Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bell Failure

The Bad Bard of the Blogosphere is back. I was there for you when Joyce Hatto needed ode-ing, and now this story is popping up all over, although at a fraction of Hatto levels. (It's a mere fraction of that story as well, so that's why this only gets two sonnets instead of six.)

As bloggers here and there have noted,
a fiddling Bell who's quite well known
went busking in D.C. and toted
his Strad to play the Bach Chaconne.
He played his heart out for an hour.
He played with virtuoso power.
The passers-by went passing by
with hardly an attentive eye.
But why? When Mr. Bell is slated
to play the finest concert halls,
no seats are left; they line the walls
to hear him, even when inflated
demand means it costs much, much more
than sitting on a station floor.

So what's the moral of the story?
Are average folks so unaware
of beauty? Maybe, but before we
assume the worst, it's only fair
to mention that a subway station
is really not the best location
for Bach's Chaconne (which I adore -
it's just not made for train decor.)
The artist who ignores his context,
no matter if the talent's great,
is failing to communicate.
I hope that we can count upon, next
commute, a savvier setlist.
Then maybe beauty won't go missed.

I know he also played a little Ave Maria, etc., but I agree with Elaine Fine that the music wasn't very well-chosen for the venue. (She says everything I wanted to say, and quite eloquently, so sonnets were all I had left. Sorry.) The Chaconne, which I count among my 4 or 5 favorite pieces of music ever, is an almost unbearably intense piece that is best heard with rapt attention paid to it's inexorable logic. If I happened to wander in on that scene from the top of an escalator, I'd certainly have stopped to listen, if only because I would've recognized Bell and been intrigued by the situation. I suspect, given the way crowds work, that if three or four such people had stopped to listen, their presence would have attracted more and it could've become a scene, but I'm not at all surprised it worked out as it did. However, if I didn't know the music, I suspect I would've found the playing a little much for that setting.

In fact, the couple of times I've heard Bell live, I've found his hyperintense mannerisms to be somewhat distracting - I can easily imagine that created a barrier for some who walked by. It's not the kind of playing that fades into the steelwork. I'm sure the quality of my laptop speakers is part of the problem, but when I first fired up one of the sample videos, my immediate reaction was that the sound was awfully strident for what I'd want to hear walking to the train - and I love this music and Joshua Bell's playing. Now I can't explain why Jeremy Denk didn't draw bigger crowds, but I can tell you I knew a post like this was coming.

1 comment:

sarah marie said...

Haha! I think I'm going to link to this on my blog if that's ok - I blogged about JB's failure yesterday, too. Good sonnets you have here.