Posts Tagged ‘Joshua Bell


Pearls Before Breakfast

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

By Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.

The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator and the outdoors, it somehow caught the sound and bounced it back round and resonant. The violin is an instrument that is said to be much like the human voice, and in this musician’s masterly hands, it sobbed and laughed and sang — ecstatic, sorrowful, importuning, adoring, flirtatious, castigating, playful, romancing, merry, triumphal, sumptuous.

So, what do you think happened?


Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

“Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”

So, a crowd would gather?

“Oh, yes.”

And how much will he make?

“About $150.”

Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.

“How’d I do?”

We’ll tell you in a minute.

“Well, who was the musician?”

Joshua Bell.


A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another mendicant, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.

Bell was first pitched this idea shortly before Christmas, over coffee at a sandwich shop on Capitol Hill. A New Yorker, he was in town to perform at the Library of Congress and to visit the library’s vaults to examine an unusual treasure: an 18th-century violin that once belonged to the great Austrian-born virtuoso and composer Fritz Kreisler. The curators invited Bell to play it; good sound, still.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Bell confided, as he sipped his coffee. “I’m thinking that I could do a tour where I’d play Kreisler’s music . . .”

He smiled.

“. . . on Kreisler’s violin.”

It was a snazzy, sequined idea — part inspiration and part gimmick — and it was typical of Bell, who has unapologetically embraced showmanship even as his concert career has become more and more august. He’s soloed with the finest orchestras here and abroad, but he’s also appeared on “Sesame Street,” done late-night talk TV and performed in feature films. That was Bell playing the soundtrack on the 1998 movie “The Red Violin.” (He body-doubled, too, playing to a naked Greta Scacchi.) As composer John Corigliano accepted the Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score, he credited Bell, who, he said, “plays like a god.”

When Bell was asked if he’d be willing to don street clothes and perform at rush hour, he said:

“Uh, a stunt?”

Well, yes. A stunt. Would he think it . . . unseemly?

Bell drained his cup.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

Bell’s a heartthrob. Tall and handsome, he’s got a Donny Osmond-like dose of the cutes, and, onstage, cute elides into hott. When he performs, he is usually the only man under the lights who is not in white tie and tails — he walks out to a standing O, looking like Zorro, in black pants and an untucked black dress shirt, shirttail dangling. That cute Beatles-style mop top is also a strategic asset: Because his technique is full of body — athletic and passionate — he’s almost dancing with the instrument, and his hair flies.

He’s single and straight, a fact not lost on some of his fans. In Boston, as he performed Max Bruch’s dour Violin Concerto in G Minor, the very few young women in the audience nearly disappeared in the deep sea of silver heads. But seemingly every single one of them — a distillate of the young and pretty — coalesced at the stage door after the performance, seeking an autograph. It’s like that always, with Bell.

Bell’s been accepting over-the-top accolades since puberty: Interview magazine once said his playing “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” He’s learned to field these things graciously, with a bashful duck of the head and a modified “pshaw.”

For this incognito performance, Bell had only one condition for participating. The event had been described to him as a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius. His condition: “I’m not comfortable if you call this genius.” “Genius” is an overused word, he said: It can be applied to some of the composers whose work he plays, but not to him. His skills are largely interpretive, he said, and to imply otherwise would be unseemly and inaccurate.

It was an interesting request, and under the circumstances, one that will be honored. The word will not again appear in this article.

It would be breaking no rules, however, to note that the term in question, particularly as applied in the field of music, refers to a congenital brilliance — an elite, innate, preternatural ability that manifests itself early, and often in dramatic fashion.

One biographically intriguing fact about Bell is that he got his first music lessons when he was a 4-year-old in Bloomington, Ind. His parents, both psychologists, decided formal training might be a good idea after they saw that their son had strung rubber bands across his dresser drawers and was replicating classical tunes by ear, moving drawers in and out to vary the pitch.

TO GET TO THE METRO FROM HIS HOTEL, a distance of three blocks, Bell took a taxi. He’s neither lame nor lazy: He did it for his violin.

Bell always performs on the same instrument, and he ruled out using another for this gig. Called the Gibson ex Huberman, it was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari during the Italian master’s “golden period,” toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection.

“Our knowledge of acoustics is still incomplete,” Bell said, “but he, he just . . . knew.”

Bell doesn’t mention Stradivari by name. Just “he.” When the violinist shows his Strad to people, he holds the instrument gingerly by its neck, resting it on a knee. “He made this to perfect thickness at all parts,” Bell says, pivoting it. “If you shaved off a millimeter of wood at any point, it would totally imbalance the sound.” No violins sound as wonderful as Strads from the 1710s, still.

The front of Bell’s violin is in nearly perfect condition, with a deep, rich grain and luster. The back is a mess, its dark reddish finish bleeding away into a flatter, lighter shade and finally, in one section, to bare wood.

“This has never been refinished,” Bell said. “That’s his original varnish. People attribute aspects of the sound to the varnish. Each maker had his own secret formula.” Stradivari is thought to have made his from an ingeniously balanced cocktail of honey, egg whites and gum arabic from sub-Saharan trees.

Like the instrument in “The Red Violin,” this one has a past filled with mystery and malice. Twice, it was stolen from its illustrious prior owner, the Polish virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman. The first time, in 1919, it disappeared from Huberman’s hotel room in Vienna but was quickly returned. The second time, nearly 20 years later, it was pinched from his dressing room in Carnegie Hall. He never got it back. It was not until 1985 that the thief — a minor New York violinist — made a deathbed confession to his wife, and produced the instrument.

Bell bought it a few years ago. He had to sell his own Strad and borrow much of the rest. The price tag was reported to be about $3.5 million.

All of which is a long explanation for why, in the early morning chill of a day in January, Josh Bell took a three-block cab ride to the Orange Line, and rode one stop to L’Enfant.

AS METRO STATIONS GO, L’ENFANT PLAZA IS MORE PLEBEIAN THAN MOST. Even before you arrive, it gets no respect. Metro conductors never seem to get it right: “Leh-fahn.” “Layfont.” “El’phant.”

At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it’s that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers’ bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be “hot.” They sell briskly. There’s also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you’ve won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.

On Friday, January 12, the people waiting in the lottery line looking for a long shot would get a lucky break — a free, close-up ticket to a concert by one of the world’s most famous musicians — but only if they were of a mind to take note.

Bell decided to begin with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”

Bell didn’t say it, but Bach’s “Chaconne” is also considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master. Many try; few succeed. It’s exhaustingly long — 14 minutes — and consists entirely of a single, succinct musical progression repeated in dozens of variations to create a dauntingly complex architecture of sound. Composed around 1720, on the eve of the European Enlightenment, it is said to be a celebration of the breadth of human possibility.

If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

So, that’s the piece Bell started with.

He’d clearly meant it when he promised not to cheap out this performance: He played with acrobatic enthusiasm, his body leaning into the music and arching on tiptoes at the high notes. The sound was nearly symphonic, carrying to all parts of the homely arcade as the pedestrian traffic filed past.

Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.

A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.

Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

No, Mr. Slatkin, there was never a crowd, not even for a second.

