The last piece violinist Joshua Bell played for Van Cliburn was Tchaikovsky.
Bell visited with Cliburn an hour before his recital with pianist Sam Haywood at Bass Hall in 2013.
“He was very, very sweet and actually in good spirits,” Bell remembers of the legendary Fort Worth pianist with a special love of Russian music. “And we had an encore we were going to play that night at the concert, and I thought, ‘Hey, can we read it through for you? Can we play?’ And it was Tchaikovsky of all things.”
Less than two weeks after that private performance at Cliburn’s house, Bell learned that Cliburn had died.
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“I felt very privileged and fortunate to be able to come to see him, so it was a very special, meaningful moment for me,” Bell says.
Bell returns to Fort Worth on Feb. 6 for the first time since his visit with Cliburn. The violinist will be playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra as part of the symphony’s annual gala.
The Bruch concerto is one that Bell has played since he was 12 years old. But that doesn’t mean Bell plans to sleepwalk through the performance at Bass Hall.
“Even though I’ve done it a lot, I’ll go into the practice room and look at it fresh and rethink how I’ve been doing it all these years,” Bell says in a phone interview from his home base of Manhattan. “Still to this day, things come up. New ideas come up and I ask, ‘Why haven’t I been playing it this way all this time?’ ”
He recently completed a European tour with cellist Steven Isserlis and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra, where Bell is the music director. Although Bell is best known as a violinist, he enjoys exploring new ways to make music.
“I get to conduct, direct, play concerto and do all of that with the orchestra, which is opening up a whole new world for me,” Bell says.
The world of television is also opening up for Bell. He appeared in the pilot of Mozart in the Jungle, an Amazon original series, and was asked back for another cameo in Season 2, this time with pianist Lang Lang.
“I truly believe it’s good when classical musicians find a way to stay in popular culture,” Bell says, adding that the television shoot was a fun afternoon hanging out with other musicians. “I really think it’s good if young people and the general public still see classical music as being somewhat relevant to everyone and not just to the elite aficionados of music.”
The guest spot on the Golden Globe-winning series also enabled Bell to brush up on his table tennis skills, as the two music superstars play a rather competitive match in a bar/bowling alley in the scene.
During summer music camps, Bell and his fellow musicians would play lots of table tennis because it was one of the few sports that wouldn’t potentially cause an injury to their hands. He describes himself as somewhere between an “intermediate” and “expert” player.
“I hit my prime at age 13 when I came in second in the Meadowmount summer camp tournament, losing out only to a guy who was practically a professional ping pong player, so I was very proud of that,” Bell says.
Bell will have to put his table tennis skills aside as he has a busy slate of American concert dates in February, including performances in Portland, Ore., San Antonio and, of course, Fort Worth.
“It’s a wonderful hall and I know the orchestra,” Bell says. “They are fantastic with [Music Director Miguel] Harth-Bedoya, so it will be something I’ll be looking forward to.”
Fort Worth Symphony Gala Concert and Dinner
7 p.m. concert featuring Joshua Bell at Bass Hall
Dinner, dancing and a live auction follow at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel.
Tickets for the dinner and concert are $610 per person. Dinner only is $500 per person, and concert tickets only are $110 for the orchestra section. Tickets for each portion can be purchased separately. Make reservations at 817-665-6500, ext. 118, or visit www.FWSymphony.org/GalaCombo.
Attire is black tie. Women are encouraged to wear red or black.