1/23/2009

Yo-Yo-Milli Vanilli?

The beautiful "Air and Simple Gifts" performed by the classical quartet led by Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma was not actually a live performance.

Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said the weather was too cold for the instruments to stay in tune.

"They were very insistent on playing live until it became clear that it would be too cold," said Florman in a telephone interview Thursday night.

People sitting nearby could hear the musicians play "Air and Simple Gifts", written for the inauguration by John Williams, but their instruments were not amplified.

"It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," Perlman told The New York Times, which first reported that the music was taped on its Web site Thursday. "This occasion's got to be perfect. You can't have any slip-ups."

I wondered a bit during the broadcast about the effect of the cold weather on the antique intruments played by the virtuosos. I know from the experience of my own partner, a classical pianist, that pianos are notoriously finicky about temperature and humidity for tuning.

The temperature hovered around 30 for the ceremony on the Capitol steps, too cold for McGill's clarinet, Ma's cello or Perlman's violin to offer true pitch. But the cold played havoc with the piano, which can't hold tune below 55 degrees for more than two hours, Florman said. The group played at 11:43 a.m., and guests seated near them could hear them as well as the tape made two days earlier. Guests seated farther away, the crowds that thronged the National Mall, and the millions who watched around the world heard the taped version of Williams' piece.

"This isn't Milli Vanilli," Florman insisted, referring to the late 1980s group stripped of a Grammy for lip-syncing. "They had to perform in such cold weather, the instruments couldn't possibly be in tune. They were able to play in sync with the tape. It's not unusual."



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