May 27, 2011 / 6:37 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. violinist Bell takes over London ensemble

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.

“I’ve been in a nice, luxurious position this past decade being able to pick and choose how much chamber music and how many concertos and recitals I want to do,” Bell said.

“So I can apportion that the way I want at the moment, at least. I have to give up certain things, some of my other concerto work, which is fine with me.

“And, I’m sorry, if I could, I would do every concerto without a conductor,” he added, referring to the sometimes fraught relationship between conductor and soloists.

Marriner said he was delighted someone of Bell’s stature was becoming music director of the ensemble.

“To get someone like Josh involved is, internationally, a great virtue for the orchestra,” he said.

“And I’m very happy to keep trudging around the world, working with other people’s orchestras...where they want something of the Academy to brush off.... So I could keep going forever.”

Anna Rowe, the orchestra’s chief executive, said Bell’s appointment was made possible under a three-year sponsorship from the Siemens AG German industrial group.

She said the ensemble, which performs all over the world on its own and with major soloists, has made more than 500 recordings, many of which are being reissued by Decca and EMI.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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