Meeting Joshua Bell

What an evening! On June 5, I attended a concert at Roy Thomson Hall featuring Joshua Bell as guest virtuoso violinist. Hearing and watching him play his multi-million- dollar Strad was even more exhilarating than I’d imagined it could be when I wrote these words (in my upcoming fall book, The Man with the Violin):

“The high notes soar to the ceiling. The low notes swoop to the floor. All the notes swirl and sweep around the blur of people rushing here and rushing there. The music is telling an exciting story. It makes the hairs on the back of Dylan’s neck tickle.”

The timing of Joshua Bell’s recent appearance in Toronto couldn’t have been better. The book had gone to press, the audio reading for the e-book version had been recorded, a video interview with me and the book’s illustrator had been produced, and Annick Press had produced advance copies of the book for American sales reps, and set one aside for me to give to Joshua Bell after his performance.

Conductor Peter Oundjian described Edgar Meyer’s Concerto for Violin and Double Bass as “a delightful romp”. And it was. At times it seemed the two instruments were arguing with each other. At others the instruments seemed to intertwine. And then there were the crossovers, for lack of a better word, when each instrument produced sounds one expects the other instrument to make.

Joshua Bell reading the book he inspired, "The Man with the Violin"

Joshua Bell’s solos in Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane, rapsodie de concert for Violin and Orchestra was thrilling to hear and to watch. Notes so quiet you had to wonder how it was possible to produce a sound so sweet and then the great gusto of what I can’t help but describe as frenetic attacks on the strings. How was it physically possible, I wondered, to do with that priceless instrument what this “man with the violin” did!?

During the onstage Q&A after the concert, we learned that Joshua Bell has a 5 year old son who is learning the cello. (More on that, perhaps, in a future post.) And when I met with him backstage when the formal part of the evening was over, I learned that he also has two 3 year olds. Why is it I love this guy even more, knowing he’s a dad?

Joshua had seen the text and the illustrations for The Man with the Violin before I met him and gave him his advance copy (he had to, to know what kind of Postscript he would write for it). But I think when he held the actual book in his hands, he was as delighted with it as I was. He called it “a sweet book”. And after meeting him, I have to say, Joshua Bell is one sweet man.

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