It was all videotaped by a hidden camera. You can play the recording once or 15 times, and it never gets any easier to watch. Try speeding it up, and it becomes one of those herky-jerky World War I-era silent newsreels. The people scurry by in comical little hops and starts, cups of coffee in their hands, cellphones at their ears, ID tags slapping at their bellies, a grim danse macabre to indifference, inertia and the dingy, gray rush of modernity.

Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler’s movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience — unseen, unheard, otherworldly — that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there. A ghost.

Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.


It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

We’ll go with Kant, because he’s obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the Metro.

“At the beginning,” Bell says, “I was just concentrating on playing the music. I wasn’t really watching what was happening around me . . .”

Playing the violin looks all-consuming, mentally and physically, but Bell says that for him the mechanics of it are partly second nature, cemented by practice and muscle memory: It’s like a juggler, he says, who can keep those balls in play while interacting with a crowd. What he’s mostly thinking about as he plays, Bell says, is capturing emotion as a narrative: “When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.”

With “Chaconne,” the opening is filled with a building sense of awe. That kept him busy for a while. Eventually, though, he began to steal a sidelong glance.

“It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . .”

The word doesn’t come easily.

“. . . ignoring me.”

Bell is laughing. It’s at himself.

“At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change.” This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

Before he began, Bell hadn’t known what to expect. What he does know is that, for some reason, he was nervous.

“It wasn’t exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies,” he says. “I was stressing a little.”

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?

“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”

He was, in short, art without a frame. Which, it turns out, may have a lot to do with what happened — or, more precisely, what didn’t happen — on January 12.

MARK LEITHAUSER HAS HELD IN HIS HANDS MORE GREAT WORKS OF ART THAN ANY KING OR POPE OR MEDICI EVER DID. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station.

“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'”

Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America’s most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.

“Optimal,” Guyer said, “doesn’t mean heading to work, focusing on your report to the boss, maybe your shoes don’t fit right.”

So, if Kant had been at the Metro watching as Joshua Bell play to a thousand unimpressed passersby?

“He would have inferred about them,” Guyer said, “absolutely nothing.”

And that’s that.

Except it isn’t. To really understand what happened, you have to rewind that video and play it back from the beginning, from the moment Bell’s bow first touched the strings.

White guy, khakis, leather jacket, briefcase. Early 30s. John David Mortensen is on the final leg of his daily bus-to-Metro commute from Reston. He’s heading up the escalator. It’s a long ride — 1 minute and 15 seconds if you don’t walk. So, like most everyone who passes Bell this day, Mortensen gets a good earful of music before he has his first look at the musician. Like most of them, he notes that it sounds pretty good. But like very few of them, when he gets to the top, he doesn’t race past as though Bell were some nuisance to be avoided. Mortensen is that first person to stop, that guy at the six-minute mark.

It’s not that he has nothing else to do. He’s a project manager for an international program at the Department of Energy; on this day, Mortensen has to participate in a monthly budget exercise, not the most exciting part of his job: “You review the past month’s expenditures,” he says, “forecast spending for the next month, if you have X dollars, where will it go, that sort of thing.”

On the video, you can see Mortensen get off the escalator and look around. He locates the violinist, stops, walks away but then is drawn back. He checks the time on his cellphone — he’s three minutes early for work — then settles against a wall to listen.

Mortensen doesn’t know classical music at all; classic rock is as close as he comes. But there’s something about what he’s hearing that he really likes.

As it happens, he’s arrived at the moment that Bell slides into the second section of “Chaconne.” (“It’s the point,” Bell says, “where it moves from a darker, minor key into a major key. There’s a religious, exalted feeling to it.”) The violinist’s bow begins to dance; the music becomes upbeat, playful, theatrical, big.Mortensen doesn’t know about major or minor keys: “Whatever it was,” he says, “it made me feel at peace.”

So, for the first time in his life, Mortensen lingers to listen to a street musician. He stays his allotted three minutes as 94 more people pass briskly by. When he leaves to help plan contingency budgets for the Department of Energy, there’s another first. For the first time in his life, not quite knowing what had just happened but sensing it was special, John David Mortensen gives a street musician money.

THERE ARE SIX MOMENTS IN THE VIDEO THAT BELL FINDS PARTICULARLY PAINFUL TO RELIVE: “The awkward times,” he calls them. It’s what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn’t noticed him playing don’t notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment. So Bell just saws out a small, nervous chord — the embarrassed musician’s equivalent of, “Er, okay, moving right along . . .” — and begins the next piece.

After “Chaconne,” it is Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” which surprised some music critics when it debuted in 1825: Schubert seldom showed religious feeling in his compositions, yet “Ave Maria” is a breathtaking work of adoration of the Virgin Mary. What was with the sudden piety? Schubert dryly answered: “I think this is due to the fact that I never forced devotion in myself and never compose hymns or prayers of that kind unless it overcomes me unawares; but then it is usually the right and true devotion.” This musical prayer became among the most familiar and enduring religious pieces in history.

A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.

“I had a time crunch,” recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. “I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement.”

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He’s the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.

“There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”

So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look. When Parker is told what she walked out on, she laughs.

“Evan is very smart!”

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

IF THERE WAS ONE PERSON ON THAT DAY WHO WAS TOO BUSY TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE VIOLINIST, it was George Tindley. Tindley wasn’t hurrying to get to work. He was at work.

The glass doors through which most people exit the L’Enfant station lead into an indoor shopping mall, from which there are exits to the street and elevators to office buildings. The first store in the mall is an Au Bon Pain, the croissant and coffee shop where Tindley, in his 40s, works in a white uniform busing the tables, restocking the salt and pepper packets, taking out the garbage. Tindley labors under the watchful eye of his bosses, and he’s supposed to be hopping, and he was.

But every minute or so, as though drawn by something not entirely within his control, Tindley would walk to the very edge of the Au Bon Pain property, keeping his toes inside the line, still on the job. Then he’d lean forward, as far out into the hallway as he could, watching the fiddler on the other side of the glass doors. The foot traffic was steady, so the doors were usually open. The sound came through pretty well.

“You could tell in one second that this guy was good, that he was clearly a professional,” Tindley says. He plays the guitar, loves the sound of strings, and has no respect for a certain kind of musician.

“Most people, they play music; they don’t feel it,” Tindley says. “Well, that man was feeling it. That man was moving. Moving into the sound.”

A hundred feet away, across the arcade, was the lottery line, sometimes five or six people long. They had a much better view of Bell than Tindley did, if they had just turned around. But no one did. Not in the entire 43 minutes. They just shuffled forward toward that machine spitting out numbers. Eyes on the prize.

J.T. Tillman was in that line. A computer specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he remembers every single number he played that day — 10 of them, $2 apiece, for a total of $20. He doesn’t recall what the violinist was playing, though. He says it sounded like generic classical music, the kind the ship’s band was playing in “Titanic,” before the iceberg.

“I didn’t think nothing of it,” Tillman says, “just a guy trying to make a couple of bucks.” Tillman would have given him one or two, he said, but he spent all his cash on lotto.

