January 20, 2009 at 08:52 PM ·

Did anyone else catch Itzhak Perlman and YoYo Ma play at the inauguration. Very nicely done, though I though the violin sounded a little thin, Im sure the cold weather played a factor. YoYo was grinning ear to ear though.

Anyway, I was pleasntly suprized to hear them

Replies (59)

January 20, 2009 at 09:28 PM ·

 I thought it was incredible to play a single note, considering the weather.  If it was me out there my fingers might've been frozen and immobile.  Well, as for the acoustics, outdoors is not really the best.  I thought it was cute how one of Obama's daughters seemed transfixed by it for awhile.   I am glad they got to perform and give our instrument (as well as others) visibility.  In this economy people are spending less on concerts so any publicity is good publicity.  Also shows how important music is to us as a society.

January 20, 2009 at 09:30 PM ·

I heard that they had heaters on stage.

January 20, 2009 at 09:38 PM ·

 That seems likely.  Still, those little space heaters don't do it for me.  If I'm cold I often have to work out on a treadmill before I can even think about warming up.  So I was still in awe of their heat-preserving skills. :-)

January 20, 2009 at 11:01 PM ·

What piece/pieces did they play?   I heard that Gabriella Montero played as well.  Is this true?

January 20, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

I heard the performance was great - my mom said it was awesome to see such musicians playing at the inauguration - wonderful for classical music.  John Williams conducted his new piece, Air and Simple Gifts, which weaves the Simple Gifts melody from Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring.

Also performing were Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, and Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero!

Interestingly, I read an article in the New York Times on Sunday evening about Yo-Yo Ma playing a carbon-fiber cello for the performance.  The article noted he "may take music enthusiasts by surprise."  Doubtful he performed on the Montagnana, but he didn't play the carbon fiber cello!  As well, Itzhak Perlman performed one of his instruments - not sure which one there either.  The Joint Service Orchestra string section did play on carbon-fiber cellos, violins, violas, and basses. 

Here is the link to the article, curiously titled "Cold Case:  A Carbon-Fiber Cello for Yo-Yo Ma?"

Not knowing how carbon-fiber stringed instruments perform, I'm curious to get thoughts on such instruments?

Cheers, Valerie

January 20, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

They played "Air and simple gifts"


Heres the footage

January 21, 2009 at 12:25 AM ·

Has anyone heard when the sheet music will be available?


January 21, 2009 at 02:09 AM ·

It was very cool - especially that shot of the Obama daughter listening.  Do we know if either of his daughters learn a musical instrument.  Just thinking what a great influence it would be if they were seen with a violin or two!

January 21, 2009 at 02:23 AM ·

>Very nicely done, though I though the violin sounded a little thin<

Wow!  Not sure where that comment is coming from.  I thought Perlman sounded incredible, as did YoYo Ma.  Itzhak Perlman has struggled with a bad shoulder and has had surgery on it, but in spite of his age and physical ailments, he still produces the most phenomenal sound.  And to do it in 25 degree weather is just mind boggling.

January 21, 2009 at 02:56 AM ·


I meant no disrespect to Mr. Perlman, I admire his playing. I just, as stated, think it sounded thin due to cold weather. Just an observation, not putting his playing down at all.



January 21, 2009 at 03:38 AM ·

 Is it just me, or did it seem like Perlman was doing a MIlli-Vanilli-type thing? I could swear he was air-bowing.

January 21, 2009 at 04:10 AM ·

Well, I listened to it in real time and also on some of the 5 DVD and VCR recordings I made of it this morning (6 channels) and I know the violin sounded just fine - just the way they do when they've got rich overtones and are close miked.

What kind of a nut would make 5 recordings of the Inauguration??? This kind - just trying to find a snippet of the 20-minute San Francisco Girl's and Boys Chorus performance from 9:50 to 10:10 ET, and a glimpse (if it showed) of my 14-yr old granddaughter who has been coming upthrough the ranks of the SFGC for 7 years. What a fantastic music training they get! You would think, with a continuous video feed, someone would show it for more than a second or two at a time - and without talking heads drowning it out.

