Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Joshua Bell, Growing Up Normal

 Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

When people think of famous solo violinists, they often picture them as toddlers, with their chosen instrument, doing absolutely nothing but practicing and performing for their entire childhoods. In fact, many people would assume that, if the child isn't devoting absolutely all of their time to music, they will never be successful later on. This may be true for some, but it would also seem that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell, arguably one of the brightest stars in the classical music world, actually had a pretty normal childhood.
He was born in 1967 in Indiana (not Germany, or China, or Italy, or some other exotic location) to parents who were psychologists. His mom just happened to notice him stringing rubber bands on a dresser drawer in order to play music he had heard her play. His dad just happened to teach at Indiana University which, if you are in the know in the world of violin, was the home of Josef Gingold - one of the greatest violin pedagogues. Joshua didn't start with Gingold, however. That would come later.

In fact, among his violin lessons, Bell led a pretty normal life of school, sports, and, believe it or not, video gaming. Turns out he wasn't much different than your average young boy in America. He actually excelled at sports and placed in a national tennis tournament when he was only 10 years old!

After he had been studying violin for awhile (first with Donna Bricht and then when Mimi Zweig), his mother went to Josef Gingold to talk about Bell studying with him. She actually had to assure Gingold that she wasn't pressuring her young son to play, but it was his own interest in the instrument which was propelling him. It was at this point in his life (12 years old), that Bell really became serious about playing the violin, which is evident by his skyrocketing success after this time!

He began soloing with major orchestras by the time he was 14 (Philadelphia Orchestra with Riccardo Muti), and he attended the University of Indiana's music school while he was still completing high school. He has earned many major awards (an Avery Fisher Prize in 2007, a GRAMMY award for his recording of Nicholas Maw's Violin Concerto in 1993, as well as being named a "living legend" in the state of Indiana). And, if you remember hearing the incredibly moving music in a little movie called "The Red Violin," well, that was him.

Joshua Bell and his Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius

Bell plays on a very interesting violin, as well. He plays the Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius, which previously belonged to Bronislaw Huberman, and was stolen twice while Huberman owned it! When Bell first held the instrument, he loved it so much that he asked, maybe a bit jokingly, if he could buy it. The owner at the time said, also jokingly, that the price would be $4M! Years later, as luck would have it, Bell happened to see that the instrument was, indeed, up for sale, and he was brought nearly to tears at the thought of it being sold to anyone else! He quickly sold his Tom Tyler Stradivarius and purchased the Gibson ex Huberman for a little under the $4 million dollars! Perhaps that's a lesson in just asking for what you want in life!

Gibson ex Huberman 1713 
Gibson ex Huberman 1713

Bell busking in the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station of Washington D. C.!
Bell also took part in an interesting experiment, where he played his Stradivarius, during rush hour, in the subway system of Wahington D. C. to see what the reaction would be. He played for 45 minutes, collected $52.17, was only recognized by one person, and helped garner Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Too bad all of the other commuters didn't know what an incredibly performance they were witnessing!

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins!

1 comment:

  1. There used to be a young guy who played his violin in tower 5 of the WTC most mornings.

    Could this have been Bell?

    thanks and regards,