Joshua Bell, with the MSO and the kids; slideshow
About 60 kids, from 6 to early teens, sat spellbound in Uihlein Hall Wednesday morning as Joshua Bell rehearsed Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with guest conductor Christopher Seaman and the Milwaukee Symphony.
A 6-year-old seated on his father’s lap had his hand up before Bell even made it into the house to visit with his fans, much to Bell’s amusement. Of course he took the little guy’s question first.
How old are you?
Not a bad question, but Bell dodged it. For the record, he’s 42, but looks a good 10 years younger, thanks in part to that boyish mop of hair.
He also has a youthful demeanor. Bell was very much at east with the kids, as they were with him. Almost all of them were violinists. When Bell asked how many of them had played the Bruch concerto, about 10 hands went up. They asked good questions. My favorite:
Why do you move around so much when you play?
“I’m sort of directing and giving musical cues,” he said. “It’s like chamber music. If you breath and move with it, you can show bow changes and phrases. But sometimes I think I move too much.”
He noted that his second teacher, in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., was Mimi Zweig. Zweig live in Milwaukee for some years and founded the String Academy. He also talked about his second teacher, the great Josef Gingold, and answered some big questions in ways that will stick with these kids.
“It starts with the sound you want,” Bell said. “You have to have the sound in your ear first. Then you can think about all the techniques you can use to make it. You can work very hard to try to make a big sound, but sometimes, when you just really relax, the sound gets bigger. It’s like golf; you try so hard to hit the ball and it goes nowhere. But if you see really good players, it looks they’re barely working and the ball flies a mile.”
What’s the most important thing?
“It’s phrasing,” he said. “Phrasing to the harmony.”
To illustrate, he delivered a few words of Shakespeare — “to be or not to be” — with emphasis on various words.
“You want to get to the point where you know where you’re going with every note,” he said. “You want every phrase to be ‘to be, or not to be.'”
Joshua Bell is playing a special, one-night-only concert with the MSO at 7:30 Wednesday, March 23 (tonight!), at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall.
Tickets are $50-$160 at the MSO website, the MSO ticket line (414 291-7605) and the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.