When he is told that he stiffed one of the best musicians in the world, he laughs.

“Is he ever going to play around here again?”

“Yeah, but you’re going to have to pay a lot to hear him.”


Tillman didn’t win the lottery, either.

BELL ENDS “AVE MARIA” TO ANOTHER THUNDEROUS SILENCE, plays Manuel Ponce’s sentimental “Estrellita,” then a piece by Jules Massenet, and then begins a Bach gavotte, a joyful, frolicsome, lyrical dance. It’s got an Old World delicacy to it; you can imagine it entertaining bewigged dancers at a Versailles ball, or — in a lute, fiddle and fife version — the boot-kicking peasants of a Pieter Bruegel painting.

Watching the video weeks later, Bell finds himself mystified by one thing only. He understands why he’s not drawing a crowd, in the rush of a morning workday. But: “I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”

He is. You don’t need to know music at all to appreciate the simple fact that there’s a guy there, playing a violin that’s throwing out a whole bucket of sound; at times, Bell’s bowing is so intricate that you seem to be hearing two instruments playing in harmony. So those head-forward, quick-stepping passersby are a remarkable phenomenon.

Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money; you’re not complicit in a rip-off.

It may be true, but no one gave that explanation. People just said they were busy, had other things on their mind. Some who were on cellphones spoke louder as they passed Bell, to compete with that infernal racket.

And then there was Calvin Myint. Myint works for the General Services Administration. He got to the top of the escalator, turned right and headed out a door to the street. A few hours later, he had no memory that there had been a musician anywhere in sight.

“Where was he, in relation to me?”

“About four feet away.”


There’s nothing wrong with Myint’s hearing. He had buds in his ear. He was listening to his iPod.

For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.

The song that Calvin Myint was listening to was “Just Like Heaven,” by the British rock band The Cure. It’s a terrific song, actually. The meaning is a little opaque, and the Web is filled with earnest efforts to deconstruct it. Many are far-fetched, but some are right on point: It’s about a tragic emotional disconnect. A man has found the woman of his dreams but can’t express the depth of his feeling for her until she’s gone. It’s about failing to see the beauty of what’s plainly in front of your eyes.

YES, I SAW THE VIOLINIST,” Jackie Hessian says, “but nothing about him struck me as much of anything.”

You couldn’t tell that by watching her. Hessian was one of those people who gave Bell a long, hard look before walking on. It turns out that she wasn’t noticing the music at all.

“I really didn’t hear that much,” she said. “I was just trying to figure out what he was doing there, how does this work for him, can he make much money, would it be better to start with some money in the case, or for it to be empty, so people feel sorry for you? I was analyzing it financially.”

What do you do, Jackie?

“I’m a lawyer in labor relations with the United States Postal Service. I just negotiated a national contract.”

THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE WERE UPHOLSTERED. In the balcony, more or less. On that day, for $5, you’d get a lot more than just a nice shine on your shoes.

Only one person occupied one of those seats when Bell played. Terence Holmes is a consultant for the Department of Transportation, and he liked the music just fine, but it was really about a shoeshine: “My father told me never to wear a suit with your shoes not cleaned and shined.”

Holmes wears suits often, so he is up in that perch a lot, and he’s got a good relationship with the shoeshine lady. Holmes is a good tipper and a good talker, which is a skill that came in handy that day. The shoeshine lady was upset about something, and the music got her more upset. She complained, Holmes said, that the music was too loud, and he tried to calm her down.

Edna Souza is from Brazil. She’s been shining shoes at L’Enfant Plaza for six years, and she’s had her fill of street musicians there; when they play, she can’t hear her customers, and that’s bad for business. So she fights.

Souza points to the dividing line between the Metro property, at the top of the escalator, and the arcade, which is under control of the management company that runs the mall. Sometimes, Souza says, a musician will stand on the Metro side, sometimes on the mall side. Either way, she’s got him. On her speed dial, she has phone numbers for both the mall cops and the Metro cops. The musicians seldom last long.

What about Joshua Bell?

He was too loud, too, Souza says. Then she looks down at her rag, sniffs. She hates to say anything positive about these damned musicians, but: “He was pretty good, that guy. It was the first time I didn’t call the police.”

Souza was surprised to learn he was a famous musician, but not that people rushed blindly by him. That, she said, was predictable. “If something like this happened in Brazil, everyone would stand around to see. Not here.”

Souza nods sourly toward a spot near the top of the escalator: “Couple of years ago, a homeless guy died right there. He just lay down there and died. The police came, an ambulance came, and no one even stopped to see or slowed down to look.

“People walk up the escalator, they look straight ahead. Mind your own business, eyes forward. Everyone is stressed. Do you know what I mean?”

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

— from “Leisure,” by W.H. Davies

Let’s say Kant is right. Let’s accept that we can’t look at what happened on January 12 and make any judgment whatever about people’s sophistication or their ability to appreciate beauty. But what about their ability to appreciate life?

We’re busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

Not much has changed. Pop in a DVD of “Koyaanisqatsi,” the wordless, darkly brilliant, avant-garde 1982 film about the frenetic speed of modern life. Backed by the minimalist music of Philip Glass, director Godfrey Reggio takes film clips of Americans going about their daily business, but speeds them up until they resemble assembly-line machines, robots marching lockstep to nowhere. Now look at the video from L’Enfant Plaza, in fast-forward. The Philip Glass soundtrack fits it perfectly.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi word. It means “life out of balance.”

In his 2003 book, Timeless Beauty: In the Arts and Everyday Life, British author John Lane writes about the loss of the appreciation for beauty in the modern world. The experiment at L’Enfant Plaza may be symptomatic of that, he said — not because people didn’t have the capacity to understand beauty, but because it was irrelevant to them.

“This is about having the wrong priorities,” Lane said.

If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?

That’s what the Welsh poet W.H. Davies meant in 1911 when he published those two lines that begin this section. They made him famous. The thought was simple, even primitive, but somehow no one had put it quite that way before.

Of course, Davies had an advantage — an advantage of perception. He wasn’t a tradesman or a laborer or a bureaucrat or a consultant or a policy analyst or a labor lawyer or a program manager. He was a hobo.

THE CULTURAL HERO OF THE DAY ARRIVED AT L’ENFANT PLAZA PRETTY LATE, in the unprepossessing figure of one John Picarello, a smallish man with a baldish head.

Picarello hit the top of the escalator just after Bell began his final piece, a reprise of “Chaconne.” In the video, you see Picarello stop dead in his tracks, locate the source of the music, and then retreat to the other end of the arcade. He takes up a position past the shoeshine stand, across from that lottery line, and he will not budge for the next nine minutes.

Like all the passersby interviewed for this article, Picarello was stopped by a reporter after he left the building, and was asked for his phone number. Like everyone, he was told only that this was to be an article about commuting. When he was called later in the day, like everyone else, he was first asked if anything unusual had happened to him on his trip into work. Of the more than 40 people contacted, Picarello was the only one who immediately mentioned the violinist.

“There was a musician playing at the top of the escalator at L’Enfant Plaza.”

