American violin virtuoso to head London’s iconic Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Avery Fisher Prize-winning violinist Joshua Bell has taken up the reins as music director of the world’s most frequently recorded and beloved chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner, the group started as a home for leading London string players working without a conductor. It has since had a vital role in the revival of Baroque music performance in England and abroad. Marriner, who conducted the then 21-year-old Bell’s first violin concerto disc for Decca in 1988, holds the title of Life President with the ASMF.

The appointment announced on May 27 cements Bell’s relationship with the ASMF following the 2008 recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the star violinist as soloist and his tour to Australia with the group last year.

Directing from the violin (a 1713 Stradivarius known as the Gibson ex Huberman), Bell brings a touch of American glamour and showmanship to the traditional presentation of this revered ensemble – at 43, he has been profiled as one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People.

He made headlines around the world in 2007 when he participated in a social experiment run by the Washington Post, busking in a subway station to see how many busy passers-by would pause in their daily routine and recognise the quality of his playing (only seven out of 1,097 people stopped to listen).

Kenneth Sillito remains artistic director of the ASMF, with Bell taking over musical direction. The ensemble’s first concert project under new leadership will be the complete Beethoven symphonies.