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Violinist Joshua Bell is big Vegas fan

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When violinist Joshua Bell performed a series of recent concerts here, he left his 1713 Stradivarius at home and played on a borrowed 1741 Guarneri del Gesu whose owner is trying to sell it.

The asking price is $18 million.

During an interview the 41-year-old native of Bloomington, Indiana knocked the instrument over with his foot. But his performance the next night, when he played selections from Bruch and Saint-Saens, showed the fiddle was just fine.

Bell spoke to Reuters about his new album, "At Home with Friends," which includes duets with Chris Botti, Sting and Kristen Chenowith among others, music and American football, which he loves.

Q: In the song "This Old Guitar," Neil Young imagines his instrument silently waiting for him when he's away. Do you imagine your violin pining for you while you're gone?

A: "It's possible. There is a sense sometimes when I play on another instrument that when I go back to mine it behaves particularly well -- it shows me what I was missing. The connection is very much like a marriage. You have your good days and your bad days. Days when you want to get rid of it and days when you fall in love again."

Q: What music are you listening to?

A: "A lot of my friends who are not musicians have their iPods in their ears all the time. I can't listen to music like that. It's distracting. If it's good, I find myself paying attention to it. If it's bad, it just drives me up the wall."

Q: Is there anyone you can listen to?

A: "There's a British cellist, Stephen Isserliss, who I think is one of the great musicians in the world. He's not a household name like Yo Yo Ma. Everything he does just goes so deeply into the music. He's someone I'll listen to. I do like listening to jazz on occasion, somebody sophisticated like the pianist Brad Mehldau. That really gets my mind stimulated."

Q: So what do you do that provides you with the pleasure the rest of us get passively listening to music?

A: "I watch NFL football. I'm a Giants fan and Colts fan ... And I enjoy going to Las Vegas and betting on games on occasion."

Q: Las Vegas?

A: "I jump at any chance to go to Las Vegas. In fact, I met one of the musicians on the new album in Las Vegas just this year -- Frankie Moreno, the guy I wrote the "Eleanor Rigby" arrangement with on the album. He's a rock pianist who's on tour right now in Vietnam with Air Supply. I saw him at the Golden Nugget playing crazy stuff on the piano. It turns out that as a nine-year-old he was writing operas and a child prodigy, and he went into the rock world."

Q: You'll jump at any chance to go to Las Vegas?

A: "It's totally cheesy and not some place I'd want to go for more than two days at a time. But I also inherited from my mother the gambling gene, so I enjoy my blackjack. I have to be careful -- historically, violinists have been gamblers. Paganini and Wieniawski gambled away their Stradivariuses. I'm not quite that bad. But I need things to take my mind off music."

Q: You've recorded dozens of albums and performed thousands of concerts. Is there anything that scares you as a performer?

A: "Definitely learning new things, learning new repertoire and memorizing it, which as a kid came like breathing. A big concerto, 30 minutes long, after a week I'd have it in my system and never worry about memorization."

Q: Your new album debuted at No. 1 in the classical crossover chart. I understand you don't like the word "crossover." Why?

A: "What does it mean 'crossover'? What is it crossing over to? It has a connotation, especially in classical music, of selling out and doing something that's sort of cheap and commercial to sell records.

"Classical is a broad enough word. What is classical? You've got Bach, Stockhausen, Gershwin ... Actually, Gershwin is not considered classical, yet his music has more in common with the classical music that I know than so much modern so-called classical music. Brahms and Dvorak used folk melodies. Is that crossover? So I'm usually not crazy about the term."

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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