Haven’t you seen musicians there before?

“Not like this one.”

What do you mean?

“This was a superb violinist. I’ve never heard anyone of that caliber. He was technically proficient, with very good phrasing. He had a good fiddle, too, with a big, lush sound. I walked a distance away, to hear him. I didn’t want to be intrusive on his space.”


“Really. It was that kind of experience. It was a treat, just a brilliant, incredible way to start the day.”

Picarello knows classical music. He is a fan of Joshua Bell but didn’t recognize him; he hadn’t seen a recent photo, and besides, for most of the time Picarello was pretty far away. But he knew this was not a run-of-the-mill guy out there, performing. On the video, you can see Picarello look around him now and then, almost bewildered.

“Yeah, other people just were not getting it. It just wasn’t registering. That was baffling to me.”

When Picarello was growing up in New York, he studied violin seriously, intending to be a concert musician. But he gave it up at 18, when he decided he’d never be good enough to make it pay. Life does that to you sometimes. Sometimes, you have to do the prudent thing. So he went into another line of work. He’s a supervisor at the U.S. Postal Service. Doesn’t play the violin much, anymore.

When he left, Picarello says, “I humbly threw in $5.” It was humble: You can actually see that on the video. Picarello walks up, barely looking at Bell, and tosses in the money. Then, as if embarrassed, he quickly walks away from the man he once wanted to be.

Does he have regrets about how things worked out?

The postal supervisor considers this.

“No. If you love something but choose not to do it professionally, it’s not a waste. Because, you know, you still have it. You have it forever.”

BELL THINKS HE DID HIS BEST WORK OF THE DAY IN THOSE FINAL FEW MINUTES, in the second “Chaconne.” And that also was the first time more than one person at a time was listening. As Picarello stood in the back, Janice Olu arrived and took up a position a few feet away from Bell. Olu, a public trust officer with HUD, also played the violin as a kid. She didn’t know the name of the piece she was hearing, but she knew the man playing it has a gift.

Olu was on a coffee break and stayed as long as she dared. As she turned to go, she whispered to the stranger next to her, “I really don’t want to leave.” The stranger standing next to her happened to be working for The Washington Post.

In preparing for this event, editors at The Post Magazine discussed how to deal with likely outcomes. The most widely held assumption was that there could well be a problem with crowd control: In a demographic as sophisticated as Washington, the thinking went, several people would surely recognize Bell. Nervous “what-if” scenarios abounded. As people gathered, what if others stopped just to see what the attraction was? Word would spread through the crowd. Cameras would flash. More people flock to the scene; rush-hour pedestrian traffic backs up; tempers flare; the National Guard is called; tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.

As it happens, exactly one person recognized Bell, and she didn’t arrive until near the very end. For Stacy Furukawa, a demographer at the Commerce Department, there was no doubt. She doesn’t know much about classical music, but she had been in the audience three weeks earlier, at Bell’s free concert at the Library of Congress. And here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn’t about to miss it.

Furukawa positioned herself 10 feet away from Bell, front row, center. She had a huge grin on her face. The grin, and Furukawa, remained planted in that spot until the end.

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” Furukawa says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”When it was over, Furukawa introduced herself to Bell, and tossed in a twenty. Not counting that — it was tainted by recognition — the final haul for his 43 minutes of playing was $32.17. Yes, some people gave pennies.

“Actually,” Bell said with a laugh, “that’s not so bad, considering. That’s 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn’t have to pay an agent.”

These days, at L’Enfant Plaza, lotto ticket sales remain brisk. Musicians still show up from time to time, and they still tick off Edna Souza. Joshua Bell’s latest album, “The Voice of the Violin,” has received the usual critical acclaim. (“Delicate urgency.” “Masterful intimacy.” “Unfailingly exquisite.” “A musical summit.” “. . . will make your heart thump and weep at the same time.”)

Bell headed off on a concert tour of European capitals. But he is back in the States this week. He has to be. On Tuesday, he will be accepting the Avery Fisher prize, recognizing the Flop of L’Enfant Plaza as the best classical musician in America.

Emily Shroder, Rachel Manteuffel, John W. Poole and Magazine Editor Tom Shroder contributed to this report. Gene Weingarten, a Magazine staff writer, can be reached at He will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m.



  Stradivarius violins: chronological order

new Read more:  Impressive Swimming Pool: Replica of a Stradivarius Violin

breakingnews Stolen Stradivarius sells for £1.38m

December 2013 

The stolen Stradivarius violin that was taken from Euston station in 2010 has sold for £1.38million at auction.
It belonged to London-based violinist Min-Jin Kim. The instrument was recovered three years later by police in the Midlands.
Made in Cremona in Italy in 1696 by Antonio Stradivarius, it is one of an estimated 600 remaining instruments made by him.
The violin sold by the auction house Tarisio. Jason Price from Tarisio and musician Hannah Tarley explained why the violin is so special.

  Not a Stradivarius after all
A violin owned by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, thought to be the creation of Antonio Stradivari, has been found to be the work of another, lesser esteemed craftsman, Girolamo Amati. The reassignment of creator means that the estimated value of the instrument has fallen by at least half (more…

    David Edwards “miniature  Stradivarius” (more…)

  2011, A well-preserved Stradivarius violin has been sold in an online auction for £9.8m ($15.9m) to raise money for disaster relief in Japan.

The violin was made in 1721 and is known as the Lady Blunt after Lord Byron’s granddaughter Lady Anne Blunt who owned it for 30 years. It was sold by a music foundation in Japan for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

The price is more than four times the previous record for a Stradivarius. Proceeds will go to the Nippon Foundation’s Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.
The violin was offered for sale by the Nippon Music Foundation, owner of some of the world’s finest Stradivari and Guarneri instruments.

8 April 2011: Man jailed for Stradivarius violin theft at Euston

A man has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for stealing a £1.2m Stradivarius violin at Euston station.
John Michael Maughan, 30, of no fixed address, and two boys, aged 15 and 16, took the instrument from a Korean-born classical musician, Min-Jin Kym. The 16-year-old was detained for 10 months. The younger boy will be sentenced at a later date. Maughan and the boys, from Tottenham, admitted the theft at Blackfriars Crown Court in March.

The case containing the 1696 violin, a £62,000 Peccatte bow and another bow worth £5,000, were taken on 29 November 2010 when their 32-year-old owner stopped to eat at a cafe outside the central London station. They have not been recovered (more…)

   £1.2m Stradivarius stolen as violin star buys a sandwich

A violin worth more than £1million was stolen from a brilliant musician when she stopped for a £2.95 sandwich. Internationally acclaimed violinist Min-Jin Kym, 32, was on her way to catch a train when her Stradivarius, which is more than 300 years old, was stolen by a gang of three opportunist thieves targeting passengers at Euston station in London. The instrument was in a black case which also contained two valuable bows.One of only 450 in the world, it will prove difficult to sell as dealers would immediately recognise its unique label and markings (more…)


Stradivarius violins

Ever wondered where in the world all of these priceless Stradivarius violins are located? Well now you know (sort of). Some of the whereabouts of Strad instruments is unknown, but here are the ones that we do know about:

ex-Back 1666
O: Royal Academy of Music
N&T: Currently displayed as part of Royal Academy’s York Gate Collection

Dubois 1667
O: Canimex Foundation
N&T: On loan to Alexandre da Costa

Aranyi 1667
O: Francis Aranyi (collector)
N&T: Sold at Sotheby’s London on November 12, 1986

ex-Captain Saville 1667
O: Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume; Captain Saville (1901-1907)

Amatese 1668
N&T: Though listed in many reference books as one of Stradivari’s earliest instruments, the modern consensus is that it is actually not a Stradivarius violin. It was sold Sotheby’s New York on February 3, 1982 as “an interesting violin.”

