Having evolved over centuries — indeed, millennia — the formal elegance and sonic beauty of stringed instruments continue to inspire their players toward ever-greater heights of virtuosity. But of course, the attainment of virtuosity itself doesn’t come easy, and whatever altitude you reach, you’ll still be dogged by some of the same problems you were as a novice. What violinist, for instance, could ever fully put out of their mind the possibility of a string’s breaking as they play, whether at home or in Carnegie Hall? Not celebrity player Ray Chen, surely, given that it’s happened to him at least twice in the past five years.
Being a Youtuber as well, Chen has turned these onstage misfortunes to his advantage. Just last week he put up “Violinist string BREAKS during Tchaikovsky,” a video that captures his latest such experience while playing with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Far from grinding to a halt, the performance continues with only a minor hitch.
After making a valiant attempt to soldier on short an E string, Chen switches to what appears to be the backup plan. Without the option of singing the blues while changing the string himself, as B.B. King did at Farm Aid, he swaps his instrument with that of the concertmaster, who passes it down the line. Unfazed, Chen continues playing right where he left off.
Chen followed a similar procedure after a string break in 2017, while playing in Brussels with the Taiwan Philharmonic. Then, as now, he uploaded the footage to his Youtube channel, where it has racked up more than 1.6 million views. The brief clip also captures his final toss onto the floor of the spare pack of strings he’d had the good sense to place in his pocket beforehand. The accolades posted in the comments below bring to mind the story of 19th-century violinist Carl Herman Unthan. Born without arms, Unthan became a virtuoso by playing instead with his feet — which he also used to change a string that broke on him in concert. This proved astonishing enough that he’s said later to have deliberately weakened strings in order to repeat the spectacle for other audiences. Just imagine if he’d had Youtube.
via Laughing Squid
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.