Violinist Joshua Bell is currently Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in London. He was born in 1967 in Bloomington, Indiana. At 14 he played with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti, and he made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. In January 2007, at the age of 39, he was playing to a packed house at Boston’s Symphony Hall, where half-decent seats start at $100.
But three days after that performance he was busking at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington DC. He always plays the same violin though, a 1713 Stradivarius. He had bought this a few years previously for an estimated $3.5 million. He played for 43 minutes and made $32.17.
The performance was a social and aesthetic experiment organised by the Washington Post. Here was one of the top violinists in the world, on one of the most valuable violins in existence, playing some of the most exquisite music ever scored for the instrument. He started with the Chaconne from JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, followed by Schubert’s Ave Maria, and Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita. There was then a piece by Massenet and a Bach gavotte. He finished by repeating the Chaconne, and it was only when he was getting towards the end of that that someone recognised who he was, because she had been at Bell’s free concert at the Library of Congress three weeks earlier. $20 of his $32.17 came from her. Another 26 people made up the rest.
But throughout the whole 43 minutes 1070 commuters hurried past and hardly noticed:
Considering the name of the venue it is interesting that every time a child walked past the child tried to stop and watch. And each time a parent whisked the child away.
For the full Washington Post story see: Pearls Before Breakfast.
© Chris Lawrence 2020.