He’s been dubbed a “household name” in music – and although violinist Joshua Bell is known for exploring a range of less conventional music styles, his smooth sound and accessible recordings have made him one of classical music’s most popular performers. As part of his U.S. recital tour, Bell will perform sonatas and pieces from his most recent album in a recital at Hill Auditorium tomorrow at 8 p.m.
The young violinist occupies a particularly savvy niche in the music world. A virtuosic and sensitive player who debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra at 14, Bell has both garnered the respect of top-notch conductors, orchestras and venues and built a strong and diverse fan base. His sound – liquidly smooth, sweet, but never syrupy, using a 1713 Stradivarius – is beautiful and uncomplicated.
In his recordings, he widens a sometimes narrow audience with accessible classical and crossover albums, recording music by composers like Chopin and Gershwin. His forays into more experimental ground with living artists like Bela Fleck and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis have earned him Grammys.
Now 39, Bell last appeared at the University six years ago. He comes to the University with pianist Jeremy Denk. Later in the year Bell will tour in the United States and Europe with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the most-recorded chamber orchestra in the world.
His newest recording “Voice of the Violin,” parts of which he will play tomorrow night, is a work by an artist who’s secure in his methods. Although Bell’s virtuosity was recognized early on, he doesn’t stuff his recordings with it. Instead, “Voice of the Violin” combines the two greatest facets of his appeal: his ingenuity and dependability. Bell adapted the pieces on the recording, all originally composed for voice, for violin and orchestra. The understated Orchestra of St. Luke’s supports Bell’s melodic line, the part usually reserved for voice. The recording’s 15 songs all hover at about three minutes in length.
While they come from eclectic sources, from Franz Schubert’s massively popular Ave Maria to a Spanish lullaby, the songs share a romantic tone and an unhurried pace. Bell’s recording aims to please listeners, rather than impress, with unindulgent music whose sophistication won’t overwhelm. It’s impressive nonetheless, especially in the context of Bell’s widely ranging projects.
His sensitive and expert sound, of course, is the essential link in his great appeal. The incredibly popular artist’s performance tomorrow night should be nothing if not a pleasure.
Saturday at 8 p.m.
At Hill Auditorium