WASHINGTON – Acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell will try playing in a train station again, though this time he hopes it’s more conducive to making music.
Seven years ago, Bell 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 mentions in church sermons.
On Tuesday, the 46-year-old musician will play at Washington’s Union Station, this time with some notice for music fans. Bell plans to perform works by Bach and Mendelssohn for the lunch hour crowd on Capitol Hill at 12:30 p.m., along with nine young musicians he has mentored.
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 said. “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. 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 HBO 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 will play some pieces from the new Bach album. They won’t be 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,” he said. “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.’ ”