Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell has accumulated a diverse list of awards and distinctions during his still young career.
A month shy of his thirty-eighth birthday, the world famous musician is already the owner of a British Mercury Music Prize and a Gramophone Award, one of classical music's most prestigious honors. The violinist was nominated for Grammy Awards for four consecutive years, taking home a statue in 2001 for best instrumental soloist performance with an orchestra for his recording of Nicholas Maw's "Violin Concerto." In 1999, he played himself in a movie with Meryl Streep, and in 2000 he was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World." Next on the agenda: a concert series in Israel.
Accompanied by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Bell will perform eight concerts in Israel starting Tuesday, with the violinist's 10-day visit including performances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. The concerts will begin Thursday at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and will continue next Friday with an 11 a.m. performance at the Jerusalem Theater. Bell's second and final Jerusalem performance will take place October 11 at 8:30 p.m. at Binyanei Ha'Uma.
Bell was traveling between concerts in London and Beijing and couldn't be reached by deadline for this article, but Avi Shoshani, secretary-general of the IPO, described the violinist's upcoming concert series as "very, very important" and said that performing with Bell was "what [the orchestra] is all about, being a first class orchestra aiming for excellence."
According to Shoshani, discussions about a concert series with Bell began two years ago, after Shoshani heard the violinist play at Switzerland's Verbier Festival, a music event that attracts tens of thousands of classical music lovers each summer. Based on what he called Bell's "very impressive" Verbier performance, Shoshani decided to contact the Indiana-born musician about playing with the philharmonic orchestra. Negotiations over musical selections and concert dates proceeded smoothly, and the Israeli concerts were added to Bell's already-packed international performance schedule. Bell will play a modified version of the original musical selections, Shoshani said, because of a finger injury, with works by Brahms comprising the bulk of the performances.
While the orchestra's secretary-general is quick to note the long list of distinguished performers who have played with the orchestra in the past, few can boast the mix of mainstream attention and professional praise Bell has received in the 23 years since winning a nationwide Seventeen Magazine/General Motors talent search as a 14-year-old. Not long after that victory, Bell was playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and at New York City's Carnegie Hall, where he's scheduled to return for another performance a few weeks after leaving Israel.
As a 19-year-old, Bell received a prestigious Avery Fisher Artist Program Career Grant from New York's Lincoln Center, and he was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award for his musical achievements just two years after leaving his alma madre, Indiana University. His home state followed up that award in 2000 by naming Bell an "Indiana Living Legend," a distinction that put the 32-year-old musician on a short list of fellow Indiana natives including Kurt Vonnegut, Larry Bird and David Letterman.
Bell has played works by classical masters including Mozart, Prokofiev and Gershwin, and his latest CD, a recording of works by Tchaikovsky, debuted at number two on the Billboard classical music chart. He's collaborated with artists outside the confines of classical music as well, working with musicians as diverse as James Taylor, Wynton Marsalis, Bela Fleck and Bobby McFerrin.
The diversity of his musical collaborations is mirrored by Bell's television performances, which taken place on programs ranging from The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien to Charlie Rose and CNN. He is one of the very few classical musicians to have been featured on a major sports network, with the violinist performing at the Indy 500 Victory Celebration on ESPN. Bell's profile on the Sony Classical website notes that he is also among the few classical musicians with a music video appearing on VH1, and in 1999 he was named one of Glamour magazine's six "It Men of the Millenium."
Bell's career as celebrity musician was further bolstered by an appearance - as himself - in the 1999 film Music of the Heart, the fact-based story of a teacher fighting the New York City Board of Education to teach music in Harlem. The film earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Meryl Streep's portrayal of the teacher, and featured cameos by fellow master violinists Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern.
Bell had played a role in another film - The Red Violin - the previous year, though that performance had taken place behind the scenes. The music for that movie won its composer, John Corigliano, an Oscar for best original score. In his acceptance speech, Corigliano singled Bell out for praise, saying, "You could write all the notes you want, but if someone doesn't play them like a god, they'll never sound that way . . . and Joshua Bell, the great violinist, played them like a god."
For ticket information and a full list of Bell's concerts in Israel, visit the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's website at www.ipo.co.il.