Meet Joshua Bell

Violinist Joshua Bell holding his violin smiling brightly.

In a world where we seem more and more to be drifting physically from each other and retreating to our screens and online presences, I believe that the value of the Arts and live performance is ever more precious.

Joshua Bell joins us for a concert for a concert with music by Sibelius, Dvořák and Beethoven on Saturday 14 May.

Ahead of his first performance with the Philharmonia in more than 10 years, we asked Joshua about Antonín Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and his relationship to Paavo Järvi. And we also learned how he fell in love with his Stadivarius.

It’s been over ten years since you last played with the Philharmonia, and we’re delighted to have you back. What are you looking forward to tonight?

I have so many wonderful memories from my collaborations with the Philharmonia over the last few decades. I associate this orchestra with the highest standard of music making anywhere.

Since I was appointed Music Director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields 10 years ago, my London concerts have been mostly centered around my performances with the ASMF, as well as chamber music, most often with Steven Isserlis and friends at the Wigmore Hall.

However, I am absolutely delighted to have been asked back by the Philharmonia, and to be playing the Dvořák with one of my all-time favourite conductors, Paavo Järvi. I couldn’t be more thrilled.


Dvořák’s Violin Concerto lies to a certain extent in the shadow of his other works for strings – but you are a champion of this piece. Tells us about your relationship with it.

I am currently in love with the Dvořák Violin Concerto, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon!

I did not learn the Dvořák, nor was I very familiar with it during my ‘student’ years (in quotes, because in actuality I will always consider myself a perennial student!). For some mysterious reason, I rarely heard it played, and it seemed to have a somewhat negative reputation: “not his greatest work”, “awkward to play”, “repetitive “, or “not as great as his Cello Concerto”.

When I finally started to take a good look at the piece, written by one of my most cherished composers (and favourite composer of my late father, incidentally), I started to realize that the concerto has something unique to offer. It belongs up there with the ‘greats’ like the Beethoven and Brahms, and it is every bit as profound as Dvořák’s beloved Cello Concerto.

So I came to it late, only starting to perform it 4 years ago. It is a monster of a work, in the best sense of the word. It has the grandeur of the Brahms concerto, the lyrical beauty of the Bruch (particularly in the gorgeous middle movement), and the charm and ultimate heroism of the Beethoven in his final movement.

His finale seems to be an unabashed homage to Beethoven’s own rondo, but with Dvořák’s unmistakable Slavic flair.

Violinist Joshua Bell in blue shirt smiling.

The last time Joshua performed with the Philharmonia was in March 2010 playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto conducted by Riccardo Muti.

I am currently in love with the Dvořák Violin Concerto, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon!

What is it like working with Paavo Järvi? You’ve played together many times before, including the Dvořák Violin Concerto last summer.

My first experience with a ‘Järvi’ was with Paavo’s father, Neeme Järvi, in Cincinnati when I was just a teenager. At first I was rather intimidated by Neeme’s apparent seriousness, which I initially found scary, but by the end of the week I realized that beneath his formidable exterior was a playfulness and dry humor which could be utterly charming.

Paavo seems to have inherited many of these qualities, combining a serious musical integrity with a good sense of fun. Paavo (whom I rarely call ‘Maestro’, since we’ve now been friends for 30 years!), is a true conductor. He always keeps the music and the composer’s intentions front and centre, never succumbing to unnecessary histrionics.

As a ‘wanna-be’ conductor myself, he is a joy to watch, as he exudes a quiet confidence, a masterful sense of control, and a keen awareness of the musical structure in everything he does.


As an artist you embrace technology – releasing singles on digital platforms, livestreaming from your home, and even doing a virtual musical experience for PlayStation. Is working with new technology very different from traditional music-making?

As we all know, technology is both a blessing and a curse. I have always loved technology and ‘gadgets’ since I got my first computer at the age of 12, an APPLE II+. While I am not a great fan of ‘electronic music’, per se, I do think that technology can be used to great effect to enhance both the quality of and accessibility to musical experiences.

I fully embrace the joys of live streaming (much to the delight of my mother who can now stay at home in Indiana and ‘attend’ her son’s concerts around the world!) and have experimented with many new technologies, including creating a digital sample library of my Stradivarius as a composer’s tool, and a Virtual Reality experience for Sony’s PlayStation.

I am excited by all the new technologies coming our way, but there will never be a replacement for the good old-fashioned live concert experience, where we all share a space together in a concert hall, with no amplification or technological gimmicks.

Since the pandemic, I think we all treasure this live experience to an even greater degree. In a world where we seem more and more to be drifting physically from each other and retreating to our screens and online presences, I believe that the value of the Arts and live performance is ever more precious.


Can you tell us a little about the instrument you’ll be playing tonight?

I play on a violin made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivarius. I stumbled upon this instrument 20 years ago when I wandered into Charles Beare’s shop right here in London.

Stopping in just to pick up some strings, Charles ushered me into a room and showed me the famous 1713 Strad which was legendary for its connection to the great Bronislav Huberman, from whom it was stolen at Carnegie Hall in 1936 (and only retrieved 50 years later).

When I drew my bow over it’s strings, I instantly was smitten, so much so that I played that very same night on it at my Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I have not performed on another violin ever since.

Joshua Bell performs Dvořák’s Violin Concerto with Paavo Järvi and the Philharmonia on Saturday 14 May at 7.30pm.