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Violinist Bell wins $75,000 Fisher Prize

Story Highlights

• Joshua Bell being awarded Avery Fisher Prize
• Honor includes $75,000 purse
• Bell one of most renowned of contemporary violinists
By Porter Anderson
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- However up and down the temperatures may be, it's springtime for violinist Joshua Bell.

On Tuesday, Glenn Close will hand him the Avery Fisher Prize in Lincoln Center's glass-walled Kaplan Penthouse. So demanding is the Avery Fisher Artist Program that that no one has received its prize for three years. This time, the purse is a record $75,000.

The 18 past winners of this coveted honor include cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1978, pianist Emanuel Ax in 1979, pianist Andre Watts in 1988 and double bassist and composer Edgar Meyer in 2000. (Watch Joshua Bell talk about his career and goals Video)

To honor its 39-year-old Grammy-winning artist, Sony Classical has rushed to release a two-CD compilation, "The Essential Joshua Bell," just out this week. Bell has recorded more than 30 CDs, four Grammy nominations and two wins to his name. (Read a review of Bell's 'Voice of the Violin' CD.)

Within a week of getting his award, Bell embarks on the European leg of a soloist-and-conductor stint with London's Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

At a sold-out Carnegie Hall last week, Bell led the musicians in the tour's showcase work, an agile interpretation of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" concertos.

The Washington Post's Sunday magazine is set to publish a special piece on his life and career this weekend. NBC's "Today" plans a feature on him on April 19.

And in a clue to this artist's success, the "Dennis the Menace" syndicated comic has a special cartoon ready for Tuesday -- Fisher Prize day -- reflecting the wide popular appeal of this thoroughly classical artist. (Read a review of Bell's 'Romance of the Violin' CD)

With unabashedly commercial CD-cover photos, an eager personal engagement in his own Web site, his avid participation in John Corigliano's soundtrack for "The Red Violin" and his concert performances of the concerto work Corigliano has based on that music for him, Bell routinely meets hundreds of fans after each appearance, signing autographs, encouraging schoolchildren.

The farm-raised Indiana native plays more than 200 international bookings per year, is adamant in his support for powerful new American talents including Edgar Meyer and Jay Greenberg, and chortles that his "start" as a musical prodigy -- strumming rubber bands on his dresser-drawers at age 4 -- gives him a career that has run from "credenza to cadenza."

That sense of humor always in place, he's turning more to conducting these days, as in his current tour's update on the Old World tradition of the maestro leading an ensemble while playing, himself. And he wants to compose.

"I'm a violinist, first and foremost," he tells CNN.

"But I do believe the people who are the most immortal are the composers. The man on the street, he knows who Beethoven is, he knows who Mozart is. And I'd like to compose."

As he nears his 40th birthday (December 9), Bell may not have as much of the youthful bearing he's used to draw so many younger audiences to classical music in general and to his own work in particular.

But it's worth noting that the Fisher Program made a serious investment in his work in 1986, an Avery Fisher Career Grant. It proved prophetic. When he gets his prize Tuesday, new Career Grants will be given to younger artists, many of whom see Bell as a hero and model in a world that Bell has proved is still listening.

"And maybe even in 100, 200 years, there'll be a few people who still, for some reason, have a recording of mine."


Joshua Bell will receive the Avery Fisher Prize on Tuesday.


Joshua Bell plays the Gibson ex Huberman violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1713. Its varnish gives it a reddish color -- something enjoyed by fans of Bell's work in the soundtrack to Francois Girard's 1998 film, "The Red Violin." The instrument was stolen in 1936 at Carnegie Hall from violinist Bronislaw Huberman, was recovered in 1987 and was subsequently acquired by Bell, whose earlier Stradivarius was the 1732 Tom Taylor.


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