Thirty years ago, violinist Joshua Bell visited Omaha to perform with the Nebraska Sinfonia. He was a 14-year-old high school sophomore from Indiana, and was just coming to the realization that he wanted to make music his career. His dream was to someday own a fabulous violin because he was playing on one borrowed from the University of Indiana.
He has returned to Omaha a few times over the intervening years and his star rose in the musical world.
Now he’s considered one of the world’s premier violinists and he’s making another Omaha visit. He will perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major with the Omaha Symphony on Friday and Saturday.
In a phone interview from California, Bell said Omaha holds a special place with him because it was one of the first places he played at the start of his career. “I have warm feelings when I come back.”
Bell has performed the Tchaikovsky concerto many times and has recorded it twice, he said. It has been called one of the most technically difficult pieces for violin, but he laughed, saying “anything for violin is technically difficult.”
Then he added: “But I keep going back to it (the Tchaikovsky). It’s one of the great works for violin. It’s a gorgeous piece. It’s one of the most exciting and one of the most visceral.”
Even if you’ve never heard him perform in concert, you may have heard him at the movies. Bell has been featured on several soundtracks, including “The Red Violin,” “Iris,” “Defiance” and “Angels & Demons.”
This year, in addition to touring, he was named music director of Great Britain’s Academy of St. Martin of the Fields, the first to follow founder Neville Mariner. Bell said it’s a challenge for him because he will conduct as well as play the violin.
“I have much more responsibility. Directing and playing is more work. It’s exhausting, but very rewarding.”
Bell, who lives in New York, said he had no power and was forced to cancel or postpone some performances after Superstorm Sandy hit, but he’s back on track now. After Omaha, his tour will take him to such places as London, Moscow and Oman, finishing up a week before Christmas.
Although he usually returns home to Indiana for the holidays, he gave in to a request to perform with the New York Philharmonic on New Year’s Eve in a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. He said he met Hamlisch when they worked together on the 2009 album “At Home With Friends.” The concert is scheduled to be telecast nationally on “Live From Lincoln Center” on PBS stations.
Bell’s dream of 30 years ago, to own a wonderful violin has become a reality. He owns a 1713 Stradivarius once owned by Bronislaw Huberman. It was stolen from the Polish musician’s Carnegie Hall dressing room in 1936 and was missing for almost 50 years. In 1985, the thief confessed he had stolen it and covered it in shoe polish as a disguise. The violin was restored and Bell purchased it in 2004.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1067, email@example.com