Oistrakh 1671
O: David Oistrakh
N&T: Stolen from the Museum of Musical Culture in Russia in May 1996 but recovered in 2001.

Sellière 1672
O: Charles IV of Spain

Spanish 1677
O: Finnish Cultural Foundation
N&T: On loan to Elina Vähälä

Hellier 1679
O: Sir Samuel Hellier
N&T: Held by the Smithsonian Institution

Paganini-Desaint 1680
O: Nippon Music Foundation; The collection of Mr & Mrs Rin Kei Mei
N&T: This violin along with the Paganini-Comte Cozio di Salabue violin of 1727, the Paganini-Mendelssohn viola 1731, and Paganini-Ladenburg cello of 1736, compose a group of instruments referred to as the Paganini Quartet; on loan to Kikuei Ikeda of the Tokyo String Quartet

Paganini-Desaint 1681
O: Reynier or Comte de Chesnais
N&T: Owned in 1949 by Lyon & Healey. Previously owned by Napoleon III, Leon Reynier and le Comte de Chesnais.

Fleming 1681

Bucher 1683
O: Josef Gingold
N&T: On loan to Judith Ingolfsson, a 26-year-old violinist from Iceland, who won the gold medal at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 1998.

Cipriani Potter 1683

Cobbett; ex-Holloway 1683
N&T: On loan to Sejong brokered by the Stradivari Society

ex-Croall 1684
O: WestLB

ex-Elphinstone 1684

ex-Arma Senkrah 1685

ex-Castelbarco 1685

Goddard 1686
O: Miss Goddard; Antonio Fortunato

Ole Bull 1687
O: Ole Bull (1844);  Dr. Herbert Axelrod (1985-1997)
N&T: Donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1997 by Herbert R. Axelrod. Now part of the Axelrod quartet.

Mercur-Avery 1687
O: 1688 The collection of Mr & Mrs Rin Kei Mei
N&T: On loan to Jonathan Carney, concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2002

Auer 1689
N&T: On loan to Vadim Gluzman brokered by the Stradivari Society

Arditi 1689
O: Dextra musica AS, Norway
N&T: On loan to Elise Båtnes, concertmaster, Oslo Philharmonic

O: Canada Council for the Arts
N&T: On loan to Judy Kang

Spanish I 1689
O: Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain
N&T: date range 1687-1689; part of a duo of violins (Spanish I and II) referred to as los Decorados, and los Palatinos; also collectively known as del Cuarteto Real (The Royal Quartet) when included with the Spanish Court viola (1696) and cello (1694).

Spanish II 1689
O: Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain
N&T: date range 1687-1689; part of a duo of violins (Spanish I and II) referred to as los Decorados, and los Palatinos; also collectively known as del Cuarteto Real (The Royal Quartet) when included with the Spanish Court viola (1696) and cello (1694).

Bingham 1690

Bennett 1692
O: Winterthur-Versicherungen
N&T: On loan to Hanna Weinmeister

Falmouth 1692
N&T: On loan to Leonidas Kavakos

Gould 1693
O: Metropolitan Museum of Art
N&T: Bequeathed by George Gould to the Metropolitan Museum in 1955

Harrison 1693
O: Richard Harrison; Henry Hottinger; Kyung-wha Chung
N&T: in the collection of the National Music Museum

Baillot-Pommerau 1694
N&T: Formerly owned by Arthur Catterall, then by Alfredo Campoli

Rutson 1694
O: Royal Academy of Music
N&T: on loan to Clio Gould

Fetzer 1695

Fetzer 1697
O: Edvin Marton
N&T: Dima Bilan, together with Evgeni Plushenko, and Edvin Marton playing his Stradivarius, won the Eurovision Song Contest 2008

Ex-Napoleon/Molitor Stradivarius 1697

Ms.Meyers recently acquired the Ex-Napoleon/Molitor Stradivarius dated 1697. The violin belonged to one of France’s legendary beauties, Madame Juliette Recamier, and then passed to Count Joseph Molitor, a General in Napoleon’s Army. The violin also passed through Napoleon Bonaparte’s hands-you can read about its provenance here. Ms.Meyers also owns the “Royal Spanish” made in 1730 by the legendary Italian maker Antonio Stradivari (1644 –1737). The “Royal Spanish” earned its name because it previously belonged to the King of Spain.

October 14, 2010, a 1697 Stradivarius violin known as ‘The Molitor’ was sold online by Tarisio Auctions for a world-record price of $3,600,000 to renowned concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. The price is the highest on record for any musical instrument sold at auction.

Cabriac 1698

Baron Knoop 1698
N&T: One of eleven Stradivari violins associated with Baron Johann Knoop

Joachim 1698
O: Royal Academy of Music

Duc de Camposelice 1699
O: unknown

Lady Tennant; Lafont 1699
O: Charles Phillipe Lafont;
N&T: on loan to Xiang Gao brokered by the Stradivari Society; sold at Christie’s auction US$2.032 million, April 2005 Marguerite Agaranthe Tennant

Longuet 1699

Countess Polignac 1699
N&T: On loan to Gil Shaham.

Castelbarco 1699
O: Library of Congress
N&T: Presented by Gertrude Clarke Whittall

Kustendyke 1699
O: Royal Academy of Music

Crespi 1699
O: Royal Academy of Music

The Penny 1700
O: Barbara Penny

Dragonetti 1700
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: Formerly owned by Alfredo Campoli.
This violin is one of the very few instruments which still retain its original neck. Its name is taken from the owner, Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846), who was an Italian virtuoso double bass player. Dragonetti formed a large collection of double basses, violins, cellos, harps and guitars. Just prior to the Foundation’s acquisition, this violin was played by the renowned violinist, Frank Peter Zimmerman (1965- ) throughout the world.

