Being Joshua Bell 

Famed Hoosier violin virtuoso to receive Governor's Arts Award

Famed Hoosier violin virtuoso to receive Governor’s Arts Award
Joshua Bell plays like a god,” enthused John Corigliano upon receiving the Oscar for best film score for The Red Violin. “I was touched by being included in his moment,” said Bell when asked how he felt about such a compliment on national television.
Joshua Bell is a risk-taking perfectionist who admits to playing “more for myself than for an audience. I have my own relationship to music.”
Joshua Bell and violin virtuosity have become synonymous, as are accolades and hard work. At 35 and into his 22nd year as an internationally-acclaimed performing and multiple Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Bell ties his astounding success to his family’s love of music and Indiana University’s resources. During a break from preparing for another concert tour, on Oct. 9 Bell spoke with NUVO, the Bloomington Herald Times and National Public Radio via a telephone news conference. On Oct. 23, Bell will receive an Indiana Governor’s Arts Award along with Indianapolis community arts leaders Eugene and Marilyn Glick, Historic Downtown Rising Sun and City of Rising Sun, Eric Rogers and Arts Place Inc. in Portland, and Old National Bancorp in Evansville. Because Bell had been scheduled to give a concert elsewhere that day, his mother, Shirley Bell, will be standing in for him at the ceremony. A child prodigy who has earned the rare title of classical music superstar, Bell is a risk-taking perfectionist who admits to playing “more for myself than for an audience. I have my own relationship to music.” For Bell, “Making music starts with the music. It’s about Beethoven,” he explains by way of example. “Yes, my own emotions and experiences go into it, but it’s Beethoven’s emotions and experiences that I get inside.” Newsweek observed, “Bell has evolved from a technical whiz to a true artist and intellectual whose music feeds both your brain and your heart.” In response, Bell speaks of finding “new meanings” in pieces as he has gotten older. “Great music touches different emotions. When you’re young, you see Beethoven as just sad, smiling through tears. As you get older, you see different sides and get more and more out of music. Life experiences make you feel more deeply, changes your views. “There is no question [my father’s] death affected me enormously. It’s hard to say aloud. It’s probably affected how I approach music.” In the seconds it takes to find words, it’s clear Alan Bell’s death in 2002 was one of Joshua’s stopping places, a time to look at his life’s landscape. “It puts things in perspective. I think about existential questions more. Superficial worries go away. I feel freer to risk more.” Composing is at the forefront. Of playing someone else’s music, Bell says, “I don’t mind exposing myself to an audience. But when I’m writing my own cadenzas I feel most vulnerable.” Originally a performer’s own extemporization, since about 1800 composers began to write out just what they wanted this “showy passage” by a soloist to be. Bell now feels it’s OK to challenge the three-century-old change with a return to the old custom of spotlighting the player’s own ideas. Bell’s stretching into composing was confirmed with collaborations outside the classical arena. In 1998, he joined his longtime friend and IU classmate, the composer Edgar Meyer, and bluegrass musicians Mike Marshall and Sam Bush to record and tour. Since then, he has collaborated with Wynton Marsallis, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea and James Taylor, along with the furry folk on Sesame Street. Taking his turn for licks and improvisations during those forays has bolstered his confidence to compose and his commitment to invite young audiences to the concert hall. “There was a time 50 years ago when anyone could whistle a tune by a classical composer. In Europe they still can,” he asserts. Rather than lamenting the loss, he is aggressively doing something about “involving kids in music. You have to adapt to changes,” he states. “I just love music. I grew up with music. I just wish it on everybody.” For more on Joshua Bell, visit
Joshua Bell, so far Born Dec. 9, 1967, Bloomington — Alan and Shirley Bell’s second child Age 4 — is given his first violin after his parents observed him plucking tunes from rubber bands he had strung around dresser drawer handles Age 6 — first public performance Age 10 — places fourth in a national tennis tournament (he still plays tennis) Age 12 — Josef Gingold becomes his “beloved teacher and mentor” Age 13 — first performance with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the opening of Conner Prairie Age 14 — wins Seventeen magazine’s annual music competition, made his professional debut with Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonic Orchestra, Carnegie Hall debut and is awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant Age 18 — signs his first recording contract with London/Decca (1996 joined Sony Classical) Age 19 — records his first solo album, Presenting Joshua Bell Age 21 — receives artist diploma in violin performance from Indiana University; career takes off as soloist Age 23 — awarded IU Distinguished Alumni Service Award 1995 — featured on a BBC-Television portrait 1997 — film debut in The Red Violin 1998-’99 — records and tours Short Trip Home with composer Edgar Meyer and blue grass musicians Mike Marshall and Sam Bush 2000 — Indiana Historical Society honors him with Indiana Living Legend Award 2001 — debuts on Sesame Street with furry monster Telly, featured on PBS Great Performances Special, Joshua Bell — West Side Story Suite from Central Park, marks 20th anniversary as professional soloist with 1,000-plus concerts 2002 — spotlighted on 44th Annual Grammy Awards telecast 2003 — June 24 performs benefit concert at IU’s Musical Arts Center to benefit the Alan P. Bell Memorial Scholarship Fund, named for his father, who died in 2002 2003-’04 season — highlight is premiere of John Corigliano’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (The Red Violin) Oct. 23 — slated to receive Indiana Governor’s Arts Award —RK
WHAT: The 2003 Indiana Governor’s Arts Awards Luncheon WHO: Honored recipients: Joshua Bell, Eugene and Marilyn Glick, Historic Downtown Rising Sun and City of Rising Sun, Eric Rogers and Arts Place Inc. in Portland, and Old National Bancorp in Evansville WHEN: 11:50 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 23 WHERE: Illinois Street Ballroom of the Crown Plaza Hotel, 123 W. Louisiana St. TICKETS: $35 at the door. For more information:

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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