Union Station Comes Alive with the Sound of Music from a Violin Master

Often times in life you don’t get a chance for a do-over. But sometimes you do. And Joshua Bell got such a chance yesterday.

Back in 2007, Grammy-award winning violinist Bell performed some of the world’s greatest music as a busker at the busy L’Enfant Metro station. More than a thousand pedestrians hurried by Bell without notice. Very few stopped to listen and only a handful realized they were being treated to a free concert by a musical master.

Washington Post staffer Gene Weingarten wrote a column about the adventure and that story, entitled “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can One of the Nation’s Great Musicians Cut Through the Fog of a D.C. Rush Hour?” won a pulitzer for Weingarten and greater notoriety for Bell, who already was one of the most acclaimed musicians in the world. (A link to the complete version of Weingarten’s story appears at the end of this post).

Yesterday, 7 years later, Bell gave a repeat performance of sorts.  He appeared for a half-hour free performance at Union Station. But this time hundreds and hundreds of fans and classical music enthusiasts packed the Grand Hall at the station to hear Bell’s playing.

Prior to his lunch-time, half-hour concert, Bell explained why he wanted a do-over to Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera. 

“I’m in dangerous territory of it becoming the main thing I’m know for,” Bell said. “I really don’t want that on my tombstone: Here he is underground again.”

The crowd began arriving more than an hour before the scheduled 12:30 start. The best seats went to those who huddled near the temporary stage in front of the dozens of TV cameras on hand to capture the performance, which would also call attention to the National Youn

Arts Foundation and the release of Bell’s latest CD.

Other fans sat on the circular stairs leading up to one of the station’s restaurants. Perhaps the best seats were held by 3 construction workers who perched atop scaffolding being used for renovations to the station’s ornate ceiling. For the rest, it meant filling in the hall, standing on tiptoes, and craning necks for the best view possible.  Cameras and cell phones were thrust into the air to capture the event.

At the very back of the crowd, far removed from the stage, 3 female workers with the ubiquitous government ID tags draped around their necks assessed their chances for the show.

“Can you see anything back here?” the latest of the 3 arrivals asked the other 2.

“Not really, but we are here and we can hear,” one replied.

Weingarten introduced Bell, who then played Bach and Mendelsohn in the 30-minute performance. He was accompanied by 9 students from the National YoungArts Foundation. Those young musicians are also featured alongside the violin virtuoso in his HBO documentary special “Joshua Bell: A YoungArts MasterClass” which will air on Oct. 14.

So, after it was concluded, how did Bell feel about his do-over?

“Music – you need the give and take from the audience, the feeling of attention. It’s not about me; it’s about the music itself,” Bell told PBS senior correspondent Jeffery Brown after the concert. “Today, I was a little surprised at how many people came. I was a little worried that when I agreed to do it that there might only be a handful of people and it might be embarrassing. This far exceeded my expectations I was so happy,” he said.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

 Here is the link to Weingarten’s orginal Pulitzer Prize winning story.

Should you do the do-over if there’s a chance for a 2nd chance? (from NPR

When my wife Judy and I moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from Washington, DC, in 2011, I began writing a blog  The Prices Do DC which detailed what we were seeing and doing in the district. Here is another repost from that blog. Hope you enjoy these Prices Do DC blasts from the past.)

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