Jupiter 1700
O: Giovanni Battista Viotti;

Taft ex-Emil Heermann 1700
O: Canada Council for the Arts
N&T: on loan to Renée-Paule Gauthier

Dushkin 1701
N&T: on loan to Dennis Kim, concertmaster, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra

Markees 1701
O: Music Chamber

Irish 1702
O: Pohjola Bank Art Foundation, Finland
N&T: on loan to Antti Tikkanen

Conte de Fontana; ex-Oistrach 1702
O: David Oistrakh (1953-1963); Riccardo Brengola; Pro Canale Foundation
N&T: Oistrakh’s first violin; on loan to Mariana Sirbu

Lukens; Edler Voicu 1702
O: A.W. Lukens; Jon Voicu; Romania Culture Ministry
N&T: on loan to Alexandru Tomescu through 2012

King Maximilian Joseph 1702

Lyall 1702

Antonio Stradivari 1703
O: Bundesrepublik Deutschland
N&T: on exhibit at Musikinstrumentenmuseum, Berlin

La Rouse Boughton 1703
O: Österreichische Nationalbank
N&T: on loan to Boris Kuschnir of the Kopelman Quartet

Lord Newlands 1702
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Toru Yasunaga
This violin was named after the owner, Lord Newlands (1890-1929), who treasured it throughout his life. While this violin was in the care of W.E.Hill & Sons of London between 1964 and 1982, it was exhibited at the CINOA Exhibit of Bath in 1973 as the most outstanding violin in the Hill Collection. According to the world virtuoso violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) who once played this violin, “Lord Newlands” has the same power as his “del Gesu” violins.

Allegretti 1703

Alsager 1703

Lady Harmsworth 1703
O: Paul Bartel
N&T: on loan to Kristof Barati brokered by the Stradivari Society

Maj 2010 – Helsingborgs Symfoniorkester. Kvällens solist var Kristof Barati som spelade Paganinis violinkonsert nr 5 a-moll. Grymt skicklig violinist och vilket ljud i hans fiol. Han spelade på en Stradivarius som kallas Lady Harmsworth

Emiliani 1703
O: Anne-Sophie Mutter

ex-Foulis 1703
N&T: on loan to Karen Gomyo

Betts 1704
O: U.S. Library of Congress
N&T: Presented by Gertrude Clarke Whittall

Sleeping Beauty 1704
O: L-Bank Baden-Wurttemberg
N&T: on loan to Isabelle Faust. One of the few Stradivari violins to have retained original neck.

ex-Marsick; ex-Oistrach 1705
O: David Oistrach
N&T: acquired in trade by Oistrach for the 1702 Conte di Fontana

ex-Tadolini 1706
O: The collection of Mr & Mrs Rin Kei Mei

ex-Brüstlein 1707
O: Österreichische Nationalbank

La Cathédrale 1707

Hammer 1707
O: Christian Hammer (collector)
N&T: sold at Christie’s New York on 16 May 2006 for a record US$3,544,000 (€2,765,080) after five minutes of bidding

The Hammer Stradivarius violin, measures 36cm and bears the label inside:. Dating from 1707, It was made during Stradivari’s ‘golden’ period. The Hammer was so called as it was once owned by a Swedish collector Christian Hammer who is the first recorded owner. Latterly it found its way the United States and into the ownership of a music teacher, Bernard Sinsheimer but in 1992, it was acquired by a Japanese oil company.

Burstein; Bagshawe 1708
N&T: owned by the Jacobs family, loaned to Jeff Thayer, San Diego Symphony concertmaster

Huggins 1708
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: The name of this violin is taken from the ownership by William Huggins (1824-1910), a well-known English astronomer in the 1880s. Since 1997, this violin has been slated to the first-prize winner of The Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Belgium for four years until the next competition takes place. The winners of the previous Competitions are Nikolaj Znaider of Denmark (1997), Baiba Skride of Latvia (2001), Sergey Khachatryan of Armenia (2005), Ray Chen of Australia (2009).

Ruby 1708
N&T: on loan to Chen Xi brokered by the Stradivari Society

Strauss 1708
N&T: on loan to Chee-Yun brokered by the Stradivari Society

Greffuhle 1709
N&T: Donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1997 by Herbert R. Axelrod. Now part of the Axelrod quartet.

Berlin Hochschule 1709

Hammerle; ex-Adler 1709
O: Österreichische Nationalbank
N&T: on loan to Werner Hink

Ernst 1709
N&T: on loan to Zsigmondy Dénes through 2003

Engleman 1709
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Lisa Batiashvili
This violin was once owned by the family of a naval officer Commander Young until his death in the World War II. The Young family had retained possession of the violin for almost 150 years, which is reflected in its superior condition. Nippon Music Foundation acquired this violin from an American amateur violinist and collector Ephraim Engleman, hence the name “Engleman”.

King Maximilian; Unico 1709
O: Axel Springer Foundation
N&T: on loan to Michel Schwalbé, concert master of the Berlin Philharmonic (1966-1986); reported stolen in 1999

Viotti; ex-Bruce 1709
O: Royal Academy of Music
N&T: purchased in 2005 for GB£3.5 million

Marie Hall 1709
O: Giovanni Battista Viotti; The Chi-Mei Collection
N&T: named after the violinist, Marie Hall

ex-Kempner 1709
N&T: on loan to Soovin Kim

Camposelice 1710
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Kyoko Takezawa
The name of this violin is derived from an owner in France in the 1880s by the name of Duke of Camposelice, who was a well-known Stradivarius collector. In 1894, the violin was sold to Mrs. Jack Gardner, who founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Mrs. Gardner presented the violin to Martin Loeffler, composer and violinist, who played and kept it from 1894 to 1928. In 1937, this violin was exhibited at the prestigious Cremona Exhibition by Dr. Kuhne who owned a collection of instruments. It was in the hands of a Belgian amateur player who kept it for over thirty years and it is from his heir that the Foundation acquired this instrument.

Lord Dunn-Raven 1710
O: Anne-Sophie Mutter

ex-Roederer 1710
N&T: on loan to David Grimal.

ex-Vieuxtemps 1710
N&T: on loan to Samuel Magad, concertmaster, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

the Lady Inchiquin 1711
O: previously owned by Fritz Kreisler
N&T: played by Frank Peter Zimmermann, a German banking company, WestLB AG, bought it for his use.

Earl of Plymouth; Kreisler 1711
O: Los Angeles Philharmonic
N&T: found in store room on the estate of the Earl of Plymouth along with The Messiah and Alard violins in 1925; purchased by Fritz Kreisler in 1928 and subsequently sold by him in 1946

Liegnitz 1711
N&T: previously owned by Szymon Goldberg

Le Brun 1712
O: Niccolò Paganini; Charles LeBrun; Otto Senn;
N&T: sold at Sotheby’s auction 13 November 2001

Karpilowsky 1712
O: Harry Solloway
N&T: missing: stolen in 1953 from Solloway’s residence in Los Angeles

Schreiber 1713

Antonio Stradivari 1713

Boissier 1713

Daniel 1713
N&T: on loan to Jhon Paul Reynols

Gibson; ex-Huberman 1713
O: Bronis?aw Huberman; Joshua Bell
N&T: stolen twice from Huberman

Lady Ley 1713
O: Stradivarius family
N&T: now bought by Jue Yao – Chinese violinist

Wirt 1713

Dolphin; Delfino 1714
O: Jascha Heifetz; Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Akiko Suwanai
This violin is perhaps one of the most famous violins known today. It is recognized as one of the top three violins made by Stradivari along with 1715 “Alard” and 1716 “Messiah”. This instrument was once owned and played by the world famous virtuoso Jascha Heifetz (1900-1987). The owner in the late 1800s, George Hart, who was an instrument dealer in London, named the violin “Dolphin” as its striking appearance and colour of its back reminded him of a dolphin.

