Superstar violinist Joshua Bell and composer Edgar Meyer have known each other for 30 years, but seldom play together because there are very few musical pieces that pair their instruments — the violin and the double bass.
That changes Wednesday night, with the Canadian premiere of Meyer’s Concerto for Violin and Double Bass, conducted by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Peter Oundjian.
Meyer, a great lover of the violin, wrote the piece with Bell in mind, praising his friend for his "intuitive understanding the instrument."
Meyer has written bluegrass and jazz as well as classical music and plays the double bass in the 28-minute piece. The pair met when both were students at Indiana University.
In a video interview with Radio-Canada’s Kevin Sweet, Meyer and Bell talk about why they enjoy each other’s music and how they collaborate.
It’s very unusual to have a concerto like this, Bell told CBC's Metro Morning.
"I think it’s really cool because the violin is so high and the bass is so low — there is this great range between the two and it opens up really neat possibilities that Edgar really does exploit."
Bell, a Grammy winner who made his debut at Carnegie Hall at age 17, is known outside classical circles for playing the soundtrack to the film The Red Violin.
His constant companion is a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin called the Gibson ex Huberman, made in 1713 during what is known as Antonio Stradivari's Golden Era.
"I happened to be in London at the time it was for sale. I found it in the afternoon, fell in love with it and played it the very same night at Albert Hall in front of 8,000 people," Bell said. "I felt that I never wanted to let go of it."
Bell had to sell his previous violin, the Tom Tyler Stradivarius, for a little more than $2 million to raise cash for the much-higher asking price for the Gibson ex Huberman Strad, which he’s had for 12 years.
It has a chequered past.
"It was stolen from one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century Bronisław Huberman. He left it in his dressing room when he was playing at Carnegie Hall and it was stolen and it disappeared for 50 years," Bell said.
It resurfaced when a former violinist confessed on his deathbed that he had stolen the instrument.
Bell performed the debut of Meyer’s Concerto for Violin and Double Bass in July 2012 at Tanglewood and he’s also played it in Aspen and at the Hollywood Bowl. A TSO co-commission, its Canadian premiere is June 5 at Roy Thomson Hall, with further performances Thursday and Saturday.