Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violinists, played at Far Niente to celebrate the Oakville winery’s 125th anniversary Saturday night. When he raised his $8 million dollar Stradivarius, Bell said it was handcrafted in 1713, making it the oldest vintage at Far Niente.
Nearly 800 gathered at the stone winery to hear Bell play, to witness contortionists from Cirque du Soleil, to graze on appetizers from smoked leg of lamb to caviar to fig pizza and to taste wine that dated back to 1979.
Sharon Genovese of Reno said she came to the event to celebrate her 70th birthday and her $350 ticket was a gift. She said she hopes to move to the area sometime soon because of the wine culture. “It’s the world class food, absolutely the wine and the music of this caliber – Joshua Bell.”
Bell, you recall, was the musician who played incognito at the metro station in Washington D.C. a few years ago as part of an experiment to see if people would stop during rush hour and listen. To see if people would factor beauty into their day.
The metro station was L’Enfant Plaza, the nucleus of federal Washington where mid-level bureaucrats were scurrying off to their jobs as policy analysts, budget officers and the like.
As it turned out, on Jan. 12, 2007 the musician, who easily earns more than $1,000 a minute, played six pieces in a 43 minute stretch and earned $32.17. A total of 1,097 passed by, a handful stopped and only one recognized Bell at the end of the performance. It was not Bell’s finest hour.
Ironically the newspaper was worried the opposite would happen – that Bell would be recognized early on, that the news would spread, that crowd control would be necessary, that the National Guard would be needed.
Instead the virtuoso was largely ignored. Naturally this wasn’t the case at Far Niente where people watched him as if under a spell. His bow did resemble a wand of sorts and Bell swiveled and swooned and plucked the strings.
As luck would have it, Far Niente and Bell have developed a relationship over the years, with the owners donating wine to some of his charity events. The winery also makes sure Bell has plenty of Far Niente to uncork back stage after his concerts. He joked, “People seem to like the wine more than the performance, but that’s okay.” Bell, in his forties, added, that he wanted to hurry up and play for about 20 minutes “so I can get drinking.”
Watching Bell play, it wasn’t hard to imagine him as a 4-year old, stretching rubber bands across the knobs of his dresser, stringing songs together from memory. That’s when his parents, both psychologists, spotted a musical prodigy in the making and decided professional lessons would be a good idea.
After the concert, I kept thinking about the Washington Post experiment, puzzled. How could anyone pass someone by who plays as brilliantly as Bell?