street musicians

On the wide sidewalk in front of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernandowhere I pay visit every time and when to the goyas there, almost alone, among them the portrait of La Tirana, the graceful actress who challenges whoever contemplates her with her gaze, so old and so alive on the wall, I say, when she comes out into the sun that gilds the street of Alcalá and flashes on the windows of the cars that come and go, they are in the On the opposite side of the street, some street musicians who form a string orchestra, and here I have with me now the photo I took of them, while I write facing the window that overlooks this quiet Princeton street where autumn begins to dye the foliage of ocher and red rust and old gold.

They are five. To the left, quite separate from the others, is a middle-aged violinist in a dark jacket, at whose feet is the instrument’s case, which is used to collect the money that they are leaving. Immediately, leaning against the wall, with his back to a barred window, another violinist, younger than the previous one, darker and with a dark beard, wearing worn sneakers, who could well be Venezuelan or Dominican. Then, seated on a portable seat, is the cellist, perhaps sixty years old, with white hair, who absently goes over the bow. The other cellist follows, a mountain hat, a white beard and an air that is also absent, one might say melancholy, wearing gloves that leave the fingers with which he presses the string of the neck bare, and handles the bow. And lastly the double bass player, located in profile; his hair is thinning on the top of his head, he wears sunglasses, and he has a half smile.

My memory fishes that what they play is the Waltz No. 2 by Shostakovich, in Spain a student song that, it is alleged, was composed rather by a Galician musician, and part of the repertoire of the variety singer of the thirties Paquita Robles, called La Pitusilla because of her short stature, today forgotten ; but the story is even longer because the ear also reminds me that the waltz is on the soundtrack of Eyes Wide Shut of Stanley Kubrick, as Thus spake Zarathustra by Richard Strauss came into 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But that’s not what I was going for, or maybe all this comes from the fact that last night I was reading Lady Macbeth of Mtzensk, Nikolai Leskov’s tale of which Shostakovich composed an opera that Stalin did not like. Rather, these conservatory musicians have been dragged out into the street by some adverse fate, and how the Venezuelan or Dominican would have gotten to them, I don’t know because I’m not going to interrupt their open-air concert to ask them and thus make them lose the euros they They fall into the box.

Chamber orchestras in the middle of the street I saw for the first time in the early nineties in Berlin’s Postdamerplatz where the new buildings of the “critical reconstruction” began to rise between hundreds of cranes, and then the city was full of Poles who filled the supermarkets to return across the border with their purchases, and groups of émigré musicians who played dressed in tails for the men and for the women in long evening gowns, even in broad daylight.

Or the boy from Táchira, another cellist, graduated from an academy in San Cristóbal, who played alone in the pedestrian walkway of the Seventh avenue in Bogotá, and I did approach him on one of his breaks and he had fled Venezuela, without hope of anything, pana, let’s see if life does something for my life here. All this to remember, finally, my grandfather Lisandro Ramírez, and my musician uncles in Masatepe, who together formed the Ramírez orchestra. I also have a photo of them from around there in 1953, taken with a Kodak Brownie when I was 11 years old.

They play in the atrium of the parish church. My uncle Alberto, in a white suit and black tie, bow in hand, very serious in the photo despite being a happy inveterate bohemian, holds the neck of the instrument with his other hand. Right away, my uncle Francisco Luz, his cheek against the chin of the violin, his cream-colored suit, has his hat on, bald since he was 30 years old. My grandfather is in the center, also in white, the tails of his linen sack wrinkled in the air, while he grimly presses the bow. My uncle Alejandro, the flute on his lips, reads the partichela that a child holds in front of him; he is the only one, the others use his memory. Then my uncle Carlos José, the youngest of all, with the clarinet. The painting is closed by an old man whose name I don’t remember, but his face I do, who listens with unction to the music, it must be some religious hymn, his hat under his arm.

EITHER the grenadier, the liberal anthem of the anticlerical and already dissolved Central American federal republic, and that my grandfather passed off as sacred music.

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street musicians