Internationally known violinist Joshua Bell is widely admired by audiences and critics. He has performed with major orchestras from around the world, and he is proficient in the works of composers stretching from the Classical to contemporary eras, including Beethoven, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, and Corigliano. He regularly performs chamber music with other leading musicians and has added on conducting to his portfolio in the 2010s.
Bell was born on December 9, 1967, in Bloomington, Indiana, home of the Indiana University School of Music, which eventually assumed a decisive role in his musical development. He was exposed to music from an early age and began his violin studies with Mimi Zweig. Bell's talents developed rapidly; he made his debut as a soloist in performance with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra at the age of seven. The eminent violin teacher Josef Gingold, a member of Indiana University's music faculty, took an interest in him and became his teacher, and Bell entered the university as a student. His studies with Gingold were supplemented by additional studies and master classes with Ivan Galamian and Henryk Szeryng. Bell came to wide national attention as a grand prize winner in the first annual Seventeen Magazine/General Motors National Concerto Competition in Rochester, New York. He soon appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti in 1982 -- the youngest person ever to appear with the orchestra as a soloist on a subscription concert. Bell's 1985 Carnegie Hall debut with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra was greeted with the kind of enthusiastic reviews that were a bellwether of his successful concert and recording career.
By the mid-'90s, Bell had recorded much of the standard violin repertoire, exhibiting a musically informed and winning personal style. His playing is lyrical and bright, marked by a high-minded approach and a smooth, silvery tone. In the late 1990s, Bell's eclectic tastes and multifaceted talents found a voice in a wide range of projects outside the realm of the traditional violin repertoire. His playing on John Corigliano's score to The Red Violin (1998) was singled out as one of the film's more memorable elements, while in 1999, he collaborated on a well-received album of bluegrass-influenced music by composer Edgar Meyer. Bell has been seen on numerous television programs and was even named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." He continues to work with musicians outside the classical realm, such as Chick Corea and James Taylor, meanwhile performing with the world's top orchestras and conductors. Other collaborations led Bell to establish chamber music recital series in both London and Paris. Artists such as Steven Isserlis, Pamela Frank, Jean-Yves Thibaudet are his partners in these recitals and recordings.
In 2001, Bell sold his "Tom Taylor" Stradivarius violin and purchased the storied "Gibson ex Huberman" Stradivarius, subject of the 2013 documentary The Return of the Violin. He made a notable appearance in 2007, busking in one of Washington, D.C.'s Metro stations as an aid to Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten. Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for the piece that examined art and context, and Bell's participation stirred conversations for years afterward.
While continuing his recital performances, teaching, and the occasional film music recording, Bell took on a new challenge in 2011 as the music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; his contract has since been extended until 2023. Bell accompanied Scarlett Johansson in the 2013 song "Before My Time" for the film Chasing Ice, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He was also featured in several episodes of the Mozart in the Jungle series in the mid-2010s, and he led a 20th anniversary celebration of The Red Violin in 2018, featuring the film with a live orchestra. In 2020, Bell issued the album At Home with Music, which was recorded at his home during the COVID-19 outbreak for a special broadcast on the U.S. PBS network.