Despite his youthful looks and the image he cultivates, Joshua Bell’s been around for a while. I’ve heard him play over the radio and on PBS specials over the years, and never really considered him to be anything more than a “good” violinist who happened to have a great career. Just a capable musician, accomplished to a certain extent, a guy who’s had to practice hard to attain a certain level, like any other violinist struggling to make the scrapping of two wooden objects somewhat enjoyable to the ear. I would think to myself: there’s Joshua again, promoting his latest project to his fans. Something pleasant, with wide appeal, romantic, American… And with a CD cover of him posing with his hair perfectly styled, to the greatest joy no doubt of his many feminine admirers.
This was before I actually heard him play live for the first time, at an open rehearsal with the New York Phil. And I must say that I was extremely impressed with what I heard on that day. There was no absolutely no cheesiness, no gimmicks, no intention of conveying anything other than absolute professionalism. When you’re playing the Sibelius Concerto, there’s no room for that anyway. I listened particularly intently, since I’m also performing it this season. What I heard, at a relatively early hour of the morning, was a musician totally dedicated to the music, performing with wonderful sensibility and intelligence. Every bowing, nuance, and detail of the score was perfectly apprehended, not only as someone who had performed it countless times before, but with the intensity and passion of someone playing it with orchestra for the very first time. And this was for a rehearsal, albeit a public one. Did it matter that his sound doesn’t possess the hyper-brilliance of a Vengerov or Repin? No, it was simply beautifully done, and that is enough in itself. In these times of hype and marketing – not to mention total delusion – it is great to hear someone worthy of all his success.
So on second thought, we need more Joshua Bells. Let the recording companies and Madison Avenue merchandisers find them and shamelessly market them to the masses.