Stories » Joshua Bell set for his OSM conducting debut / Montreal Gazette

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Joshua Bell set for his OSM conducting debut / Montreal Gazette

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"Give me 10 seconds," Joshua Bell said when reached at his apartment in New York. He was arranging for the delivery of his violin to a luthier to have the fingerboard planed - standard maintenance even for the so-called Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius of 1713. Which Bell will play Tuesday and Wednesday Feb 14, 15 with the OSM in concerts that also represent his conducting debut with the orchestra. "I use it for everything," Bell said of this instrument, which was stolen in 1936 from the Carnegie Hall dressing room of its namesake Polish virtuoso, Bronislaw Huberman, and recovered more than 50 years later after a deathbed confession by a café violinist who claimed to have bought it from the thief.

Sure, Bell has a modern fiddle to practise on while the Strad is in the shop. But the Gibson ex-Huberman is what he carries with him on stage. "The violin becomes an extension of yourself," Bell explained. "It becomes almost unthinkable to go back and forth between instruments. And I can afford only one Stradivarius."

His concerto offering in the Maison symphonique is Bruch's popular Violin Concerto No. 1. One presumes there will be appropriate backstage supervision of the Strad while Bell occupies the podium to lead Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Conducting is not an altogether new pursuit for this American, whose first appearance with the OSM as a 20-year-old in 1988 resulted in a Decca recording under Charles Dutoit. Since 2011 Bell has been music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in London.