Friday Night Jazz Classical

A variation on our usual Friday Evening Jazz series:

What happens when one of the worlds top violinists plays in a subway station as an anonymous street muscian?

Play this in the background as you read the full article.

Digg this:

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. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.

The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator and the outdoors, it somehow caught the sound and bounced it back round and resonant. The violin is an instrument that is said to be much like the human voice, and in this musician’s masterly hands, it sobbed and laughed and sang — ecstatic, sorrowful, importuning, adoring, flirtatious, castigating, playful, romancing, merry, triumphal, sumptuous.

So, what do you think happened?

Fascinating stuff, I found both the story and the writing beautiful.



Click for video

Pearls Before Breakfast
Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.
Gene Weingarten
Washington Post, Sunday, April 8, 2007; Page W10

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Bluzer commented on Apr 13

    Pearls before swine!!
    Stop this planet. I want to get off!

  2. RMX commented on Apr 13

    Barry: “So, what do you think happened?”

    Cheney shot him?

  3. Null commented on Apr 13

    I’ll admit it, I hate the sound of a solo Violin. I don’t care how great the player/music is behind it.

    Wonder how it would have gone had they tried a great sax or guitar player.

  4. pd130 commented on Apr 13

    That beauty stuff just refuses to behave, eh?

    I first heard Joshua Bell by chance, and under circumstances only slightly more accomodating to the artist than a subway at rush hour —in the atrium at Citicorp Center, with a small chamber ensemble, during happy hour. It was one of those periodic attempts to enliven public spaces by engaging artists. He was about 17 and I not a whole lot older. I still remember how much he seemed to love the sheer act of playing the violin.

  5. badhaikuguy commented on Apr 14

    I think it was about 1967 or 68 when I read in Downbeat magazine an interview of Paul Desmond by Leonard Feather. At one point Feather asked Desmond how and/or if the audience in smll rooms (like nightclubs) affected his performance. As best I can remember his reply went something like this:
    “There will be nights when my fingers feel like sash weights, my tongue fills my mouth, my breathing is off and I can’t concentrate for more than three consecutive seconds and sure enough, some guy will come up to me and say ‘man, I’ve NEVER heard you wail like that, man. That was f****** incredible….blah, blah.’ and then there are nights when the whole group is like one person and everything I do is dead on and the band is just cooking and my fingers are flying and the whole thing is seamless and some guy will come up to me after the set and say ‘jeez, tough break, man. Reed went dead, huh?’.

    At that time I was in a band in Chicago. We were working Rush Street and Old Town a lot and Downbeat was pretty much our bible. We used to kvetch about audience response but that interview really put things in perspective. We paid a lot less attention to audience reaction after that.

  6. V L commented on Apr 14

    Did anybody see this I-Phone like LG Prada phone already selling in Europe?,39030108,49288331,00.htm

    It makes me wonder if Apple has stolen/bought the idea from LG.

    In addition, what has happened to Apple’s operating system — another delay and no criticism…?
    There are definitely some major double standards when it comes to criticizing MSFT and not criticizing AAPL.

  7. V L commented on Apr 14

    I like both classical and modern violin music. It is like magic. When I close my eyes, the sound of violin is like a heavenly journey taking me floating in the clouds, and I do not want to be disturbed. It is so beautiful. Joshua Bell is fantastic!

    I also like Catya Maré´s modern violin. (Cafe Del Mar). (This music helps me to keep my cool when I get stuck in NY traffic)

  8. Nova Law commented on Apr 14

    Barry, based on your usual music choices, I’ll bet you’d like this 2-CD set which I bought two weeks ago, and which hasn’t been taken out of my car CD player since:

    The movie was entertaining as well, worth a DVD rent.

  9. Eclectic commented on Apr 14

    That’s right… it’s all about context, perception and priorities.

    Think about it Barringo. Just suppose someone published, right here in Big Pic-Suburbia, the most ground-breaking theoretical work in macroeconomics since Adam Smith.

    Further, suppose it upended both Classicists and old Keynes himself, relegated Monetarism as a stimulative tool to the junkheap (that alone flipping the entire macroeconomic world upside-down at the same time), and demonstrated an understanding of money, productivity and wealth, that was near to being an act of levitation?

    You think it’d get noticed?

  10. DavidB commented on Apr 14

    That story was a great read. I only wish I had seen the audio link to the performance so I could hear it while reading the bizarre tale. Hearing the music now I am completely befuddled at how people could not recognize that for the artistry it is. Maybe my perspective is flawed. I listen to the stuff all the time. Still, the music clearly stands out from what you normally get in your world as you travel through it.

    Maybe it speaks to something deeper in us. That fact that we subconsciously expect that type of beauty and talent in the world. How many times have I been driving down the road only to see a brilliant sunset or sunrise and wanting to slam on the brakes in the middle of the road stopping for a few moments to appreciate the masterpiece going on before my eyes. Yet looking around at other drivers they don’t appear to even notice what is right in front of them.

    I am still listening to his work and now I am becoming insulted! This music screams out to be heard yet few did. That is insane! There are points there where a real emotional chord is struck and the sound almost demands and even gets quiet in the room so why wouldn’t people give more notice to the artist. Was it perhaps because of his ‘status’. Did he not deserve the regard of ‘important’ people?

    Another cosmic joke was told in the Washington subway the other day. It was heard and understood by only a few.

  11. number2son commented on Apr 14

    What an enormously depressing story.

  12. Jonathan Almy commented on Apr 14

    I believe that this makes perfect sense. What do you thing would occur if Jay-Z simply stood there in that exact spot or better yet, Mick Jagger, and not speak a word? A crowd would obviously flock. It’s not the music unless you truly want to hear the music, it’s the image. I believe, when your walking to work it doesn’t matter how beautiful the music because your mindest is simply not there.

  13. Jim Bergsten commented on Apr 15

    Could have been worse. In SOME cities, he would have been shot and his violin stolen.

    I find it even more depressing that a half dozen people noticed the music, yet there are 56 PAGES of blog commentary attached to the Post article.

    Interesting what people have time for.

  14. day4night commented on Apr 15

    I want to thank Barry for posting this. An amazing article. Truly illuminating. I can’t even comment on it yet; takes some more reflection.

  15. S commented on Apr 15

    I experienced something similar a few years ago.

    When I lived on the upper east side, 3 or 4 times a week I’d jog the track that encircles the Great Lawn of Central Park. To get to the track, I always took the walking path just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Near the southwest corner of the museum, there’s an archway…an overpass. It was common to encounter street musicians playing in that spot….probably because the close proximity to the museum ensured a steady flow of tourists and the accoustics of the archway/overpass structure magnified the music.

    Anyway, one day as I approached the archway, I heard sound coming from a violin unlike never before. I took a seat on a nearby park bench, and enjoyed this concert. It was a beautiful summer day, so literally hundreds of people were out and about. I was amazed at the number of people milling about who were unwilling to stop and take in this remarkable performance.

    When the musician took a break, I approached him to express my appreciation. I learned he was a member of the New York Philharmonic.

    A few weeks later, I heard him play again when I was one of several thousand people packed on the Great Lawn to enjoy the New York Philharmonic play as part of the Concerts in the Park series.

    But on that summer day about a month prior, literally hundreds of people walked by and ignored this world class musician.

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