Violinist Bell hits high note with metro encore

Violinist Bell hits high note with metro encore
ROARING SUCCESS: Violinist Bell (in blue), whose 2007 performance in a metro station was largely ignored by passers-by, attracted a big audience this time round. His show with nine string players on Tuesday drew a crowd of more than 1,000.

WASHINGTON - On a cold January morning more than seven years ago, virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell stood in an entrance to a Washington metro station disguised as a street performer and played his heart out.

No one noticed. Since then, the story of Bell's social experiment - which saw more than 1,000 people pass him by and only 27 stop to listen - has become nearly as famous as the Grammy Award-winning musician himself.

But on Tuesday, Bell was back in Washington, wanting to prove that, given a proper chance, the city's people would listen - in neck-craning hordes.

Once again staking out ground in the public transport system - this time at midday at the city's Union Station train hub - Bell, accompanied by nine young string players, played with his trademark passion. And this time, amid the station's whirr and hum, people listened.

More than 1,000 fans and curious onlookers packed half of the station's cavernous main hall for the free 30-minute concert, which included selections by Bach and Mendelssohn.

"The whole idea of the original stunt, I think, for me, was to show that you need active listeners. There are two parts to the equation of making music," the 46-year-old told AFP.

"I wanted to show that even though the surroundings are similar, if you have active people who are really there to listen, you have a wonderful experience, and it turned out much better than I could have imagined."

The 2007 stunt, which was chronicled in The Washington Post and earned its writer Gene Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize, raised questions about beauty and society's perception of it.

Bell, whose concert hall performances are regularly sold out and who plays on a Stradivarius violin that reportedly cost him around US$3.5 million (S$4.5 million), earned just over US$32 when he set out his case at the L'Enfant Plaza metro stop in 2007.

Disguised in a black baseball cap, his efforts went nearly unrecognised in the station at the heart of federal Washington.

Seven years later, Bell said the concert has become a sort of defining moment, with the article repeatedly making the rounds on social media websites.

But the Indiana native claims he was not really surprised by how the experiment unfolded.

"Music needs that attention - you can't throw it at people while they're rushing to work," Bell said.

Tuesday's concert coincided with the release of his new album Bach and comes ahead of HBO's Joshua Bell: A YoungArts MasterClass documentary, which airs on Oct 14.

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