Inauguration Quartet


said: Jan 20, 2009
 89 posts

Not strictly a Suzuki question but…

The wonderful quartet with Itzhak Perlman, YoYo Ma and the two other musicians at Obama’s inauguration…surely they wouldn’t have had their “real” instruments out in that cold weather? Were those their backup instruments (still no doubt a thousand times better than anything we own!), carbon fiber instruments, or was there warm air being piped into that area?

Also, does anyone know details about the piece and whether sheet music is available?

:D Thanks!

Jennifer Visick said: Jan 20, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1024 posts

I was wondering about the cold myself. You could see Gabriela Montero (the pianist) had fingerless gloves on, but the others didn’t. My mom mentioned that the tv announcer said (before the whole thing started) that Yo-Yo Ma was going to use a carbon fiber cello, but if it was carbon fiber, it didn’t look like it to me! And certainly Perlman’s violin and Anthony McGill’s clarinet weren’t carbon-fiber.

The arrangement was by John Williams, and I believe the title is “Air and Simple Gifts”.

If you missed it—you can see clips of just this part of the inauguration on and, though both of them cut off the first few seconds of the music and the cnn clip seems to have better picture but the audio running a second or two behind the visual. The whole inauguration can be seen on but the audio quality for the music portion isn’t that great. Various YouTube clips are up, I’m sure, (though the visual quality on YouTube is not high).

I hooked my computer up to my stereo system speakers and showed all my students this clip at the beginning of each lesson today.

said: Jan 23, 2009
 89 posts

I’ve learned that, due to the cold, the musicians did play live….along with a recording of the work made indoors previously, just in case of broken piano strings and other potential weather related glitches. What the audience heard was the recording.

Messrs. Perlman and Ma used modern instruments, not carbon fiber ones and not their usual instruments.

While I appreciate the musicians’ comments to the press that they did so because they did not want any technical difficulties to mar the occasion, I would have found it more honest if there had been more openness about that choice from the start.

Why? (Warning: rant follows.)

  1. The public is lied to so the government can look good? That’s not change I can believe in.

  2. Public esteem for the musicians is lowered when they are linked to a deception like this. The New York Times article about the issue likened it to pop singers lip synching and the Chinese government using a supposedly more attractive child at the Olympics while another child sang behind the scenes. With years of classical music fandom behind me, I have the psychological resources to balance the negative perception with many positive associations; that may not be the case for an audience member who is unfamiliar with classical music and perhaps even thinks of it as “boring.”

  3. It creates ancillary problems for professional musicians. I wonder how many string quartets or community orchestras will need to explain to someone that they can’t play in [insert weather condition here] even though the inauguration quartet played outside in such extreme conditions? After all, if Itzhak Perlman could do it…


I do think it was nice that many different types of music were represented at the various inaugural festivities.

Grace said: Jan 23, 2009
110 posts
Laura said: Jan 23, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Well, I have had some association with people in the sound industry who work these sorts of large events. I was surprised to hear how common this sort of thing is. When given the reasons, I guess I can understand.

To me, it’s not as much a deliberate deception as it is just simple practical logistics in large-scale events. In this case, it was about whether the instruments could survive the cold. In other cases, it can be:
- acoustic challenges (e.g. time delay or reverb that cannot be adeqately compensated for)
- visual challenges (having no strong line of vision to a conductor or coordinator)
- choreographic challenges (e.g. in some types of productions, singer/dancers can’t sing strongly while huffing and puffing through their dance routines).

One of my sound engineer friends told me that pre-recorded music is used ALL THE TIME, and if it weren’t, the general public wouldn’t be so privy to so many “live” performances during big events. They don’t hide this fact, but they just don’t go out of their way to publicize it either. At least the performer in question is always the one in the recording. Heck, I’ve even participated in one of those pre-recorded live performances!

I pesonally think this is a little different from, for example, swapping the little girl in the Beijing Olympics, or Pavarotti lip-syncing a recital because those were deliberate in their attempts to deceive. Lip-synced rock concerts are a gray area for me because of the high multi-media content—with the light show, dry ice, stage architecture, and over-the-top choreography, your overall entertainment expectation is way more than the singer him/herself anyway. Not so with classical soloists.

Great topic for discussion! Definitely not a black and white issue.

Jennifer Visick said: Jan 24, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1024 posts

I’ve not heard anything that says they were trying to hide this from the public—in fact the problem (too cold for the instruments!) and one possible solution (using carbon fiber instruments) was well-aired beforehand. Leave it to a reporter to take the actual solution that was used and equate it with performers who pretend to perform while someone else performs.

What we would have heard if they hadn’t played to a recording would have been their own playing piped through speakers. And what we heard was… their own playing piped through speakers.

I think I would have felt cheated if I’d been told that the inauguration would include a performance from world-class musicians like these, and instead I had ended up hearing the musicians playing on inferior instruments and struggling for a basic mastery of intonation because of the climate. Instead, I don’t feel cheated at all. Nor do I comprehend that I (or the general public) have been lied to.

The job of a professional musician is not to deliver the best they can under the conditions… it’s to deliver a professional-sounding and looking performance, regardless of the conditions.

Lynn said: Jan 24, 2009
 Violin, Viola
173 posts

Well, as someone whose hands seize up when the temperature is in the 50’s, I could not imagine how it was possible to have ANY kind of dexterity, flexibility, tone, accuracy, etc, etc. at well below freezing! I was beyond impressed, but now it all makes sense. No wonder Yo Yo Ma looked like he was having such fun…..the performance was already in the bag!

Did any of you notice how hard the US Marine Band was fighting to hold on to their intonation? And the herald trumpets finally had to give up. Their last fanfare was (distressingly for them, I’m sure!—those are top-notch players) full of splits, cracks and sour notes.

Jennifer Visick said: Jan 24, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1024 posts


No wonder Yo Yo Ma looked like he was having such fun…..the performance was already in the bag!

eh…. Yo-Yo Ma always looks like that.

Did any of you notice how hard the US Marine Band was fighting to hold on to their intonation?

YES! and I groaned and said aloud “come on, guys, I know it’s cold out there, but you can do better than that!” —Perhaps they should have taken the same route and recorded it for themselves beforehand.

Connie Sunday said: Jan 25, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
670 posts

FWIW, there is a very rich and lengthy thread about this on OrchestraList:

Like here, there are some exceptional people on that list: lots of conductors, composers and literary observers (professional critics).

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

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