December 20, 2017

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

– W.H. Davies


The Washington Post conducted an experiment in context, perception and priorities, in a Washington subway early in 2007. Joshua Bell, renowned classical violinist, would play his 1713 Strad in the L’enfant Plaza subway station, beside a trash basket, during the morning rush hour, to see how many people would stop and listen. “Would beauty transcend?”


More than 1,000 people passed by him, while he played masterpieces usually heard in concert halls. In the forty-three minutes that he played, only seven people took the time to stop and pay attention. No crowds formed to listen to this otherworldly beauty.


The conclusion? “Context matters,” as writer Gene Weingarten pointed out in his Pulitzer prize-winning article.


This story has been retold in a children’s book by Canadian author Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić. Anne Dudley was commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra to compose a suite for violin and orchestra, based on the same story. After receiving its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in February 2017, with none other than Joshua Bell as soloist, Alexander Shelley will conduct the NAC Orchestra in the Canadian premiere of the work at the NAC in Ottawa on December 20, 2017. Joshua will also play “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, all in the second half of a one-night-only concert that will start out with sparkling Christmas carols sung by the Ottawa Cathedral Choirs and played by the NAC Orchestra.


Visit the NAC’s website for more details and to purchase tickets.