NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joshua Bell is one of the classical music world’s iconic figures, but fame didn’t stop the Grammy-Award winning violinist’s music from falling on deaf ears at a subway stop in Washington.
Bell, 39, received the most coveted prize in classical music — the Avery Fisher prize — on Tuesday, two days after The Washington Post revealed that he had failed to draw even a tiny crowd while performing in an anonymous setting.
The boyish-looking Bell swapped his formal concert garb for jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap to play six classical pieces outside a Metro station in a test of perception and public taste conducted by the Post.
Bell says the results after 43 minutes during morning rush hour — $32.17 and only one of 1,097 people who passed by recognizing him — were more surprising than being asked to do the stunt in the first place.
“I was quite nervous and it was a strange experience being ignored,” Bell, a former child prodigy who attracts a young following and commands ticket prices of $100 or more at his concerts, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“Obviously I am spoiled by getting up on stage and having people clap and pay money to see me, and it changed my perspective on things.”
Bell undertook the experiment in January and the Post published an article on the event on Sunday.
Playing a violin handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari and reported to cost around $3.5 million, Bell said he expected that rush-hour commuters might not be open to listening to music “or experiencing art.”
“I expected that, but it was still almost hurtful sometimes when somebody just walked by when I really did try to play my best,” he said. “It was difficult to see.”
Bell, who gained fame for playing the Academy-Award winning score for the film “The Red Violin” and who has a new album, “The Essential Joshua Bell” out this week, is philosophical about his experience.
The experiment, he said, made him realize that people have become desensitized to classical music and that the musical experience is “a participatory thing” in which performer and listener must be involved.
Bell said he would continue his touring average of 120 concerts a year. But those hoping to spot one the world’s top musicians next time they take the subway may have to wait.
“Maybe once is enough for me for this kind of experiment,” Bell said, smiling. “But I myself will certainly be paying more attention to street musicians when I walk by.”