The Robb Reader: Joshua Bell

  • Michalene Busico

Joshua bell is often called the rock star of classical music. Indeed, the violin virtuoso tours the world 250 days per year, bringing sellout crowds to their feet with a distinctly sweet tone and an athletic performance style that may explain his signature untucked silk shirts. At a youthful 43, Bell has recorded more than 35 CDs, including his most recent release, At Home with Friends, which made its debut at No. 1 on both the Billboard Classical and Classical Crossover charts. He plays a Stradivarius (his third), drives a Maserati, and is wiring his New York penthouse for total remote control. Such trappings, however, are not signs of rock-star excess. “I like things that have quality,” Bell says, be it the “infinite palette” of sound offered by his $4 million violin, or the more earthly pleasure of a $5 hamburger.
Tell us about your home.I modeled a lot of things on the materials of a violin. The floor, for example, is bubinga, an unusual African rosewood that looks to me just like a violin grain, and the metal staircases are like strings. It would be a little cheesy if you walked in and felt like you were in a violin; this is more subtle. I also designed it with the idea that I would have house concerts and entertain on the top floor; I even have a theater curtain I can perform behind. I enjoy house entertaining, old-fashioned salon-type things. 
Always with the latest technology, of course. My house is all gadgeted up, with little video screens where I can control everything, and now I’m converting my entire house so I can control everything from my iPhone or my iPad. I can even control my hot tub on my roof deck by phone. When I’m in a restaurant I can call and have it start to heat up for when I get home. It’s kind of decadent.
We hear you are a major foodie. Food is my biggest hobby, and I enjoy finding good restaurants. I use social media quite a bit and contact friends of friends on Facebook or A Small World [www.asmallworld.net], a more exclusive small club network that I use for recommendations while traveling. Usually the fun I have when I’m traveling is celebrating after a concert at a great restaurant with old friends. And then on to the next city. Where was your last great meal?  I just got back from Madrid, where I always go to Asador Frontón, because their steaks are so incredible—I have a picture on my phone of the most beautiful steak you ever saw. I like a good burger, too. I was on the West Coast recently, and in one week I ate four times at In-N-Out Burger. Four times! Lately I’m getting the Double-Double animal style, with well-done fries. It’s a secret to ask for them well done; they’re crispy and taste better.  
What is your greatest luxury? My most prized possession is my Stradivarius violin, which was made in 1713 and is very, very rare. A great violin—the right violin—very much affects the way you play. It’s like offering a painter an infinite palette of colors, instead of just a few. It’s just so much more inspiration—the quality of color, of sound color, and the way you’re able to manipulate the sound in ways you can’t with a modern violin. 
And your Maserati?I was always a Porsche guy. One of the first luxury items I ever bought myself, at 19, was a 944 Turbo. This particular Maserati, the GranTurismo, is not the fastest car in the world, but it’s very refined and luxurious. And I like things that have quality, that feel like quality—like the materials in my house, and the music I play, a great Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. It’s uplifting in quality.

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