“I just love Joshua Bell!” gushed a lady next to me as we filed into David Geffen Hall for Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra’s August 17th concert. Greeted by a cheering audience, the comfortably attired, still youthful Grammy Award-winning violinist 48-year old Bell —accompanied by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under the baton of Matthew Hall [in his New York debut] —won a standing ovation for his bravura performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major [which —the program noted—included “Original cadenzas by Joshua Bell”]. The orchestra also performed Mendelssohn’s “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), Beethoven’s “Overture to Coriolan” (1807) and Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 in F major (1812).
Though I had heard him perform at prior venues, the first time—of several encounters with Joshua Bell was at the Anti Defamation League’s 75th birthday celebration in 2004 honoring Elie Wiesel. With a stellar audience that included N.Y. State Senator Hillary Clinton, and then UN secretary Kofi Annan, Bell’s program included an excerpt from Massenet’s opera “Thais.”
Profiled in a 2006 Jewish publication as “The latest in a long line of Jewish violin-playing aristocracy” he is quoted as saying: “My mother is a very typical Jewish mother…. My grandfather [in Israel] was a Sabra; even my violin had a connection with Israel. It once belonged to Bronislaw Huberman, founder of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which later became The Israel Philharmonic. “When Israelis hear that I’m playing! ‘the Huberman’ they get very excited!” Bell is also featured in Josh Aronson’s documentary “Orchestra of Exiles.”
Honored at the October 24, 2011 “Broadway Salutes Horizons” Gala with The Paul Newman Award for “His Services To The Arts and Children,” Bell dazzled the black tie audience with a program that included his interpretation of the song “Maria” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Fritz Kreisler’s “Slavonic Fantasy.” Melissa Newman—Newman’s daughter who presented Bell with the award— said: “Listening to Joshua play makes me miss my Dad. When Dad was very ill, Joshua offered to come and play for him. I will never be able to thank him for that last visit.” A visibly moved Bell replied: “I don’t deserve any kind of award. My contribution is playing my violin and hanging out with kids.”
Bell also performed at the November 18, 2013 David W. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies’ 10th Anniversary at which Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat—who unveiled a monument dedicated to Czestochowa’s [Poland] 40,000 Jews who perished in Treblinka—restored the city’s philharmonic naming it after Bronislaw Huberman and brought Joshua Bell with his “Huberman” to Czestochowa to perform at the ceremony.
My most recent chat with Bell was at the June 9, 2014 National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene’s “50th Anniversary Celebration of “Fiddler on the Roof” at which Bell shared the stage with “Fiddler” lyricist Sheldon Harnick” and actorTopol who portrayed Tevye in film director Norman Jewison’s Oscar winning film.