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Joshua Bell at Union Station

We are glad to have this report by author, classical music fan, and Friend of Ionarts Robert Pohl.

Joshua Bell in press scrum at Union Station, September 30, 2014 (photo by Robert Pohl)

Whenever a concert has been severely under-attended, all responsible try to figure out why nobody showed up and how to rectify this in future. Clearly, Joshua Bell has learned the lesson he learned on January 12, 2007. After exactly seven people – of the almost 1,100 who passed – took the time to listen to him perform in the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, he and Gene Weingarten, who had put him up to it, decided that, the next time, they would do a little promotion of the event.

Thus, by noon on September 30, 2014, there were precious few people in Washington who did not know that Bell, in town recently for the National Symphony Orchestra's season opener, would be staging a repeat performance, this time in the main hall of Union Station. According to Bell's publicist, three thousand people stopped to watch. How many passed through the station wondering why there were so many people jammed up in the corner was not recorded.

available at Amazon
Bach, Violin Concertos, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, J. Bell
(Sony, 2014)
Bell was clearly enjoying himself. After being introduced by Weingarten, he swept onto the stage and straight into the first movement of Bach's A Minor Violin Concerto. This, obviously, requires some kind of accompaniment, and for this purpose, Bell had brought along nine members of the YoungArts program. After the first movement, Bell stopped and acknowledged the applause before introducing himself, the piece, and his orchestra. He also lamented the fact that he had failed to put out a violin case for tips this time, as well as the fact that he has a CD and HBO special coming out in the near future.

Bell then continued on with the second movement and – waving off applause – the third. The audience was enraptured, and though in quiet sections it was possible to hear the usual background hum of conversation that permeates Union Station, it was noticeably quieter than under ordinary circumstances.

When the applause died down, Bell picked up his microphone again and asked the many children who were gathered at the front whether “you aren't missing school?” He then explained that the next piece would be the last as he had a train to catch. It was the last movement of Mendelssohn's Octet. After some initial issues with balance, owing more to the amplification system than the players, the piece was given an exuberant reading that kept the whole audience enthralled.

It was a great experience, especially to the three people who had walked past Bell unheedingly on that cold January morning and now got to experience what they had missed the first time. Sadly, Bell says that he is not planning on making this any sort of routine, so if you want to see him, it will mean a trip to the Kennedy Center.

Joshua Bell and YoungArts musicians at Union Station, September 30, 2014 (photo by Robert Pohl)

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