During the intermission at the Met on Monday, as the orchestra was returning to the pit, my friend Jay elbowed me in the ribs. “What are they tuning down there, a harp?”
There was a harp in the orchestra. But Jay’s reference is to this Nirvana album, which he and I both listened the hell out of as teenagers. It’s a live performance and there is a moment between songs when Kurt Cobain is waiting for someone to do something to a guitar and he asks, “what are they tuning back there, a harp?” That is, “they are taking so long with that that the only possible reason is that it has forty-seven strings rather than six.”
Given the detail with which one absorbs and remembers things listened to obsessively at the age of fifteen, I sometimes wish I’d listened to more opera back then. Anyway, here is one of my favorite classical violinists, Rachel Barton, playing two of her own arrangements of Nirvana songs, followed by Handel’s passacaglia for violin and cello. The other violinist in the Nirvana songs is Edgar Gabriel and the cellist is Brandon Vamos. It’s from an album of arrangements of rock and metal songs for violins and cello. There are two non-rock pieces on this album, the abovementioned Handel and one of Paganini’s caprices for solo violin, because as Barton says in the liner notes to the CD, they just seemed to fit.
I dare you not to think that the transition from Nirvana to Handel is surprisingly seamless.