Cellist expertly deals with exploding bow hairs in mid-performance crisis

21 April 2022, 13:06

Cellist, René Schiffer, expertly handled the situation
Cellist, René Schiffer, expertly handled the situation. Picture: Apollo’s Fire | The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The heart-stopping moment that no string player ever wants to experience on stage...

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A performance by the Cleveland ensemble, Apollo’s Fire, on 9 March 2019 would come to be known as the ‘night the cello bow exploded’.

Apollo’s Fire is a Grammy Award-winning Baroque orchestra that has performed all over the world, and is named after the classical god of music, healing and the sun.

In their 9 March performance at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, the ensemble were finishing their programme for the night with Vivaldi’s La Folia (‘Madness’), arranged by the orchestra’s founder and artistic director, Jeannette Sorrell.

La Folia was a popular musical theme used in the Baroque era, and Vivaldi’s work starts as a simple, gentle sarabande which eventually morphs into a set of 20 highly complex and imaginative variations.

The work is originally scored for two violins and cello, and in Sorrell’s arrangement, the three featured soloists are violinists Alan Choo and Emi Tanabe, and cellist René Schiffer.

Read more: An orchestra used their mobile phone torches to save a concert from a disaster power-cut

As the work begins the musicians open with smiles, looking over at each other while they play; however, little does Schiffer know, disaster is about to strike. Watch below.

As the trio begins a new section, just a few notes in, the hair on Schiffer’s Baroque cello bow falls off.

With wide-eyed gazes from the violin soloists and a bewildered, exasperated shrug from Schiffer, second cellist Rebecca Landell Reed expertly picks up the missing solo line, filling in for the suddenly out of action Schiffer.

Luckily it was spare bow to the rescue, as Schiffer left the stage to collect his modern cello bow and returned to stage to continue performing, slotting back in seamlessly.

Read more: A cellist played a private concert for a security guard and it’s too much for our hearts

The main difference between Baroque and modern cello bows is the shape; a Baroque bow is shorter and has a flatter shape, while the modern is longer with a concave shape.

While one or two bow hairs falling out due to wear and tear is not an uncommon disaster, having all of the hair fall off is every string player’s worst nightmare.

Maria Eikefet (watch above) suffered a similar occurrence while performing Fritz Kreisler’s Tambourin Chinois. The violinist watched in shock as all of her bow hairs fell out during a particularly exuberant down-bow flourish.

However, the professional musician did not let this affect the music, and somehow still continued to play for five more bars.

We certainly don’t envy the luthier who had to rehair Eikefet or Schiffer’s bows...

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