Soil 1714
O: Amédée Soil; Yehudi Menuhin; Itzhak Perlman
N&T: Subject of the Quest “Agatha’s Song” in the video game Fallout 3.

ex-Berou; ex-Thibaud 1714

Le Maurien 1714
N&T: missing: stolen 2002

Leonora Jackson 1714

Sinsheimer; General Kyd; Perlman 1714
O: Itzhak Perlman, David L. Fulton

Smith-Quersin 1714
O: Österreichische Nationalbank
N&T: on loan to Rainer Honeck

Alard-Baron Knoop 1715

Baron Knoop; ex-Bevan 1715

ex-Bazzini 1715

Cremonese; ex-Harold, Joseph Joachim 1715
O: Municipality of Cremona

Duke of Cambridge; Ex-Pierre Rode 1715
O: NPO “Yellow Angel”
N&T: on loan to Ryu Goto

Joachim 1715
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Sayaka Shoji
This is one of the five 1715 violins once owned by the famed Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). This violin was later bequeathed to Joachim’s great-niece Adela d’Aranyi, who was a violinist and a pupil of Joachim. Therefore, the violin is also known as “Joachim-Aranyi”. This violin had since remained in the same family until Nippon Music Foundation acquired the instrument.

Lipinski 1715
N&T: on loan to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, Frank Almond

2014 Theft: On January 27, 2014, a Monday, at around 10:20 pm (22:20 CST), Almond was assaulted with a stun gun and the violin, along with two bows, were stolen during an armed robbery in a parking lot in the rear of Wisconsin Lutheran College on W. Wisconsin Ave. Almond had just performed at Wisconsin Lutheran as part of his “Frankly Music” series.
On 31 January 2014, a US$100,000 reward was announced for the return of the violin. Milwaukee police worked with international police organizations on recovery efforts. The original getaway vehicle and violin case, were both found a short time after the original attack, which appeared to have been carefully planned in advance
Three suspects were arrested by Milwaukee police on February 3rd;on February 6th, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn announced that the violin had been recovered.

ex-Marsick 1715
N&T: on loan to James Ehnes

Titian 1715
O: Jacob Lynam

Cessole 1716

Berthier 1716
O: Baron Vecsey de Vecse; Franco Gulli

Booth 1716
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Shunsuke Sato; formerly loaned to Arabella Steinbacher; formerly loaned to Julia Fischer
The name “Booth” comes from Mrs. Booth, an English lady. She purchased the violin about 1855 to form a quartet of Stradivari instruments for her two sons who showed considerable talent when young. In 1931, the violin passed into the hands of Mischa Mischakoff (1896-1981), a celebrated American violinist, and in 1961, the violin became a part of the Hottinger Collection in New York. The violin enjoys a very good reputation for excellent quality of tone and power and good state of preservation. The Foundation acquired this violin in 1999.

Colossus 1716
N&T: Stolen in 1998, missing ever since

Duranti 1716
O: Mariko Senju

Monasterio 1716
N&T: Cyrus Forough

Provigny 1716

Messiah-Salabue 1716
O: Ashmolean Museum Oxford
N&T: on exhibit at the Oxford Ashmolean Museum

ex-Windsor-Weinstein; Fite 1716
O: Canada Council for the Arts
N&T: on loan to Caroline Chéhadé

Baron Wittgenstein 1716
O: The Bulgarian state
N&T: on loan to Mincio Mincev since 1979

Gariel 1717

ex-Wieniawski 1717

Kochanski 1717
O: Pierre Amoyal
N&T: Stolen in 1987, recovered in 1991

Sasserno 1717
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Viviane Hagner
The name of this violin is taken from a French owner in 1845, Comte de Sasserno. In 1894, it was acquired by a violinist Otto Peiniger, who in turn sold it to Pickering Phipps, owner of a well-known brewery in England.In 1906, this violin was passed into the hands of an English industrialist John Summers and was well-preserved in his family for 93 years.

Viotti; ex-Rosé 1718
O: Giovanni Battista Viotti;
N&T: on loan to Volkhard Steude Österreichische Nationalbank

Chanot-Chardon 1718
O: Timothy Baker; Joshua Bell
N&T: shaped like a guitar; on loan to Simone Lamsma

Firebird; ex-Saint Exupéry 1718
O: Salvatore Accardo
N&T: name is taken from the colouration of the varnish and its brilliant sound.

Marquis de Riviere 1718
O: Daniel Majeske
N&T: played by Majeske while concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1969-1993

San Lorenzo 1718
O: Georg Talbot
N&T: on loan to David Garrett, while his Guadagnini is repaired. Initial news reports erroneously stated it was the San Lorenzo he had smashed.

ex-Count Vieri 1718
O: The collection of Mr & Mrs Rin Kei Mei

Lauterbach 1719
O: Johann Christoph Lauterbach; J.B. Vuillaume; Charles Philippe Lafont

Madrileño 1720

von Beckerath 1720
O: Michael Antonello

Sinsheimer; Iselin 1721
N&T: reported stolen near Hanover, Germany in 2008; recovered in 2009.

Lady Blunt 1721
O: Paolo Stradivari.It has also been owned by several well-known collectors and experts including WE Hill & Son, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, the Baron Johann Knoop and Sam Bloomfield.
N&T: Once owned by Lady Anne Blunt, the daughter of the Earl of Lovelace and granddaughter of the famous poet Byron, the instrument bears the name. The freshness of preservation is outstanding, deserving to rank with 1716 “Le Messiah” at the Ashmolean Museum, and 1690 “Tuscan”. The original beck and bass bar are preserved. The initials P.S. in the pegbox were inscribed by Paolo, Antonio Stradivari’s son.
2011, sold for £9.8m at charity auction (more…)

Jean-Marie Leclair 1721
O: Jean-Marie Leclair;
N&T: on loan to Guido Rimonda

Red Mendelssohn 1721
O: Mendelssohn Family; Elizabeth Pitcairn
N&T: inspiration for the 1998 film, The Red Violin

The Macmillan 1721
N&T: On Loan to Ray Chen through Young Concert Artists

Artot 1722

Jules Falk 1723
O: Viktoria Mullova

Jupiter; ex-Goding 1722
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Daishin Kashimoto; formerly Midori Goto
This violin has been in caring hands who appreciated its quality, and therefore it is a well-preserved example of Stradivari’s work. It is believed that a great English collector James Goding named the violin “Jupiter” in the early 1800s. For a period of time, this instrument was performed by the world acclaimed Japanese violinist Midori Goto (1971- ).

Laub-Petschnikoff 1722

Elman 1722
O: Chi Mei Museum

Cádiz 1722
O: Joseph Fuchs
N&T: on loan to Jennifer Frautschi; named after the city of Cádiz, Spain.

Kiesewetter; “Ex Keisewetter” 1723
O: Clement and Karen Arrison
N&T: on loan to Philippe Quint brokered by the Stradivari Society. Left by Quint in taxi on 21 April 2008, and recovered the following day.

