Remember the movie Snakes on a Plane? Yeah, me neither. But let’s call this Strings on a Plane. It’s a warm afternoon in Beijing and a plane full of people are buckled in, awaiting departure that the crew can’t seem to get permission for. The plane has been grounded on the tarmac for not one, not two, but three hours. Patience is dwindling. Tempers are mounting. Recycled airplane air is growing toxic with frustration, with irritation toward the controllers, the pilots, the situation. The flight attendants are wringing their hands, unable to do anything about the delay.
This sounds like a job for….
Well, him and four members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who happened to be on the flight, on their way to join the rest of their crew, all part of the orchestra’s 2013 Residency & Fortieth Anniversary Tour of China. The four musicians on this flight — Juliette Kang, Daniel Han, Che-Hung Chen and Yumi Kendall — had recently performed Dvořák’s String Quartet no. 12 (nicknamed “The American”). There they were, instruments nearby, music nearby, with all the time in the world, there on that grounded plane. So. They decided to play the fourth movement and entertain the ready-to-mutiny-passengers.
This is fun for me on so many levels. First, what hilarious, unedited footage. What a performance – and a darned good one! Second, I’m crazy about “The American,” and have been since 2003. Even though I’d heard string quartets before, it was only during that year that my interest in the violin and its repertoire exploded. In the course of one year, I inhaled about a dozen violin concertos and probably an equal amount of string quartets. But this was the first one. I fell wildly in love with it (as a listener, never a player, mind you). I bought a score of the quartet so I could follow along with the music. I listened closely to each of the four instrument parts. I swooned over the beauty of the second movement. I listened to the jaunty, spirited first movement over and over and over. It is, I’ve decided, one of the most delightful, delicious accessible quartets for any non-classsical music person to listen to, much as Dvorák’s New World Symphony is a wonderful symphony for classical music newbies. I’ve kind of burnt out on the latter, but the former, the quartet, still charms me.
Another thing about this whole situation that I love. The YouTube footage, as well as the story, has gotten picked up in national news, international news, online forums (thank you, Trevor Jennings, at Violinist.com!), publications, blogs, etc. The YouTube page shows over a million views and over a thousand comments. All this, about classical music.
Classical music has gone viral. People are talking about it. Arguing about “The American” and quartets and classical musicians and their lives and how hard could that be, anyway, this music-playing? (The answer: plenty hard.) You gotta love it.
Thank you, Antonin Dvořák, and Juliette Kang, Daniel Han, Che-Hung Chen and Yumi Kendall. Together you saved the day. The plane. Humanity. We, the people, are humbly grateful.
And for those of you interested in hearing Dvořák’s Quartet no. 12 in its entirety (oh please, oh please, do this for me — you’ll thank me for it some day), here it is as well, performed by the Kubin Quartet: