Joshua Bell’s London – The New York Times

“The first time I came to London, I was 17,” the violinist Joshua Bell, now 54, told me. We were at dinner together following a recent performance of his at Wigmore Hall, a small but renowned concert hall. “I came with my parents to make my first album,” he continued. “This was in the ’80s, and I remember thinking there wasn’t a lot of variety in food. Now, of course, it’s great.”

Mr. Bell estimates he’s been to London around 70 times since then.

“One of the problems with classical music is that it’s developed a reputation of formality,” Mr. Bell said. “In fact, classical music can be the most exciting thing to watch.”

So no, the virtuoso and onetime child prodigy doesn’t live in London. But you could say he’s a professional visitor. His London is one of exquisite taste, uncommonly good food and a handful of tiny places you’d breeze right by if you didn’t know they were there — with, of course, a measure of music.

Mr. Bell tends to favor lesser-known places, with one very notable exception: the Royal Albert Hall. “The Royal Albert Hall has this thing called the Proms. They take out the seats on the lower level, and people line up down the street to get in,” he said. “All these people are standing up like it’s a rock concert, and it’s Beethoven symphonies. It’s incredible.”

Here are five of his favorite places to visit in London.

“Charles Beare put me in a room with the violin and after a few notes, I was shaking with excitement. I was in love with it. I had a concert at the Royal Albert Hall — at the Proms — and used that violin that very night.”

The Michelin-starred restaurant, with its private nooks, mirrored walls, delicately gilded surfaces, feels a like special occasion kind of place. It’s also best to come hungry. “I like places where they just get the tasting menu because I eat everything,” says Mr. Bell. “I like the person cooking it to choose what he wants to present.”

“Having said that, it’s nice that there are places like Wigmore Hall where you know everyone understands. It’s like for an actor to do theater in a place where people really get it. And Wigmore Hall has history for me personally. The first concert there — I think it was 1901 — was played by the teacher of my teacher, Ysaÿe, the greatest violinist at the end of the 19th century in Europe. I feel the history when I walk on the stage.”

Its location also means he can “walk to the rehearsals and back — you can also walk right across the street to Hyde Park. It’s my home when I’m at the Proms.”

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