Violinist Breaks a String While Performing Tchaikovsky in Concert, and Gracefully Recovers

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

B.B. King Changes Bro­ken Gui­tar String Mid-Song at Farm Aid, 1985 and Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Why Vio­lins Have F‑Holes: The Sci­ence & His­to­ry of a Remark­able Renais­sance Design

The Art and Sci­ence of Vio­lin Mak­ing

Watch Price­less 17-Cen­tu­ry Stradi­var­ius and Amati Vio­lins Get Tak­en for a Test Dri­ve by Pro­fes­sion­al Vio­lin­ists

A Gigan­tic Vio­lin Floats Down Venice’s Grand Canal with a String Quar­tet on Top

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.

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  • adh01va says:

    I saw this same sit­u­a­tion many years ago in Val­ladol­id, my home­town. The soloist was Felix Ayo, a Span­ish vio­lin play­er who has been a mem­ber and soloist of I Musi­ci; when he was play­ing I can’t remem­ber what with the Sym­phon­ic Orches­tra of Castille-Leon, a string in his vio­l­ing broke. Then, very quick­ly, the con­cert­mas­ter (Vio­le­ta Zabek) lent him her vio­lin and took his, and gave Ayo’s instru­ment to the assis­tant con­cert­mas­ter (Krzysztof Wis­niews­ki) and took his (so Ayo kept play­ing with the con­certi­no’s vio­lin while she played with Wis­niewski’s). When Wis­niews­ki (who, by the way, was Zabek’s hus­band) had repaired the bro­ken string with a box of spare strings he had in his pock­et, and after hav­ing tuned the vio­lin) he exchanged vio­lins with her, and she exchanged vio­lins with Ayo. All was as seam­less as though it had been pre­pared before­hand. Sor­ry I can’t remem­ber who the con­duc­tor was. And in those days (per­haps 1991 or 1992) there were no mobile phones to record this kind of sit­u­a­tions.

  • TimJ says:

    Great rec­ol­lec­tion, thanks for shar­ing!

  • Gary C says:

    Per­haps it’s because it hap­pened long enough ago, but in 1985 14 year old Midori broke 2 strings with­in 2 min­utes while play­ing with Leonard Bern­stein con­duct­ing the Boston So in a per­for­mance of his Ser­e­nade. She did­n’t miss a beat. Also note­wor­thy, her vio­lin was not full sized and she was able to play the con­cert mas­ter’s vio­lin and the replace­ment with­out a prob­lem.

    You can find this online.

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