The Six Degrees of Joshua Bell

Never play Six Degrees with Joshua Bell. He's got us all beat. Not only has he performed with just about every contemporary classical artist there is out there, he's also recorded with pop musicians such as Sting and Regina Spektor.

Even if we go back a couple of centuries, Bell's got a direct link to the most talented musicians from the 1900s. Here's how: The Grammy Award-winning violinist studied for years with master teacher Josef Gingold (that's one degree). Gingold in turn studied with Eugène Ysaÿe during the 1930s (that's two degrees). César Franck composed Violin Sonata in A Major for Ysaÿe's wedding in 1886 (that's three degrees -- and three centuries).

On Bell's recent CD release French Impressions, which he recorded with Jeremy Denk, Bell performs Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major. It's an unofficial homage to his teacher Gingold. "Basically everything I play is sort of for him," Bell tells us. "He was my biggest influence as a musician and sort of like a grandfather to me. I've been playing [the Franck Sonata] since I was 13 years old. I've performed it, I don't know, a thousand times in my life. It's a piece I sort of discovered through his eyes. It's very neat to have a direct connection to the man for whom the piece was written."

Bell seems to be playing a lineup of greatest hits from the Romantic period for his upcoming Society for the Performing Arts concert. "It wasn't meant to be chronological, though it sort of is," confirms Bell. In the first half of the concert, he'll be performing Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata in F Major. "One of the reasons I included this piece is because, of course, Mendelssohn is one the greatest composers that ever lived, but also, this is a piece that not many people play or know very well. It was actually just discovered rather recently, in the last 40 years or so, and I just think it's an incredibly beautiful piece and a joyous piece."

In the second half of the concert, Bell will perform Eugène Ysaÿe's Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 27, No. 3, "Ballade."

Joshua Bell performs at 8 p.m. January 20. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, visit or call 713-227-4772 or. $30 to $65.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez