We all remember the headlines last April when The Washington Post Magazine convinced violinist Joshua Bell to busk in a busy D.C. Metro station at morning rush hour. The idea was to see whether people would take out any time to enjoy the music if the busker was as good as it's possible to get. The results were not terribly encouraging — and when Tasmin Little tried something similar in London about two weeks later, they weren't much better.
Yesterday morning in New York was different.
Maybe it was the size of the instrument. Maybe it was the orange suit. Maybe it was the particular location, a reverberant room called Vanderbilt Hall off a major corridor leading to 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. But when pianist Yefim Bronfman played a nine-foot Steinway grand at Grand Central Station, people actually stopped and listened, even if they couldn't stay for the entire hour he played. (It was 8-9 a.m., after all, and people did have to get to work.)
To be fair, Bronfman's appearance was publicized ahead of time (unlike the busking adventures of Bell and Little), so a few people actually turned up ahead of time to get good spots in Vanderbilt Hall, and who knows how many people left for work a bit early so they could stop and listen in?
"As a steady stream of commuters passed, nearly everyone at least looked to see where the music was coming from," reported Anne Midgette for The New York Times. "Some stopped and stayed; some listened briefly and moved on, usually after something tangible — a climax, a run, a flourish — in the music. Some were drawn by the applause and stopped to hear what would happen next."
Passersby who were plugged in to their iPods invariably passed by, she noted.
Bronfman's morning serenade was part of NYC Goes Orange, a week-long fundraising campaign by the Food Bank for New York City. Thus the orange suit — orange is the color of hunger awareness, and there were volunteers wearing orange scarves and pins passing out literature and orange bags of food around the piano (see below).
The rush-hour recital was also the kick-off event for a special online auction to benefit the Food Bank. Bidders are competing for Bronfman himself: the auction prize is a private in-home recital by the pianist, as well as the use for six months of a 7-foot Steinway Music Room Grand Piano with a Player Disc mechanism (with free delivery by Steinway & Sons). The bidding — at www.FimaForFoodBank.com ("Fima" is the Russian nickname for "Yefim") — began today at $5,000 and ends at 6 p.m. on October 29.