Do they plan for things like this?

What happens if you are playing a violin solo during a major recital and a string breaks on your violin?

This happened to Ray Chen when he was playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. While the orchestra played on, he exchanged his violin with that of the concertmaster and continued olaying, while the concertmaster exchanged it with another violinist and the damaged instrument kept getting shuffled around in the background.

He and the entire orchestra handled the situation with such aplomb that I wondered whether they anticipate such a possibility and plan for it. Chen was the person who posted this clip and he he says that it has happened to him before.

I recall once attending a string quartet recital and the last piece they played was a fairly long, very modern piece that involved quite vigorous use of the violin including tapping and plucking. It was not quite to my taste. Towards the very end, a string broke and since this was just a quartet, there was no sliding past it. They stopped and after a brief discussion amongst themselves said that in order to be true to the piece, they would start again from the top after replacing the string. My heart sank but I appreciated their commitment.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Do orchestras have an explicit hierarchy such that the performer who gets the broken violin last is the official concertsub?

  2. prl says

    I saw a similar incident a little while ago in an Australian Chamber Orchestra concert I was at. The principal violin (Satu Vänskä) broke a string mid-performance, and simply and calmly exchanged violins with one of the other first violins, and the other violinist walked off stage, put in a new string, walked back on, and at an appropriate break in the first violins part, swapped violins back.

    Because most of the players in the ACO play standing, it was probably a little simpler to do than when the violins all sit.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Somehow I remembered to check this story before rambling on about it:

    Claim: Violinist Itzhak Perlman once finished a concert on an instrument with only three strings after one string broke.

    Status: False.

  4. John Morales says

    I can’t imagine why one would not plan for things like that.

    Mind you, I imagine it would be harder to swap out a broken-down muso than an instrument…

  5. mnb0 says

    Yes, it even has been protocol for decades. Strings do break now and then and the show must go on.
    I know this piece of music pretty well (passively; it’s way too difficult for me to play). Chen plays it it very well (in terms of interpretation), though I’ll always prefer the Oistrakh recording of 1968.

  6. says

    It happened to Stevie Ray Vaughan live on TV (back in the 1990s). His guitar tech was on the ball, ready with a replacement, all without interrupting the performance.

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