In a comment to my previous post For Whom The Bell, someone kindly drew my attention to a comment by a New York busker called Natalia Paruz, who goes under the sobriquet of SawLady because (you've guessed it perhaps) she plays the musical saw. I get the impression from her website that she appears regularly in both subways and concert halls. (If you visit her site, be prepared for some delightful examples of her work.) She asks Is Joshua Bell a good busker? and decides, on the whole, that he is not.
Obviously playing in the subway calls for a different kind of musicianship. Comments to Natalia's blog debate whether or not Bell is capable of playing in a more "popular" style, and chose not for the purposes of the experiment. Obviously Bell was not exactly driven by the same financial motives as most other buskers, so he could afford to play how he wanted, rather than to please the crowd.
But before musicians get all snooty about classical music and popular music, remember one thing. Much of the music Joshua Bell plays for a living was not written for the concert hall, let alone for the recording studio. The concert hall emerged in the nineteenth century, and recorded music in the twentieth. Mozart's music was written to entertain chattering aristocrats, not for solemn middle class audiences in fancy auditoriums (and certainly not to improve the brainpower of unborn children).
How would Mozart have survived in the Washington subway? I like to think he would have done better than Joshua Bell. Gidon Kremer, are you up for a challenge?