In January 2007, world famous violinist Joshua Bell — casually dressed in jeans and a baseball cap — played six classical pieces in Washington, D.C.,’s L’enfant Plaza for a less-than-captive audience. It was part of a social experiment conducted by The Washington Post, designed to see who, if anyone, would stop and recognize the musician on their morning commute to work.
For his second performance at Chautauqua, Bell — in a tuxedo — will be impossible to miss.
This summer, Bell has embarked on a national tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of “The Red Violin.” Under the baton of Michael Stern, Bell will take center stage as soloist for a live performance of the film with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, in the Amphitheater.
“The Red Violin” shows the journey of an instrument from its 1681 creation in Cremona, Italy, to its present-day discovery in Montreal, Canada, by an appraiser, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Over the course of the film, the titular violin travels across four continents, leaving a mysterious impact on its many owners.
The film, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score, numerous Genie and Jutra awards, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, is rated R for some sexuality, and includes brief nudity.
Bell, who recorded the 1998 film’s soundtrack, said that the making of “The Red Violin” differed from most films, as the score was written before the actors ever arrived on set.
“This film is unusual because most films, you do the music after the film is done,” Bell said in an interview with The Violin Channel. “We did a lot of the music beforehand, and then the actors had to match what I had done.”
Bell credited the film’s popularity to composer John Corigliano’s score, which balances many musical styles.
“There aren’t a lot of composers who can pull off this idea,” Bell told The Violin Channel. “It’s amazing. There’s classic, Baroque and avant-garde, and (Corigliano is) able to tie it all in these seven chords.”
Stern said that performing alongside a film live presents a challenge to musicians, as they are unable to take many creative liberties with the film’s strict pacing.
“We have flexibility in performance and then we want to breathe, but the celluloid is moving and you’ve got to hit your mark,” Stern told The Violin Channel. “You have to find a way to actually be creative and free and also accurate.”
Stern said “The Red Violin” shows how an instrument’s value stems from its potential and not its outward appearance.
“The emotional life of the instrument is not the value itself, but what it can become,” Stern told The Violin Channel.
Bell’s instrument of choice is a 300-year-old violin called the “Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius.”
It was twice stolen from its previous owner, Bronislaw Huberman, and was sold to Bell for $4 million.
Born in Bloomington, Indiana, Bell began playing violin at the age of 4 after his mother caught him plucking music on stretched rubber bands.
After making his solo debut with Philadelphia Orchestra at 14, Bell has since gone on to record over 40 albums and is the subject of an HBO documentary.
Bell previously performed with the CSO in 2016, sharing the Amp stage with trumpeter Chris Botti.
Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore said she is excited for Chautauquans to hear Bell play with the CSO again, adding that “The Red Violin” directly relates to Week Eight’s theme.
“Being a part of the film’s 20th anniversary tour is an honor and a thrill. François Girard’s film is a perfect match for our week on the forgotten as we follow the violin through countries, families and lives.”
Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president, performing and visual arts
“I hope that many will come to see Joshua’s spectacular performance with our Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra,” Moore said.