Famed violinist plays do-over at train station
WASHINGTON (AP) — Acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell brought Bach to a train station Tuesday, as he did in 2007, but this time Washington noticed.
Hundreds of music fans packed the main hall at Union Station near the Capitol shoulder to shoulder to hear the 46-year-old Bell perform works by Bach and Mendelssohn for the lunch hour crowd, along with nine young musicians he has mentored.
Seven years ago, Bell famously performed incognito for tips in a Washington subway station, but almost no one stopped to listen. The subway performance was an experiment with The Washington Post to see if anyone would notice some of the world’s great music during their rush to work. It made for a good story that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize and inspired a children’s book and even messages in church sermons.
This time Bell’s fans had some advance notice, and it made all the difference. Music is a two-way exchange and needs an audience, Bell said after his performance drew big cheers, whistles and shouts of “bravo” from a crowd of people both young and old.
Nearly every day for the past seven years, someone has reminded Bell of his subway performance, he said.
“I wouldn’t want to be defined by just that experience,” Bell told The Associated Press. “Hopefully the rest of my body of work will carry more weight than that.”
The Grammy-winning violinist now wants to call attention to the need for music education in every school. He was lucky, he said, to have parents who encouraged him to play music from an early age. Now students make it through school without any music or art education. Bell will perform with young musicians he has mentored for an upcoming television special “Joshua Bell: A YoungArts MasterClass,” which debuts Oct. 14.
“Music is something that should be a part of everyone’s life,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, Bell is releasing his first album of Bach violin concertos and arrangements for violin and orchestra. He began his career playing Bach’s music, but he has resisted recording it until now.
“Bach is in some ways the holy grail in classical music,” Bell said. “It’s so important to me but important that I get it right. ... I kind of finally felt ready.”
In the train station, Bell and his protégés played some pieces from the new Bach album. They weren’t able to play for tips this time. Union Station doesn’t allow it. But Bell said he does look at street musicians differently now.
“It’s not really fun to be playing for people walking by,” said Bell, who lives in New York City. “When I walk by I always give something now because after my experience, I don’t want to be the one who walks by and doesn’t pay attention. I’m sometimes occasionally recognized by the street performers’ and they say ‘hey, thanks for that experiment because after that people are a little bit more aware of what we’re doing here.’”
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