The New York City charity circuit can get a bit repetitive—just how many times can you don black tie for a night at Cipriani in the name of altruism? Some very lucky New Yorkers got to flex their generosity on Tuesday night when Grammy-nominated violinist Joshua Bell opened up his triplex apartment for a special concert benefiting Education Through Music, a non-profit that fosters music education in under-funded schools.

The host committee read like an Oscar nominees list, including names like Uma Thurman, Harvey Weinstein and Gerard Butler. But the shoulder rubbing began even before the party started as guests crammed into the apartment’s tiny and very slow-moving elevator.

“It’s like a subway at rush hour,” I remarked.

“Except everyone smells good,” said one girl, possibly the only other person in the lift familiar with public transportation.

Once inside Bell’s industrial sleek home, the likes of Carol Alt, Gayle King, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger mingled between sips of champagne and bites of caviar. The scene was just as Bell had envisioned when he designed the place years ago.

“I built it from scratch with the idea that I would have concerts in this space,” he explained. “I love classical music being appreciated this way because a lot of it was written to be played in the home.” The violinist had just received some extra buzz: the song “Before My Time” in which he performs with Scarlett Johansson for the film Chasing Ice was nomimated for a Best Original Song Oscar. “I had no idea she was a singer when I was asked to do it,” he said. “And then I heard her and I was like, whoa, she’s got a very sultry, beautiful, special kind of unique voice.”

Guest moved to a library outfitted with chairs where Bell, true to his word, gave a performance. Between a Tchaikovsky melody and Gershwin piece, he couldn’t help remarking of the crowd, “Julianna [Margulies] came straight from shooting. She was just in court. And Miss Universe is here. She came from Mars,” he said, adding, “Glenn [Close] and Meryl [Streep] are sorry, they have the flu.”

Oh well, we bet they’re both GREAT in it.

Photos: Patrick McMullan