Joshua Bell a great violinist, but he still gets homesick

Busy schedule: Joshua Bell – who is working with Project San Francisco

Busy schedule: Joshua Bell – who is working with Project San Francisco

“It’s not ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” Joshua Bell says, somewhat ruefully, when asked about his schedule and family.

One of the most famous violinists in the world — he performs this week with the San Francisco Symphony — Bell plays as many as 120 concerts a year, according to his own reckoning.

Taking travel time into account, he’s away from his New York City home dangerously close to a year, and that’s the problem. Bell has three sons: a 4-year-old and 1½-year-old twins. How does he spend time with them?

He simply doesn’t have the old-fashioned family life depicted on the TV show. He admits, “With three little boys, it’s easy to feel homesick.”

At the same time, he should be adjusted to being on the go. Soon to turn 44, Bell has been touring for 30 years, conquering audiences from Philadelphia to Carnegie Hall to major European festivals. He has received the Avery Fisher Prize, and was named by Musical America as 2010 Instrumentalist of the Year.

Throughout the years, his rare combination of virtuoso playing and meltingly lyrical sound (on a priceless 300-year-old Stradivarius, a bargain at $4 million) has been rewarded in many ways.

In addition to winning Grammy Awards for premiering new works, Bell also became an unseen movie star, playing the solo in John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film “The Red Violin.”

Not the typical jet-setter, Bell has been involved with many unusual classical and offbeat musical projects. He collaborated with Pamela Frank, Steven Isserlis and Edgar Meyer as well as those outside the strictly classical arena, including Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea and James Taylor.

In The City, he is this year’s Project San Francisco artist, along with composer Mason Bates, which means he is participating in lectures, workshops and school performances, in addition to appearing at Davies Symphony Hall.

This week, Bell is performing Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor and a Tchaikovsky Méditation, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, on a program that also includes Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

He’ll return in November for a solo recital, and in the spring with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the famed ensemble to which Bell was named music director this year.

Bell’s activities during Project San Francisco include speaking with music and high school violin students, answering audience questions after performances and working with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Energizer Bunny, nothing — Bell is also an artistic partner for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, an adjunct associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and serves on the artists selection committee for the Kennedy Center Honors.

Occasionally, he visits home.


San Francisco Symphony with Joshua Bell

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $140
Contact: (415) 864-6000,

Note: At 8 p.m. Nov. 10, Bell will play a solo program of works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Ysaÿe and Franck at Davies Hall.

artsClassical Music & OperaentertainmentSan FranciscoSan Francisco Symphony

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