Dvořák Saves the Plane

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….

Antonin Dvořák!!!

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:



10 thoughts on “Dvořák Saves the Plane”

    • Rachael – what I think about is how incredible, really blow-away they must have sounded, so up close. Whenever I’ve encountered professionals, like violinists, singers, ballet dancers, up close like that, the first thing I notice is how powerful their voices/bodies/instrument sounds are. You figure they’re used to projecting out into an entire concert hall.

      Oh, to have been there to hear it! …. Wait. That would have meant sitting in an unmoving plane for three hours first. Um. Never mind.

      Thanks for the stop-by!

    • Yes, MarySue, I thought of you, knowing how you liked him! Did you laugh at my line, “This sounds like a job for… Antonin Dvořák!!!”? I worried that maybe others might react instead with a head-scratch and a… “Um, who?”

      Ah, the things one can learn at The Classical Girl, huh? Be it classical music or ballet or Buddhist philosophy, I’m guaranteed to get equal parts head-nodding and head-scratching. I kinda like that. : )

  1. How wonderful! What a fabulous treat! I’d love for things like that to happen to me! And I’m with you “classical girl”, I’m wild about Dvorak’s The American!!!

    • Ooh, I’m so glad you appreciate it too! : ) Yes, what a fabulous treat for the passengers. From “worst flight ever” to “memorable flight ever” in the matter of a few minutes.

  2. I love it! What a cheery-sounding (yet soothing) piece. Betcha it helped the musicians themselves burn off some frustration. Not to mention they nabbed some major PR

    • Tara – listen to the whole quartet on the second link if you haven’t already. It’s sooooo gorgeous. And since you read my Desperate Little Secrets, you might particularly enjoy the whole thing – especially the slow, sentimental second movement. This was Montserrat’s big piece with her nemesis/love, David St. Pierre, where she was playing second violin to his first. And the scene toward the end where she tells him she loves him through the music – it was the second movement. I can never hear that movement, really the whole quartet now, w/o seeing Montserrat in my mind, everything going through her heart.

      Dang, I loved that character.

      Major PR – yikes, no kidding. When I tried to find out more info online, I was stunned to see how widely it had been covered by the media. I’m rather late to the party in blogging about it this week and not last, but hey. We’ll leave cutting-edge journalism to the other bloggers. As long as I can still plop the link on my site and return to watch it from time to time, I’m happy. And I’m happy when my readers are happy. And when they pause to tell me so! : )

  3. I love this…all aspects. The music, the willingness to entertain in a crazy situation, the passengers around them who seem thrilled to be a part of the experience! Thanks for sharing!

    • Amanda, so glad you liked it too. I love it that the musicians, in their act of selflessness, became cyber-celebrities. Wonder if they were nudging each other prior, or sending little “should we offer or not?” messages with their eyes before doing it? They probably realized such an offer might be rebuffed. Oh, thank goodness for everyone involved that wasn’t the case!


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