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.