Joshua Bell did not come from a family bent on producing a musical prodigy. But by age 3 his budding musical gift was apparent. His mother discovered her son had taken rubber bands from around the house and stretched them across the handles of his dresser drawer to pluck out music he had heard her play on the piano.
At 10, he was serious about performing, and he made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
“I have never been fond of the title ‘child prodigy’ and was happy to grow up and out if it,” he says. “The ‘prodigy’ label makes one into a circus act of sorts, which I never enjoyed. I preferred the audience listen to the music rather than think about how old I was.”
“Few prodigies make it into musical maturity,” noted Newsweek magazine. “But Bell has evolved from a technical whiz to a true artist and intellectual whose music feeds both your brain and your heart.”
Bell has earned celebrity status and name recognition very few classical artists achieve and is a ubiquitous presence as a recitalist, soloist and recording artist.
The musician is often referred to as a “poet of the violin.”
“What Joshua Bell does is play the violin. What Joshua Bell is is a poet,” according to an Interview magazine profile. Onstage, Bell conjures from his instrument a sound that does nothing less than tell why human beings bother to live.”
Bell is optimistic on the future of classical music. “I am always surprised and delighted to see young people at my concerts who not only enjoy classical music but who are learning an instrument,” he says.
“I don’t think classical music needs to be dumbed down for anybody. I just think there are a lot of people out there who are not getting exposed to something that they could really enjoy. Sometimes all they need is an entryway, just a movie like ‘The Red Violin’ or ‘Amadeus.’ It’s all about getting hooked.”
As a teenager, Bell had heroes that included athletes and rock stars, but he was also a fan of classical music. “There’s no reason why classical musicians can’t be heroes for kids, just like rock musicians, rappers or sports stars. Classical music doesn’t need to be reinvented, but certain perceptions need to change, starting with it being part of a young person’s diet.”
Declaring that music is “both powerful and profound,” he explains it “can serve to heighten our emotions and provide a sense of well-being and purpose. I actually believe that music, along with all art forms, is a basic human need and should be a necessary part of one’s education throughout life.”
Along with this power, music also brings great beauty. “A great piece of music gives one the sense of divine order in the world, as well as the experience of profound beauty that one could easily define as ‘a glimpse of God.’”
If you go
What: Bravo! Performing Arts presents “Joshua Bell in Concert”
Where: BYU's deJong Concert Hall
When: Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m.
How much: $30
Tickets: byuarts.com/tickets or 801-422-2981