U.S. violinist Bell takes over London ensemble

Fri May 27, 2011 2:36pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell was named music director of the world-renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra on Friday, replacing Sir Neville Marriner, who founded it half a century ago.

"Joshua is very much the orchestra's choice," Marriner, 87, said at a press briefing announcing that Bell, exactly half his age, would take up the post in September as only the second music director since Marriner founded the ensemble in 1958.

"The orchestra has spoken and they want to work with Josh. They had a choice, so they obviously admire him," Marriner said.

His association with the Academy is so strong it inspired a New Yorker magazine cartoon in which a radio announcer mentions the ensemble's name and a parrot squawks: "...conducted by Sir Neville Marriner."

Bell, 43, who has risen to the top ranks of world violinists since making his orchestral debut at the age of 14, said he'd admired and enjoyed working with the ensemble since he made his first recording with it 25 years ago.

For the past seven to eight years he has worked with the group playing violin and conducting from the concertmaster's chair.

"I've just had an amazing time, I've really enjoyed this part of my concert life more than any other part, along with chamber music with a few of my close friends and this is what it feels like -- I think of it as chamber music," he said.

Bell said he may have to curtail some of his appearances performing concertos with major orchestras, but felt it was a good trade-off to work more intimately with the ensemble.   Continued...