One of classical music’s most famous contemporary musicians is coming to East Lansing. Last May, violinist Joshua Bell was named to succeed Sir Neville Marriner as music director of the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields. Bell and the academy will perform at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center this Saturday on one leg of their first tour together.
WKAR’s Jody Knol recently spoke with Joshua Bell and reminded him of the lengths he went to in order to make his last concert at Wharton Center back in the winter of 2009.
JOSHUA BELL: Ah, yes I do, I do remember that, that taxi ride which was I don’t remember how many hours, about twelve hours in a taxi, from somewhere in Kentucky I think during the middle of a blizzard. We arrived five minutes before the concert in East Lansing. Yeah, that was a, that’s part of the job you deal with stuff like that.
JODY KNOL: Last time you were here was for a solo recital. This time you’ll be part of a national tour in your new role as music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Was this tour planned before or after your appointment as music director?
BELL: This tour has been planned from even before I was technically the music director. We’ve been touring together for many years now as I’ve been a sort of regular guest with the orchestra we’ve got on so well I’ve enjoyed it so much over the years, I’d say over the last eight or nine years, we’ve done sort of regular tours in Europe and in the states, but this will now be the first one where I hold the title but I was very pleased when they asked me to be music director because I always felt we had a nice chemistry and I really enjoyed the results.
KNOL: The Academy began as a conductorless orchestra with founder Sir Neville Marriner conducting while playing the violin, but apparently he switched to conducting from a podium at some point. You have a violin concerto and a Beethoven symphony and overture on the program for East Lansing. How will you handle the conducting?
BELL: Well, you know when I play a concerto with the orchestra I will play in front of the orchestra like I would if there was a conductor, except there is no conductor, so I have to cue them and conduct the tuttis when I’m not playing and I have to kind of play both roles. It’s a little more tiring, a little more intensive in some ways but it’s also very rewarding and everyone in the orchestra has to be extremely engaged in a way that they might not with a conductor with a baton in front of them because they have to take charge a little bit more because there’s not always someone giving them a cue.
KNOL: I understand your first stringed instrument was one you made yourself by stretching rubber bands across the handles of your dresser?
BELL: That’s true! Yes, or at least I’ve said it enough times that I’m starting to believe it! I do vaguely remember…my parents told me and I vaguely remember as a three year old, four year old, stringing these rubber bands across my dresser drawers and opening up the drawers to create different pitches. Basically just child’s play, fooling around with tones and pitches and my parents discovered that and discovered that I could name when my mother played the piano I could tell her what was an “A” or “G” or whatever as a little kid and they thought we’d better get him an instrument. So they got me a violin at the age of four, so I’m very grateful because I couldn’t have done it without them!
KNOL: How have public radio and television influenced your life and career?
BELL: Well, public radio, gosh, I grew up with it. I can’t imagine life without it. We had in our house in Bloomington, Indiana pretty much all the time the radio was on. And that’s probably where I first heard the Academy of St. Martin in the fields countless times because they’ve made thousands of recordings.
So really it formed as a kid my knowledge of the great works. Really it all came from public radio, and so it’s had a very important impact on my life, and, of course, public television too I mean my family I remember sitting around the TV with my family watching various broadcasts, from Isaac Stern’s 60th birthday to various others things very key moments of my life revolve around public TV and public radio.