Classical and More

Five Things You Didn’t Know about Joshua Bell

The famed violinist is playing here next week. And he’s jealous of the Seahawks.

By Allison Williams January 3, 2012

We demand a Tiger Beat cover.

Photo by Marc Holm

Let’s start with what you probably already know: Joshua Bell is one of the world’s foremost violin soloists. He’ll bring his furious bow strokes, 1713 Stradivarius, and signature floppy haircut to the Seattle Symphony on January 10, where conductor Ludovic Morlot will lead him in Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

But here’s what you probably don’t know about classical music’s hottest pinup (just look at him!):

•He’s a YouTube star. In 2007, a Washington Post writer asked Bell to busk in a D.C. Metro station to see if anyone recognized him. Almost no one did (and he made only $32.17). The writer won a Pulitzer for his article, the video received 2.5 million hits, and Bell hasn’t lived it down. “What surprised me is how it got sent around virally,” Bell told us in a recent interview. “Every country I go to, I’m asked about that story.”

•It takes him a year of “dabbling” to learn a new piece. That’s with four to six hours a day of practice; Bell plays each concerto for about a month before returning it to his repertoire. As for the Bruch he’ll play here, it was dropped from his rotation for five years, but it’s still the piece he’s performed the most in his life. “When I came back to it, I completely fell in love with it again,” he said.

•He doesn’t like gimmicks. To get the youth audience to attend classical concerts, Bell says, it’s more about quality and timing than tunes you can hum. “Even if you’re doing midnight concert, I don’t think you have to mess up the music," he said. “You don’t have to put in the Star Wars theme.”

•January 10 is a big day for him. Not only will Bell be performing with the Seattle Symphony, but he’ll release two albums that day. One is a collection of French works, and the other a soundtrack to the upcoming Christian Bale flick, Flowers of War. For the latter, Bell pays homage to the Chinese violin style: “There’s use of vibrato that’s wide and quite distinctive, and sliding between notes,” he said. It’s similar to how he plays bluegrass: “I allow their style to creep into my style, but when it becomes copying [the pros], I can’t compete with them.”

•He’s a stereotypical dude. When asked how Seattle differs from New York City, Bell doesn’t compare Benaroya Hall to Lincoln Center. His view: “Well, the Seahawks are doing better than the Giants.”

Joshua Bell and the Seattle Symphony perform January 10 at Benaroya Hall.

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