The Academy of St Martin in the Fields has pulled off quite a coup by naming Joshua Bell as the orchestra’s new music director. Bell, who won a Gramophone Award in 1998 for his recording of the Barber and Walton violin concertos and Bloch’s Baal Shem, is one of the world’s most sought-after violinists. He will certainly lend glamour to an ensemble who have perhaps lacked a little of that quality of late.
The orchestra was founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner (who partnered the 21-year-old Bell in the violinist's first concerto disc, for Decca, in 1988). He subsequently made them world-famous with a vast number of recordings – at one point they were among the most recorded ensembles in the world. Although more recent artistic directors Iona Brown and Kenneth Sillito have kept musical standards solid and the appointment in 2000 of Murray Perahia as principal guest conductor brought in another world-class musician, Bell’s arrival will seem for some a return to the glory days.
Unlike some other soloists who have second lives as conductors away from their instruments, such as fellow violinists Nikolaj Znaider and Thomas Zehetmair, Bell will direct from the violin. Sillito remains in his post as artistic director, with Bell as music director now taking lead responsibility for musical direction. No recordings are planned to include the orchestra with Bell as yet (though the orchestra have some already lined up for the BIS and Meridian labels). But Bell is a regular recording artist for Sony Classical and his first big concert project with the Academy will be the complete Beethoven symphonies which, an orchestra spokesperson says, “they would certainly all be eager to record".