The Grammy award-winning violinist Joshua Bell has performed for President Obama at the White House, thousands of rapt fans at Carnegie Hall and a TV audience of millions as a guest on the Tonight Show. On Januaury 25th, he invited the audience into his house for an evening of music and merriment benefiting two charities close to his heart, Music Unites and Education Through Music. Both MU and ETM focus on providing music education to undeserved schools and, for years, Bell has worked with ETM to share his passion and talent with students throughout New York.
Bell's Gramercy Park duplex, with its wrap-around balcony and double-height ceiling, proved the perfect setting for the party. Guests sipped Twenty 2 Vodka martinis and Far Niente chardonnay and nibbled on passed hors devours that Brian Lewis, the chef from the acclaimed Bedford Post Inn, plated in Bell's kitchen. After an hour of mingling with friends -- including the singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, who appears on Bell's latest album, "At Home with Friends" -- Bell took to the stage (aka, a raised section of his living room) to perform a brief, but rich, set for the eager crowd. Accompanied by the pianist Jeremy Denk, Bell began with "an appetizer" -- Tchaikovsky's "Melodie" from Souvenir d'un lieu cher.
Before moving onto his next piece, Bell talked about his first experience working with students at a school in Harlem in 2004. "They prepped them, so when I walked in the door I was like a rock star," he said, with a laugh. Most of the children he works with are underprivileged and come from broken homes and he said these music classes can be a life-changing experience for them. "The pride they take in that--you can't imagine any of these kids not going on to have a fulfilling life in anything they do," he said.
Bell thanked the Bedford Post Inn for their "amazing" food -- "unfortunately it makes the music an afterthought," he joked -- and Far Niente for the wine. "I'd also like to blame Far Niente for any mistakes," he said, eliciting a big laugh from the crowd. He and Denk then launched into an arousing performance of Grieg's Sonata in C Minor. Bell moved in tune with the music -- bending his body as he went down a scale, soulfully swaying to the beat as the tempo decreased. When the piece came to an end, cries of "bravo!" filled the room.
As waiters passed around shortbread and elderflower tarts, Bell fielded compliments and questions from fans. He said one of the best parts about working with kids is their enthusiasm. "Just seeing them asking questions -- they're so eager," he said. "They're not like, 'Oh god, we're in class.' It's really inspiring." Bell also said he looked forward to collaborating with Music Unites. "I've known [founder] Michelle for a while and I've kept an eye on them. They're doing really good things." But for the rest of the night, he was off the clock. "Have you tried the vodka?" he asked. He flashed a boyish grin and headed to the bar.
Written by Ellen Carpenter