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Violin virtuoso Joshua Bell comes to Bing Concert Hall

Classical star will perform with pianist Alessio Bax at Stanford on Nov. 1

Like cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Joshua Bell is one of the people's classical musicians -- artists who have reached beyond the genre's usual niche audience and into the broader realm of popular culture.

For his upcoming local concert, a sold-out recital with pianist Alessio Bax on Friday, Nov. 1, at Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford University campus, the one-time prodigy will play a fairly traditional program that includes works by Bach, Schubert and Franck as well as Eugène Ysaÿe. It's his first tour with the Italian pianist Bax, whom he met and with whom he first performed at the Verbier (Switzerland) Festival back in 2006.

But in between being a soloist with major international orchestras and the music director of the famed Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Indiana native and longtime New York resident has been seen and heard on both the small and big screen.

In the world of mass media, Bell could first be heard and seen, briefly, in the 1998 feature film "The Red Violin," which won an Oscar for John Corigliano's score. He also appeared in three episodes of Amazon Prime's “Mozart in the Jungle.”

"It wasn't a huge investment of time. But it was just a fun thing to do," he said about his participation in the four-season-long series about a fictional symphony orchestra based in New York. "In this case it wasn't really acting, because I played myself," he said, in a conference-call interview with regional journalists. "But it was a neat experience -- to get to meet some new, interesting people. Malcolm McDowell, for instance, a guy I admired as an actor, (I) got to do some scenes with him. Not the kind of thing a classical violinist gets to do that often.

"Maybe it affected me indirectly in that it reached some audiences that may have never heard of me or gone to a classical concert before," he replied, when asked if the role had any effect on his career. "So I've had people come to my concerts and say, 'You know, I don't normally go to concerts. But I saw you on ‘Mozart in the Jungle,’ saw you were playing nearby…'"

The string maestro's relationship with Amazon extended recently to the mid-September release of a single, a violin-friendly arrangement of Chopin's Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2., via its Amazon Music service.

"They said, 'Just make a single for us, and we'll distribute it.' And so I took the opportunity to use their budget that they gave me to get a little orchestra together and record a new arrangement I made," he said.

Those lucky enough to have access to Friday's performance at Bing will hear an assemblage of compositions with thematic links.

"I tend to think of a concert as a tasting menu -- things that are connected in some way, but also variety." The Ysaÿe solo sonatas were inspired by the Bach pieces, he said. And the editor of violinist.com, who was on the call, pointed out that the Ysaÿe composition was premiered by Josef Gingold, one of Bell's teachers.

"And the Franck was written for Ysaÿe for his wedding present, speaking of weddings," the recently married Bell pointed out.

At 51, the newlywed is one of Generation X's most successful and popular violinists. He said he's comfortable with consumer technology and how it's affected how music is heard, and his career as a professional instrumentalist.

"The whole recording industry is changing so much, people are streaming now," he said. "Instead of putting in CDs, they're asking Alexa for pieces. That's kind of the new way we're listening to music.

"I did something for Sony Playstation (4), for their VR. I did a demo for them. I'm very interested in technology and seeing where it goes. I think it's good for music," he said. "Certainly watching concerts online is very exciting. I do a lot of live-streamed concerts. I've even done live-streamed concerts from my home in New York."

A hidden camera video of a Bell performance even went viral, when he busked in a Washington, D.C. subway station for 45 minutes on a Friday morning in 2007. As observed by the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten, only seven people stopped to listen.

"Certainly everybody having a phone and everybody having a video camera at all times definitely affects things, sometimes negatively," he said. "I think people are so worried about capturing things on their phones that they sometimes don't live in the moment and enjoy it and be present. That's one of the only negatives I can think of for technology for the moment. For the most part, it's giving people bigger access."

What: Joshua Bell and Alessio Bax.

Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen Mall, Stanford.

When: Friday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $60-$160 (sold out, but call the box office or check online for returns).

Info: Go to Stanford Live or call 650-724-2464.

==I Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at yoshiyoungblood@earthlink.net.

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