LISTEN: Famed Violinist Plays Do-Over at D.C. Train Station

Acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell packed Union Station in Washington, D.C., Tuesday for what might be the train station's happiest crowd ever.

Seven years ago, Bell performed incognito for tips in a Washington subway station, but almost no one stopped to listen. The subway performance was an experiment with The Washington Post to see if anyone would notice some of the world's great music during their rush to work.

It made for a fabulous story that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize, inspired a children's book and even led to mentions in church sermons:

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.

Tuesday, the 46-year-old musician played at Washington's Union Station, this time with some notice for music fans. The result was a crowd that filled the station's main hall and even had some standing on its winding stairs.

"This is more like it!" Bell said. "And it's a lot less lonely this time."

Later, he said, "I can't tell you how touched I am that there are so many people here. This far exceeds anything that we could imagine.

"It means a lot to me, so thank you," Bell said. "I love Washington!"

The concert was short -- Bell quipped, "I have a train to catch." But there was time for Bell to perform Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor as well as a Mendelssohn piece, performing with nine young musicians he has mentored.

The Grammy-winning violinist now wants to call attention to the need for music education in every school. He was lucky, he said, to have parents who encouraged him to play music from an early age. Now students make it through school without any music or art education.

Bell performed with young musicians he has mentored for an upcoming HBO special "Joshua Bell: A YoungArts MasterClass,'' which debuts Oct. 14.

"Music is something that should be a part of everyone's life,'' he said.

Nearly every day for the past seven years, someone has reminded Bell of his subway performance, he said.

"I wouldn't want to be defined by just that experience,'' Bell told The Associated Press. "Hopefully the rest of my body of work will carry more weight than that.''

On Tuesday, Bell is releasing his first album of Bach violin concertos and arrangements for violin and orchestra. He began his career playing Bach's music, but he has resisted recording it until now.

"Bach is in some ways the holy grail in classical music,'' Bell said. "It's so important to me but important that I get it right...I kind of finally felt ready.''

Bell said he does look at street musicians differently now.

"It's not really fun to be playing for people walking by,'' he said. "When I walk by I always give something now because after my experience, I don't want to be the one who walks by and doesn't pay attention. I'm sometimes occasionally recognized by the street performers' and they say `hey, thanks for that experiment because after that people are a little bit more aware of what we're doing here.'''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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