[JPL] Inauguration performance

Jackson, Bobby Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org
Fri Jan 23 11:52:36 EST 2009


I thought the classical performance sounded too good to be true in those
frigid conditions.  Here is a report about it.



The Frigid Fingers Were Live, but the Music Wasn't 

It was not precisely lip-synching, but pretty close. 

The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama's oath of office at the
inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak
Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the Mall and
watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days
earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians
playing along.

The players and the inauguration organizing committee said the
arrangement was necessary because of the extreme cold and wind during
Tuesday's ceremony. The conditions raised the possibility of broken
piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation minutes before
the president's swearing in (which had problems of its own). 

"Truly, weather just made it impossible," Carole Florman, a spokeswoman
for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said on
Thursday. "No one's trying to fool anybody. This isn't a matter of Milli
Vanilli," Ms. Florman added, referring to the pop band that was stripped
of a 1989 Grammy because the duo did not sing on their album and
lip-synched in concerts. 

Ms. Florman said that the use of a recording was not disclosed
beforehand but that the NBC producers handling the television pool were
told of its likelihood the day before.

The network said it sent a note to pool members saying that the use of
recordings in the musical numbers was possible. Inaugural musical
performances are routinely recorded ahead of time for just such an
eventuality, Ms. Florman said. The Marine Band and choruses, which
performed throughout the ceremony, did not use a recording, she said. 

"It's not something we would announce, but it's not something we would
try to hide," Ms. Florman said. "Frankly, it would never have occurred
to me to announce it. The fact they were forced to perform to tape
because of the weather did not seem relevant, nor would we want to draw
attention away from what we believed the news is, that we were having a
peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next."

Anthony McGill, a principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera, and
the pianist Gabriela Montero joined Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman in "Air and
Simple Gifts," a piece written for the occasion by John Williams. While
not all music critics agreed about the quality of the piece, some took
note of the frigid circumstances for the performers. And the classical
music world was heartened by the prominent place given to its field.

Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made Sunday at the Marine
Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort.

"It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," he said
Thursday in a telephone interview. "This occasion's got to be perfect.
You can't have any slip-ups." 

The musicians wore earpieces to hear the playback.

Performing along to recordings of oneself is a venerable practice, and
it is usually accompanied by a whiff of critical disapproval. Famous
practitioners since the Milli Vanilli affair include Ashlee Simpson,
caught doing it on "Saturday Night Live," and Luciano Pavarotti,
discovered lip-synching during a concert in Modena, Italy. More
recently, Chinese organizers superimposed the voice of a sweeter-singing
little girl on that of a 9-year-old performer featured at the opening
ceremony of last summer's Olympic Games.

In the case of the inauguration, the musicians argued that the magnitude
of the occasion and the harsh weather made the dubbing necessary and
that there was no shame in it.

"I really wanted to do something that was absolutely physically and
emotionally and, timing-wise, genuine," Mr. Ma said. "We also knew we
couldn't have any technical or instrumental malfunction on that
occasion. A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold."

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.

"What we were there for," he said, "was to really serve the moment."

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