Joshua Bell, who will give the UK premiere of John Corigliano's Red Violin Concerto on Thursday, has a justifiably proprietary view of this unconventional work. Invited to be the off-screen voice of the Red Violin in the film of that name, he commissioned Corigliano to write a stand-alone work based on ideas from his film-score. The first fruit was a 17-minute Chaconne, which has now been joined by three further movements to create a full-scale concerto.
Bell took an active hand in advising Corigliano as the piece emerged. "For any new piece I play," he explains, "I apply the same standards as I do to Brahms and Beethoven. When you play their pieces, every note means something to you - going somewhere, coming from somewhere - but with a lot of new music, I feel that I'm just going through the motions, like acting in a play I don't understand.
"This happened to me a couple of times, until I decided not to play a piece unless I believed in it. If a piece doesn't convince you, it's never going to convince anybody else."
Bell has made celebrated recordings of bluegrass, Bernstein, and Gershwin; his latest release, The Romantic Violin (Decca), is a luxurious 19th-century pot-pourri.
At 38, Bell is far removed from the precocious child he once was, but in some ways, he has not changed at all. His immaculate musicianship was there from the word go, as was his sweetly expressive tone; on the face of the three-year-old filmed by his parents, and on the face of the mature virtuoso we now see playing at the Proms, there's the same look of candid concentration.
Whether at golf, tennis, tiddlywinks, or Rubik's cube, Bell always had an obsessive will to win. And he still radiates an awareness of his privilege in having been taught by a disciple of Fritz Kreisler, and a determination to be not just a box-office success, but a true musician's musician.
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