Or watch/listen to: with a good headset.

Still running through the tapes and the evening's local (SF) news.


January 21, 2009 at 04:24 AM ·

I was not able to watch the inauguration today.    Thanks for posting the link.  I heard about the concert from my kids as their school had TVs in every classroom today so the kids could watch.




January 21, 2009 at 05:05 AM ·

A great job of playing in the cold. I see the pianists had gloves on.

I thought I was the only one who had to hit the treadmill hard to warm up to practice.

January 21, 2009 at 05:59 AM ·

I caught the performance, and I also thought it was a little thin, and I thought it sounded good.

Now,. to reconcile that statement, I did a bit of channel flipping, and noticed that some of the mikes were doing the music more justice; I don't remember which channel(s) were better or worse, but I think that microphone bias and position may have been in play....

January 21, 2009 at 06:47 AM ·

I've played indoors in an unheated hall when the temperature outside was in the mid 30s (Fahrenheit).  There were a few electronic heaters on the stage for the performers, but it still felt so cold.  I wore my hat, gloves, and coat between sets and kept my violin under my coat and close to my body to warm it up.  If I ever do that again, I will wear some kind of gloves with the fingers cut out.

I thought Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma sounded great in spite of the weather.





January 21, 2009 at 10:03 AM ·

Scott, we saw the air bowing too!  And we had to change the channel halfway into the performance from CNN to C-Span, because Wolf Blitzer does not know how to be quiet during a musical selection.

January 21, 2009 at 06:04 PM ·

"because Wolf Blitzer does not know how to be quiet during a musical selection."

HA!  Very funny!

I didn't catch the airbow portion - I cannot imagine playing in that weather. 


January 21, 2009 at 07:17 PM ·

Keith Olbermann was better at keeping quiet on MSNBC, but whatever audio feed they were using thinned out the sound too. I noticed later on in the ceremony that the trumpets of the Marine Bugle Corps sounded the same way.

I thought the piece was nice -- not amazing, but nice. Someone on NPR called it "safe".

January 21, 2009 at 08:05 PM ·

 Here is a great blog about the symbolism in Arethra Franklin's version of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee."

January 22, 2009 at 01:08 AM ·

I read that the music had been prerecorded in anticipation of the weather.  could you imagine having Perlmans or Ma's great Strads out in that weather.  I had read that they were playing on carbon copies, but neither instrument took on the color I associate with carbon instruments.  It might have been a "cheaper instrument"  they were using if pre recorded.  Just an opinion.

January 22, 2009 at 08:58 AM ·


and maybe yoyo-ma also isn't...better at faking?


January 22, 2009 at 02:20 PM ·

the cello that Yo-yo used was his Moes & Moes

January 22, 2009 at 02:51 PM ·

I was told by a very credible source that the music was recorded in a Marine barrack on Sunday.  The instruments Perlman and Ma used were not their usual instruments.  I cannot imagine them exposing their instruments to the temperature on Tuesday. 

January 22, 2009 at 05:02 PM ·

Digital video feeds are notoriously bad in terms of synchronization between audio and video. If you watched on a computer there is no way to properly judge this, and much of the television broadcast business is digital now so even on TV it is unreliable (And in less than a month it will be virtually all digital).  So if you think you are noticing attempts at lip-synching, well, that could be an artifact.

Furthermore I could see a microphone wire on I.P.'s violin.  Of course if they wanted to fake it, you'd want to get it realistic...

January 22, 2009 at 04:17 PM ·

The piano keys were going down, so if it was 'air piano' it was an outstanding job!

January 22, 2009 at 04:32 PM ·

first off, great to see great american icons putting classical music on center stage for the world.  bravo!

no idea what air violin is to others, but to me, it means bow does not touch strings.  even though at times--could be camera angle-the bow detoured toward the fingerboard quite a bit, i think there was still bow hair-string contact. 

i don't know what really happened and don't care either way given the circumstance.  but here is one:

for whatever reason i decide to tape my playing first.

then in open space open air,  while my tape is being played in speakers, i "really" play the violin, with the sound from my real playing drowned by what's on the audio system.   


