Performing Arts: The Man with the Violin

by Virginia Coyne

Joshua Bell returns to Washington for a Kennedy Center residency and the world premiere of a concert inspired by his 2007 incognito performance on the D.C. Metro.

When renowned violinist Joshua Bell touches down in Washington in early February for a six day stint as artist-in-residence at the Kennedy Center, it will mark the start, for the artist, of a a rare multi-day stay in a single city. In January alone, New York-based Bell performed in Austria, Amsterdam, Germany, England, Florida and California to promote his newest album “For the Love of Brahmans.” Bell says he’s on the road more than 300 days a year, a schedule he has maintained for more than three decades. “My life is pretty crazy,” admits the father of three. “I feel like I’m constantly spinning plates, like those circus acts. Either that or the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode with the conveyer belt. But I seem to thrive on that.”

His February 6-12 collaboration with the Kennedy Center, where he first performed at the age of 17, coincides with the venue’s commemoration this year of the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth.

The in-town respite will also allow him to showcase different skills and feed his passion for sharing classical music with children. Bell will visit a school, perform in a “Gourmet Symphony,” where music is paired with locally sourced cuisine (“Food is my second favorite hobby,” enthuses Bell) and conduct the National Symphony Orchestra. The week culminates with the world premiere concert of “The Man with the Violin,” based on the acclaimed children’s book by Canadian author Kathy Stinson. Stinson’s story was inspired by the 2007 Washington Post experiment in which Bell went unrecognized while playing his Stradivarius outside a metro station.

The report earned writer Gene Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize, inspired lectures and sermons about taking time to appreciate beauty in the world and left Bell with even wider name recognition. “Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about it,” he says. Even as he admits he wouldn’t mind distancing himself from the association with the metro experiment, he relishes the fact that children have been so taken by the story.

His sons, ages 9 and 6-year-old twins, will be at the “Violin” premiere, having been instilled with Bell’s belief that “music and art are absolutely essential for becoming a human being and having a fulfilling life.”

This story appears in the January 2017 issue of Washington Life.


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