Time interviewed violinist Joshua for their section 10 Questions for.
Watch the interview and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 Basically, Joshua Bell plays the violin and conducts the orchestra at the same time.
2 Directing a film and conducting are two very similar activities.
3 Joshua Bell paid $2.5m for the Gibson Stradivarius.
4 Having a violin like this is like having a baby.
5 The thief who stole the Gibson Stradivarius didn't manage to play with it.
6 Violinists tend to play faster as they grow older.
7 Joshua Bell has starred in the film Chasing Ice with Scarlett Johansson.
8 Joshua Bell is not proud of his Washington experiment.
9 Joshua Bell has children.
10 Joshua Bell is addicted to gambling.
11 When Joshua Bell was a child he wanted to be a detective.
Hi, I’m Belinda Luscombe. I’m an editor-at-large with Time. I’m sitting here with violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, who has just started a sort of a new career as a conductor with the Academy of St Martin the Fields. Mr Bell, welcome.
You’ve got your first conducting CD coming out. With the Academy of St Martin of the Fields, how do you play and conduct at the same time?
I sit in the first violin chair and I lead everything while I’m playing with the first. So it means sometimes I’m playing, sometimes I’m directing with the bow, sometimes it’s just facial gestures.
Is conducting like directing?
It’s very much like directing a film. The conductor has the idea of how they want to pace the piece, how the emotions they want at every moment. And that’s… it maybe sounds easy, but it’s, it’s not.
And is it like directing true that everybody who’s a performer secretly thinks that they would be a great conductor.
This is true, like me. I’ve been playing for years, concertos, playing with orchestras, watching conductors, and all along I’m thinking, I think I could, I could do that. I’ve been hearing these Beethoven symphonies my whole life and thinking, I want to hear it this way, you know? And someday I want to get up there and show my way of doing it, and that’s what I’m, I’m getting to do.
So, this violin, it’s… I think, you paid somewhere between $2.5m, that violin the Gibson Stradivarius, and it’s been stolen twice, right?, does it travel with its own security?
Well, I can’t give out my security my security secrets…
Oh, then you’d have to kill me!
… but it’s been the best investment I’ve ever made financially, although I’ll never see the, the profits from it because I will die with this in, in my hand. You know, the only way anyone can really understand travelling with a violin like this is that it’s like a baby, which is completely priceless and it is delicate and… but it’s been around 300 years. Still, still has its original varnish, much of it, and it will be around for hundreds of years after I’m gone.
And it survived that instant where it was stolen and covered in boot polish...
Well, it does have a bit of intrigue around it. It was notorious by then for having been stolen from right here in Carnegie Hall in New York. Eventually the thief confessed the theft, that he had stolen it. He was a violinist and he just played on it his whole life so, covered it in shoe polish to disguise it and then played on it his whole life, so… it’s kind of a neat story.
One cliché of musicians is that when they’re young they like to play really fast.
And then as they get older they learn to slow down. Is that, have you found that to be true of you?
That’s a little disconcerting when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a Brahm’s sonata and then you play a little flashy and afterwards people come back and say, I loved that, that … Paganini piece. God, I was moved by this like did you… I just poured my soul into the big piece before that.
So you are known for sort of experimenting a little bit. I mean, you’re obviously a classical player and the, the classical canon is your first love. But you’ve worked with bluegrass musicians, you’ve worked with Sting, you’ve worked with some Broadway people. Is there something you haven’t tried yet?
I look at music as just being music. And there’s good music and bad music as far as I’m concerned, so sometimes it takes me into bluegrass but… or because I met some amazing people like Edger Meyer and Sam Bush and Bellafleck and people like that and they just took me into this world and I follow that path and then next week, or actually just recently they asked me to do a song with Scarlett Johansson for a film called Chasing Ice, just a call out of the blue, and I said, why not, you know, and I didn’t know she sang, she’s got a beautiful voice, and now that song is nominated for, for an Oscar.
Six years ago you did this interesting experiment where, which is, you know, such an Internet meme now.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, no. Really?
Yes, you do… where you, you bashed in a Washington subway.
You did some difficult Bach pieces and nobody recognized you, hardly anybody stopped. One guy recognized you, few people stopped. Maybe this story’s been told wrong, and a video was taken of it. And that video, you know, keeps coming back, again and again. Are you sup… well, have I got the story wrong?
Sure, I mean, the story itself was about ten pages in The Washington Post.
I have mixed feelings about it. I, I… it’s probably the thing I get asked most about…
Which is like pouring your heart into the Brahms sonata.
A little bit, a little bit. You know, I have done other things besides. But you know what, someone comes backstage after a concert, after I’ve played the Tchaikovsky concerto and tells me, you know, I’d never been to a classical concert but I read that article, was intrigued and now I’m, I’m a fan of classical music. I mean, that’s, this is the audience I want to reach.
With family life, fatherhood. How do you juggle it all?
Well, I need balance. I need to get away from music. I’ll take two days off in-between concerts and then fly to Las Vegas and forget about music.
Are you a gambler?
I gamble a little bit, yes.
And do you like the tables? What, I mean…
For me the adrenaline of performance, of performing is like an incredible high. And I think when you’re used to having that high, you look for it in other things, so I’ve, I love, you know, watching sports and that, and getting that excitement, or going to a black jack table and risking, you know, losing money. It’s… it gets the adrenaline up, so it’s probably a little bit unhealthy but…
Well, as long as you, I mean, you seem to be comfortable.
Violinists, actually, historically are notorious gamblers.
Going back into… oh, really?
Yeah, Vaniasky and Paganini they all were known for having lost intru… lost their Stradivariuses in gambling tables.
What hand would…
It’s somehow a lot of… it runs in the family.
What hand would have to have to put the Gibson Strad down? You have to have a, would it have to be like a royal flush?
It would have to be a royal flush.
If you had not found the violin, or you know, music, if your parents had not been, you know, you said you had a fortunate childhood. Then, what, what would the alternative Josh Bell have done?
When I was home, around New Year’s time, my sister brought out a tape that I hadn’t heard for many years of my first, my very first interview when I was seven years old. I was playing my debut with the Bloomington Symphony Indi… in Indiana, playing Bach concerto, and they interviewed me for a kids’, kids’ radio station. And so my answer to that very same question, say, what do you want to be when you grow up, detective or scientist? Actually both things I could imagine myself doing even to this day. I love puzzles. I love figuring things out.
Josh Bell, thank you very much.
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