January 22, 2009 at 06:23 PM ·

 yes, exactly.

the video WAS in sync, because bow changes were basically dead on with the audio.  but at times there was this awesome dense sound from perlman, and then i look at his bow and it went back and forth to fingerboard and bridge like a bad student.

was it too cold?

were they not ready to play on lesser instruments?

or maybe perlman can't play anymore?



January 22, 2009 at 09:09 PM ·

I loved that performance.   Ma conveyed a sense of joy and understanding of the true significance of an inauguration.  Itzhak quietly conveyed what Kathie Lee said Frank said about how a player should act in the end zone - "like they've been there before."  Very cool.

January 22, 2009 at 10:02 PM ·

I can tell that Ma was obviously playing but I'm extremely suspicious of Perlman's bowing. And his sound seemed to project a little too well if you know what I mean.


January 23, 2009 at 03:16 AM ·

I didn't actually see the performance (bad American?) but I was just sent this article:

EDIT: Just actually watched it on youtube...they all look like they're freezing.  No wonder Perlman's bow looks funny.

January 23, 2009 at 02:28 PM ·

January 23, 2009 at 03:56 AM ·

I would like to give a nod to The Marine Band and Chorus that played and sang through such difficult conditions.  They all should be recognized for their hard work and fortitude for having to play through such bitter cold.

Now, I have heard about how much coin the whole inauguration has cost, but does anyone know how much the play-along-with-a-recording group was paid?  And, who paid them?  Or did they donate their services for free? 

January 23, 2009 at 04:58 AM ·

cold fingers,,,warm heart.

give your brethren a break.

January 23, 2009 at 08:24 AM ·

After the Utah Winter Olympic opening/closing ceremonies and the Beijing Olympic opening/closing ceremonies, we should assume that any musical performance that takes place outdoors, in front of a gigantic crowd, and on worldwide television is going to be pre-recorded.  For an event like that you can't just trust to luck that everything will go perfectly:  temperature, electronics, wind gusts, precipitation, mosquitoes, allergies, etc. etc. etc.   All these people manage to deliver the goods in person on a regular basis, so it's not like their chops or integrity are suddenly in question...

Gabriela Montero was supposed to be the soloist with my orchestra last weekend, but she bailed on us when she got invited to play at the inauguration.  That's my brush-with-history story.  We ended up with Christopher O'Riley, who was fantastic.

January 23, 2009 at 12:16 PM ·

Frigid fingers were live but music wasn't.

There's a NYT article today reporting it was prerecorded. Here's the link 


The question becomes Should they have faked it? They could have played just the opening phrase and let the recodring take over instead of faking. 

January 23, 2009 at 12:39 PM ·

At 5:45 this morning I was awakened by a call from a producer from ABC News in New York City. They wanted to run a segment on this very subject with Diane Sawyer leading it. They wanted to rush a car to my home, pick me up and have me comment on the issue - and significantly, play a little bit in this 20-something degree weather, to demonstrate the challenge involved. (It's not that I'm so special. My name came up in an internet search.) They insisted that it must be done outdoors.

 I refused, saying that I didn't want to expose even my least expensive instrument to the risk of cracking. The producer asked if I could recommend anybody else. I said that I thought that most of my colleagues would feel the same way. (No pay, btw. Just chauffer service, a nice breakfast - and 'exposure', in more ways than one!)

I couldn't fall back asleep, so here I am! Also I caught the segment, curious as to whether they found another string player. They didn't. But they did confirm that it was pre-recorded.

January 23, 2009 at 01:57 PM ·

A little disappointing to read about the faking, but oh well.

