Unearthed footage of 15-year-old Joshua Bell playing Tchaikovsky is terrifyingly good

15 May 2024, 21:41

Joshua Bell plays in a 1982 violin masterclass

By Kyle Macdonald

A video of a 1982 violin masterclass featuring a young Joshua Bell has been shared, showing every ounce of potential within a teenage prodigy violinist.

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Rarely will you see so much talent, potential and flair in one video. This is the mesmerising ability of a 15-year-old Indiana-born violinist named Joshua Bell, who would go on to conquer the classical world.

The footage comes from a 1982 masterclass with the great classical violinist and teacher Josef Gingold. The older violinist looks on, as the young prodigy steps forward to play the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with pianist Kevin Purrone.

Earlier this month, Bell reshared a clip to Instagram, honouring Tchaikovsky’s birthday and acknowledging Gingold, who was one of the virtuoso’s most important teachers.

In the rapid semi-quavers of the Allegro vivacissimo movement and the poetry of the composer’s more intimate passages, you can immediately see the makings of someone who would become the great American violinist of his generation. Watch the astonishing footage above.

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Joshua Bell plays at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2004
Joshua Bell plays at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2004. Picture: Getty

Even though he is only 15 years old, you can already see Bell’s mastery and command of his instrument and music. The thrilling performance is delivered with the sort of flair that has become associated with Bell’s music-making over the subsequent 40-plus years.

With his now-iconic brown floppy hair waving back and forth, he effortlessly dispatches the fortissimo runs of the work’s climax, ending with the solo part’s super-high flourishes.

When the young violinist finishes and modestly nods at the applause, the older teacher can be seen holding his head in disbelief. In the full YouTube video, Gingold then shares some of his advice on tempo and phrasing to his student, before thanking him and applauding again.

Bell began playing violin at the age of four. In 1985, a few years after this masterclass, he would make his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 17. He has since made acclaimed recordings of pretty much every major concerto, thrilled in the world’s great concert halls, and secured status as a great violinist of his era with legions of devoted fans.

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In May 2011, Bell became music director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. You can find out about the UK concerts and international tours coming up with that legendary ensemble here.

42 years after this performance, the violinist is still making his mark on the world – and we’re all delighted to be with him on this incredible musical journey.