Violinist Bell charms audiences worldwide

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Violinist Bell charms audiences worldwide

How many concert violinists have bubble-lettered fan pages dedicated to them on the Internet?
Adding spice to a field not traditionally known for its sex quotient, Joshua Bell could be called the Anna Kournikova of the classical world were it not for one thing: The Grammy-winning virtuoso, who’s played with every major orchestra in the world and brought to life the Oscar-winning score of “The Red Violin,” wows music critics as much as he does teenaged girls.
Joshua Bell brings both style and substance to the Seoul Arts Center tomorrow for his second concert in Korea. Instead of sharing the spotlight with an orchestra, Mr. Bell’s Seoul performance will be in recital format, featuring just the piano accompaniment of his frequent musical partner Simon Mulligan in a program nonetheless stocked with Romantic greats like Schubert, Grieg, Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Sarasate.
The Bloomington, Indiana, native first picked up the bow at age 4, a mere 10 years after which, under the tutelage of violin pedagogue Josef Gingold, he made his debut performing with Ricardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then in rapid-fire succession came Carnegie Hall, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, several highly lauded recordings and performances with the world’s top symphony orchestras.
Since 1996, the 36-year-old New York City transplant has been balancing his international stage appearances with exclusive Sony Classical recordings that have landed him regular Grammy nominations, including a win in 2001 as best international soloist with an orchestra for the Maw Violin Concerto.
However, it was “The Red Violin” in 1999 that catapulted Mr. Bell into the mainstream. Mr. Bell was an artistic adviser, performed for the soundtrack and even served as a body double in some scenes; the original score won an Academy Award the following year. The success of the movie won him legions of admirers across the globe, including Koreans, who no doubt nodded in assent as composer John Corigliano gushed in his Oscar acceptance speech, “Joshua plays like a god!”
He doesn’t just play like one: When you strum an instrument historically associated with frizzy-haired eccentrics, a certain resemblance to Tom Cruise does not go unnoticed. Mr. Bell’s face has graced the pages of magazines such as Glamour and People ― as one of the latter’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” no less ― and telegenic appearances have ranged from stints on the Tonight Show to programs on networks as varied as ESPN, CNBC, VH1 and A&E.
The star wattage hasn’t short-circuited his creativity, however, and Mr. Bell, who often writes his own concerto cadenzas, continues to explore the possibilities offered by his instrument.
For his latest album, “Romance of the Violin,” the artist known for his technical brilliance set aside “the flashy stuff,” as he called it, for lyrical favorites from Monteverdi to Debussy. “I thought it might be an unusual idea to put together a whole recording of just beautiful melodies,” he said on his Web site.
Mr. Bell, who plays a 1732 Antonio Stradavari violin, performs tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Seoul Arts Center. Tickets range from 30,000 won ($26) to 70,000 won. Call (02) 751-9606 ~10 for information and Ticketlink at (02) 1588-7890 for reservations.

by Kim Sun-jung
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