The instruments were out in the cold anyway, so I don't see how actually playing them would have increased any risk of damage. Might have been hard to keep them in tune. Couldn't they have come out of a toasty room and made it through that short piece? Haven't musicians through the ages performed in less than ideal environments? A glitch or two under these conditions might be forgiven, and only add to the drama and realism.

As far as synching their sound with that of the recording, my guess is that they were making little sound, not enough to be heard above the recording. Applying bar soap to the hair works well for this, especially if the bow has new hair which has never been rosined. You can play your heart out and barely make a sound. ;-)  A piano could have a strip inserted between the hammers and the strings, or dampeners placed somewhere, like between the strings. Clarinet is easy. Lots of ways to keep the reed from vibrating if one still wants steam coming out, if a reed was used at all.

Now I wonder if Obama was actually speaking....LOL

January 23, 2009 at 02:26 PM ·

I read in the newspaper this morning that they were playing and the people nearby could hear them, but that they weren't amplified. I think the decision to use the pre-recording was correct, given the cold, and I'm impressed that they played outdoors in the weather.

January 23, 2009 at 02:50 PM ·


I tried watching the strings, but couldn't tell if they were vibrating normally, or just from the fingers snapping down with the resolution on YouTube.

Maybe I'll offer my services as a "faking consultant" next time, ha ha. :-)

January 23, 2009 at 02:39 PM ·

for artists of that level,  it is possibly not imaginable to not be able to give their best, if that had been predetermined in rehearsals.  in cold environment, how instruments perform is one thing,,,how numb fingers interact with cold strings is another.  after all,  IS IT NOT A SHOW?

in fact, i am happy if they have been part of the decision making process to tape it first, that it is their call.  not every judgement call is black and white and believe it or not, most calls do not have ideal outcomes.  face the consequence of public opinion later  or face the consequence of stopping and tuning for one full!  we can always say, well, i would have done it  this or that way.  yup, we do that here pretty well:),,,one reason we are not there.

love white lies.  here is my morning confession:

1.  hurry up,,,you are late for school!  (not true at all)

2.  button up,,,you are catching a cold!  (not true at all)

January 23, 2009 at 02:49 PM ·

In NYT, there was a comment from a parent of string playing children. They were at the general ticket holding area. The kids could tell Perelman wasn't vibrating when the music was.

I would leave it up to them to play or not outdoors at that temperature. I do however believe it is best to tell it like it is. The trouble they went through to make believe is disturbing to me. I would have been happy they were just there while recording was played. I'd be totally understanding. 

BTW, David, I am taking the package to FedEx at this moment.

January 23, 2009 at 02:56 PM ·

In the grand scheme of it all, that particular falsehood was a minor one with almost no serious reprecussions.  Lets save our ire for the serious issues.

January 23, 2009 at 03:32 PM ·

Al, I suppose some of the same arguments can be used to justify endless editing on violin solo CDs.

Not that I'm against what happened. I still thought it was very cool. I'm just admitting that I was a little personally disappointed. To me, part of the beauty of a performance is that it incorporates the challenges and humanity of the situation, mistakes and all. Like Guarneri's violins. We have the ability to "fix" all his little workmanship "boo-boos" so it fits with some machine-age standard, but then it wouldn't be a Guarneri and would lose most of its charm.

Thanks Ihnsouk, I'll keep an eye out for the package.

January 23, 2009 at 03:37 PM ·

"I still thought it was very cool. "   it was very cold!!!:):):)  oh that made my day.

yup, there are just a lot things in life that make us go: hmmm.

January 23, 2009 at 03:59 PM ·

 I've played outside in weather this cold and it's quite an eye opener. I had to play in a procession that went from a very warm centrally heated building to outside and back inside again. I could hear my tuning changing dramatically as I was playing and who knows what it was doing to the wood.

I saw a clip on the news this morning of the military orchestra that was playing all carbon fiber Luis and Clarke instruments. Many posters on forums have been sceptical about carbon fiber instruments saying that they don't have the depth of tone of wood etc. but surely everyone must agree that out in the cold (and other extreme conditions) these instruments have their place. Nice wooden instruments are also saved because of them.  Probably that military orchestra will also find them useful in combat situations!

