Violinist Joshua Bell has made the transition from child prodigy to the latest star in the classical music world. At age 33, he just released his 24th album, a new concert work for violin and orchestra based on Leonard Bernstein's musical theater classic, West Side Story. The CD has already made it to the Top Five on Billboard magazine's Classical Crossover chart.
On his latest album, West Side Story Suite, violinist Joshua Bell is pleased to honor his role model, the late Leonard Bernstein, another musician who achieved fame in the classical world at a young age. Mr. Bell said, "He was an American and he did so much for Americans, and just the profile of Americans. He was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, and earning the respect of everyone as a composer and conductor. I think he did a lot for Americans. Bernstein has been a role model for me, even though I didn't get to meet him. Just being such a consummate musician, someone who could conduct and play and compose, for me, that's the ideal musician."
In 1998, Joshua Bell collaborated with award-winning arranger William David Brohn for Gershwin Fantasy, an album based on themes from George Gershwin's influential work, Porgy and Bess. Joshua recalls that, when the Gershwin project was completed, Brohn immediately presented the idea for an update of West Side Story.
Joshua Bell continued, "He said he had a version that he had written and had Bernstein's approval, but no one had taken it up. So I said, 'Give me the score,' and I took a look at it, then we began to refine it and worked on it. That's how it started, and then, from there, I decided to turn it into a whole album, with "Serenade" and then have a few other songs like "New York, New York" and "Make Our Garden Grow" from "Candide", and put those on the album, too."
Joshua Bell stepped out of the classical music realm for a bluegrass project called Short Trip Home and contributed to the soundtrack of the Academy Award-winning film, The Red Violin.
While other some other classical violin players, such as Vanessa Mae and Nigel Kennedy, present themselves as rock stars, Joshua Bell likes to think of himself as a classical musician who keeps his options open.
"There are lots of ways to have a career," he said. "I think, for me, I haven't made any conscious effort to try to break away. I've just kind of followed projects that came my way that were musically interesting. The Red Violin soundtrack project, for me, was one of the most challenging and musically rewarding things I've ever done, even though it's not a normal classical thing. So, I'm not making a conscious effort to promote myself in other areas. It just sort of sometimes happens that way."
Following a series of outdoor concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Joshua Bell has just embarked on a world tour to support his latest release, West Side Story Suite. He'll be playing dates in Europe, with a return to the U.S. in mid-August.