Earl Spencer 1723
N&T: on loan to Nicola Benedetti

Le Sarasate 1724
O: Musée de la Musique, Paris
N&T: bequeathed to the Conservatory by Pablo de Sarasate

Brancaccio 1725
O: Destroyed in an allied air raid on Berlin.
N&T: owned by Carl Flesch, until 1928 where it was sold to Franz von Mendelssohn, banker and amateur violinist.

Chaconne 1725
O: Österreichische Nationalbank
N&T: on loan to Rainer Küchel

Leonardo da Vinci 1725
O: Da Vinci family

Wilhelmj 1725
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Baiba Skride;
The name of this violin is derived from a German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908), who came to possess this instrument in 1866. This violin was Wilhelmj’s favorite among many precious violins he owned. After 30 years of playing this instrument, Wilhelmj sold this violin to his pupil in America as he made the decision to “quit when at my best”.

Greville; Kreisler; Adams 1726
O: Fritz Kreisler;Baron Deurbroucq (The Hague)(1870);Robert Crawford (Edinburgh);W.E. Hill & Sons (1902);

Baron Deurbroucq 1727
O: Hans Wessely (1903-1926);David D. Walton (Boston) (1926);Emil Herrmann (19??-1945);Fredell Lack (1945-present)

Barrere 1727
N&T: on loan to Janine Jansen brokered by the Stradivari Society

Davidoff-Morini 1727
N&T: Stolen in 1995, missing ever since

ex-General Dupont 1727
O: Arthur Grumiaux
N&T: on loan to Jennifer Koh

Holroyd 1727

Kreutzer 1727
O: Maxim Vengerov
N&T: one of four Stradivari violins with the sobriquet Kreutzer (1701, 1720, 1731)

Ex Reynier” or “Le Reynier”; Hart; ex-Francescatti 1727
O: Societe LVMH (Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton) since 1993 or1994; Salvatore Accardo.
N&T: Named after Leon Reynier who won at the Concervatoire de Paris in 1847. Has been lent to Maxim Vengerov.

Paganini-Comte Cozio di Salabue 1727
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: 1727 violin (1st violin), the Paganini-Desaint violin of 1680 (2nd violin), the Paganini-Mendelssohn viola of 1731, the Paganini-Ladenburg cello of 1736. This internationally renowned quartet is one of Stradivari’s six sets of quartet known to exist today. It was once owned and played by the Italian virtuoso violinist and composer, Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), hence the name “Paganini Quartet”. It is a known fact that Paganini was especially impressed with the sound quality of the viola that he commissioned a French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) to write a piece for viola and orchestra. As a result, the symphony Harold in Italy was composed for this viola. Nippon Music Foundation acquired this set of quartet from the Corcoran Gallery of Arts in Washington D.C. in 1994. The Foundation only loans these four instruments as a set of quartet and they are currently on loan to the Tokyo String Quartet (on loan to Martin Beaver)

Halphen 1727
O: Angelika Prokopp Private Foundation
N&T: on loan to Eckhard Seifert

Vesuvius 1727
O: Antonio Brosa Remo Lauricella Town of Cremona

A. J. Fletcher; Red Cross Knight 1728
O: A. J. Fletcher Foundation
N&T: on loan to Nicholas Kitchen of the Borromeo String Quartet; the instrument was made by Omobono Stradivarius

Artot-Alard 1728
O: Endre Balogh
N&T: a bench copy of this instrument was produced in 1996 by Gregg Alf and Joseph Curtin, using modern materials and methods; Balogh performs on both the 1728 original and the replica.

Dragonetti; Milanollo 1728
O: Giovanni Battista Viotti
N&T: on loan to Corey Cerovsek

Perkins 1728
O: Los Angeles Philharmonic
N&T: named after Frederick Perkins, formerly owned by Luigi Boccherini

Benny 1729
O: Jack Benny; Los Angeles Philharmonic
N&T: bequeathed to the Los Angeles Philharmonic by Jack Benny

Solomon, ex-Lambert 1729
O: Murray Lambert; Seymour Solomon
N&T: sold at Christie’s, New York for US$2,728,000 (€2,040,000)

Innes 1729
N&T: on loan to Eugen Sarbu; previously loaned to Wieniawski

Guarneri 1729
O: Canada Council for the Arts
N&T: on loan to Nikki Chooi

Royal Spanish 1730
O: Anne Akiko Meyers
N&T: once owned by the King of Spain

Lady Jeanne 1731
O: Donald Kahn Foundation
N&T: on loan to Benjamin Schmid

Garcin 1731
O: Jules Garcin; Sidney Harth

Heifetz-Piel 1731
O: Rudolph Piel; Jascha Heifetz

Baillot 1732
O: Fondazione Casa di Risparmio
N&T: lent to Giuliano Carmignola for the DG recording of Vivaldi: Concertos for Two Violins

Duke of Alcantara 1732
O: an obscure Spanish nobleman described as an aide-de-camp of King Don Carlos; UCLA
N&T: Genevieve Vedder donated the instrument to the University of California at Los Angeles’ (UCLA) music department in the 1960s. In 1967, the instrument was on loan to David Margetts. Whether it was left on the roof of his car or stolen is uncertain, but for 27 years the violin was considered missing until it was recovered from an amateur violinist who claimed to have found it on a freeway. A settlement was made and the Stradivarius was returned to UCLA in 1995

Herkules 1732
O: Eugène Ysaÿe
N&T: missing: stolen in Russia in 1908

Red Diamond 1732
O: Louis Von Spencer IV

Tom Taylor 1732
N&T: previously loaned to Joshua Bell

Des Rosiers 1733
O: Angèle Dubeau

Huberman; Kreisler 1733
O: Bronislaw Huberman; Fritz Kreisler

Khevenhüller 1733
O: Yehudi Menuhin

Rode 1733

Ames 1734
N&T: missing: stolen in 1981

Baron Feilitzsch; Heermann 1734
O: Baron Feilitzsch; Hugo Heerman; Gidon Kremer

Habeneck 1734
O: Royal Academy of Music

Herkules; Ysaye; ex-Szeryng; King David 1734
O: Eugène Ysaÿe; Charles Münch; Henryk Szeryng; State of Israel

Lord Amherst of Hackney 1734
O: Fritz Kreisler

Lamoureux; ex Zimbalist 1735
N&T: missing: stolen

Muntz 1736
O: Nippon Music Foundation
N&T: on loan to Arabella Steinbacher
The label attached to this instrument bears an inscription, “92 years old”, handwritten by Stradivari himself. It has a first class reputation for its excellent condition and tonal quality. This violin takes its name from a famous collector and amateur violinist, H.M.Muntz of Birmingham, England, who owned this violin in the late 1800s. This is one of the last instruments made by Stradivari, who passed away in 1737. 

ex.Roussy 1736
O: Chisako Takashima

Comte d’Amaille 1737

Lord Norton 1737

Chant du Cygne; Swan Song 1737
O: Ivry Gitlis


=Violin Name (Many Strad violins have a code name or sobriquet)
O =Owner
N&T (Notes and Trivia – Some interesting facts about the instruments)


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