a lot from performance to performance. It's not so difficult to keep it fresh. I haven't done it in a few years, and I've just now started working on it again. When you've let time go by, you start hearing the piece in new ways each time you approach it.
You mentioned [Jascha] Heifetz earlier. Is he your biggest musical hero?
Certainly early on, as a kid, he was someone that I looked to, kind of as someone who set the bar for violin playing so incredibly high. So he's a sentimental favorite for me 'cause I grew up listening to his recordings and hearing stories about him through my teacher, Joseph Gingold, who met him and knew him. Among others - I also had heroes like Fritz Kreisler, and many others. So yeah, he was definitely one of them. I wouldn't say that he actively plays a part in my thinking today that much - I don't have that much time to listen to recordings - but he certainly influenced me for part of my life, and I do consider him a hero.