January 23, 2009 at 07:37 PM ·

 Interesting that Yo Yo Ma considered using his carbon fiber cello but decided not to as he thought it would be a distraction. From NY Times     :


"Along with admiration for the musicians’ yeoman work in the cold, questions had swirled in the classical music world about whether Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman would use their valuable cello and violin in the subfreezing weather. Both used modern instruments. Mr. Ma said he had considered using a hardy carbon-fiber cello, but rejected the idea to avoid distracting viewers with its unorthodox appearance."

January 23, 2009 at 04:49 PM ·

They actually stated on the news this morning that they were playing with a recording. I can't say that I blame them. Reguardless, it was beautifully done and the arrangement was wonderful.

January 23, 2009 at 06:36 PM ·

 I'm glad I didn't stop to consider at the time that it might have been pre-recorded. I was just so into it. Just loved it. Jim said it well here: 

> Ma conveyed a sense of joy and understanding of the true significance of an inauguration.

January 23, 2009 at 10:02 PM ·

Yep -- All Things Considered on NPR just aired an interview with Yo-Yo, where he noted that they had soaped the bows, and that the piano technician had actually unhooked the keys from the hammers so that Gabriela Montero could play the keyboard without making any sound!

I do remember seeing one moment when it looked like Yo-Yo's left hand just slid down the fingerboard, without actually playing the run that sounded, but I didn't stop to think about it at the time.

A classical Ashlee Simpson moment indeed... although at least the monitors didn't start playing, say, a Brahms piano quartet instead. As has been talked about, I can't blame them, and Yo-Yo also said during the interview that it is standard procedure for the Marine Band, the Joint Forces Orchestra or any other military ensemble to pre-record pieces for the inauguration, precisely for weather reasons.

January 23, 2009 at 11:16 PM ·

And a soaped bow makes it more difficult for the player to tell whether the bow is "in the groove" with respect to distance from the bridge, so that would explain what I was noticing with Perlman. I think some others mentioned the odd bow placement too.

January 23, 2009 at 11:32 PM ·

On a related note, does anyone know if Williams' arrangement is available to the masses? I have a trio (violin, clarinet, bassoon) that could easily get a pianist to collaborate on that arrangement, and it would be a nice, short addition to one of our recitals. 

January 23, 2009 at 11:54 PM ·

It's not a problem if Perlman and Ma "fake it."  It would have been a problem if Aretha did it (she didn't).  Overcoming adversity is the essence of soul, while classical needs to be at its technical best first and foremost. Both genres have the same purpose ultimately  but the requirements are very different for each. 

But having said that, I can't imagine Rostropovich "faking it" at the Berlin Wall.  Maybe he bridged both worlds.  I thought maybe Ma did too, but not yet at least.

January 24, 2009 at 03:25 AM ·

 Now we know the perfect way to turn any instrument into a silent practice instrument: - soaped bow!

January 24, 2009 at 05:53 PM ·

I heard a chat with Oregon Public Radio 'All Things Considered' on the way home from work where Yo-Yo Ma indicated it was pre-recorded. The NPR audio is here


January 24, 2009 at 07:00 PM ·

Itzakh Perlman has serious problems with faking! Like he's never done it before or something... :-P

February 3, 2009 at 03:57 AM ·


The news today said the national anthem and America the Beautiful performed at the Super Bowl were prerecorded, at the request of the artists' managers.  I think we might be entering an unfortunate new era re: live performance, with everybody missing the real point of performing.


February 3, 2009 at 03:04 PM ·

Or an era of Art Managers deciding what good art is and lobbyists deciding what's good for the country.  We spend billions educating young people to be independent thinkers at the expense of basic math and writing skills. When they grow up, they give up the practice of good judgement to decision making specialists. 

June 18, 2009 at 05:05 AM ·

maybe most of you know this already but I did a random browsing last night and found the sheet music is now available through Hal Leonard.

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