13 mind-blowing times classical music cropped up in unexpected places

20 September 2021, 17:21

All the times classical music cropped up in unexpected places
All the times classical music cropped up in unexpected places. Picture: Nikolaj Lund/Between Music/Greenpeace

By Rosie Pentreath

From a piano on an Arctic glacier, to a Fauré-playing washing machine, we celebrate some of the weirdest situations in which classical music has unexpectedly graced our ears.

Classical music seems most comfortable in concert halls, at school recitals and over the airwaves of specialist radio stations. Right?

Nay, say these mind-blowing examples of music-making in unexpected places.

Classical music, actually, can take us by surprise and be enjoyed in any space imaginable, as these intrepid, innovative and inspiring performers have demonstrated.

From the bold to the downright bizarre, here are some of the most spectacular times we’ve heard wonderful classical music in totally unexpected places.

Read more: 6 of the best alternative ways to experience classical music

  1. A piano recital in the Arctic

    This pianist headed to the northernmost point on Earth, and pitched up for a piano concert of polar proportions.

    In 2016, pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi performed an epic premiere of his piano piece Elegy for the Arctic on a specially built ‘iceberg’ within 100 metres of a crumbling glacier, to help raise awareness about the melting ice in the region.

    Read more: Einaudi plays piano on an iceberg as an Arctic glacier crumbles around him

  2. In the beeps and tones of your kitchen appliances

    From the far-flung, to the most frequented and comforting room in your house: the kitchen. These musicians have taken delight in showing us how many times classical masterpieces crop up in the beeps and bleeps of household appliances.

    This cellist discovered that the descending notes on her instant cooker perfectly mirror those in a Bach cello suite.

    And a few people have spotted that the chord indicating the readiness of their washing machine is actually the serene opening organ triad from French composer Fauré’s ‘In Paradisum’.

    This guy’s washing machine plays a whole load of Schubert, and these geniuses took matters into their own hands when they used the machine to perform some of their favourite music ever written: John Williams’ ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from the Harry Potter soundtracks.

    Read more: A definitive ranking of the most magical Harry Potter themes

  3. Sublime cello in a national park

    Beloved cellist Yo-Yo Ma took his classical instrument out into the fresh air, and surprised passers by at Acadia National Park in Maine, US, with an unexpected recital in nature in June 2021.

    One performance saw the cellist take bow to string at Otter Point, overlooking the water with gulls swooping and hollering, while another performance was witnessed by visitors to the lawn of Jordan Pond House at the well-frequented beauty spot.

    Read more: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma surprised passers-by in a picturesque national park, because music and nature are one.

    Yo-Yo Ma plays his cello at Acadia National Park in Maine, US
    Yo-Yo Ma plays his cello at Acadia National Park in Maine, US. Picture: Sam Mallon / Friends of Acadia
  4. On popular TV soaps

    In 2009, violinist and conductor André Rieu made a cameo in long-running Australian soap, Neighbours.

    In what’s surely one of the weirdest Neighbours storylines there’s been, the Dutch maestro steps out of a limo at the bequest of Paul Robinson, who is looking to surprise and re-woo Rebecca.

    Rieu then delights characters and viewers alike by serenading them with his violin, and soon a few Ramsay Street regulars have come out of their houses to couple-up and join in with it all, waltzing to the Blue Danube with full orchestral backing that we’re guessing is being played, ahem, off-screen somewhere.

  5. Entirely underwater

    In 2018, Sydney Festival was the host of the world’s first underwater band.

    Danish avant-garde ensemble Between Music had developed instruments and techniques that can be performed by players who are totally submerged, working closely with scientists and deep sea divers in the process.

    It’s not the first time instruments have been seen plunged into water. This cellist took his instrument underwater for a mesmerising photoshoot. And these scuba divers scaled the depths to treat us to The Little Mermaid music played under the actual sea.

  6. At the top of the Europe’s tallest building

    In 2019, the London Mozart Players (LMP) grabbed all members that aren’t afraid of heights and scaled Europe’s tallest building for a gravity-defying concert of Mozart.

    The musicians performed Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, ‘Jupiter’ at the top of the iconic building to celebrate LMP’s 70th anniversary.

    Read more: An orchestra played a Mozart symphony in the tallest building in Europe and it was breathtaking

  7. In an epic and expertly-executed flashmob

    Flashmobs have been around long enough now for us to get what they’re all about. One or two wandering people break out unexpectedly into a seemingly spontaneous performance in a public place, and more and more people join in until the whole scene is transformed into a well-planned frenzy of music, song and/or dance.

    But when it’s classical music we can’t help still getting excited. Orchestral flashmobs have thrilled thousands around the world, but this one that took place in the Spanish city of Sabadell still gets us. It’s Beethoven, it’s joyous, and it’s brilliant.

    Read more: This absolutely epic Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ flashmob is still the greatest

  8. At the world’s muddiest music festival

    In 2004, and then once more in 2011, English National Opera was a headliner at the world-famous Glastonbury festival.

    Taking the iconic Pyramid Stage by storm, the opera company dazzled festival-goers with music from Wagner’s Die Walküre, which includes the theme made famous as the Apocalypse Now music, and in 2011 attracted the “largest ever live audience for opera in Britain,” according to The Independent.

    English National Opera perform Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival
    English National Opera perform Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival. Picture: Alamy
  9. Accompanying an unneighbourly car alarm

    From good neighbours (see No. 4, above) to bad ones, this pianist was struck by a moment of inspiration when she decided to transform an ongoing car alarm from an annoyance, into a moment of harmony.

    Writer and critic Andrea Long Chu, who is also an amateur pianist, brought a moment of beauty to quarantined neighbours when she transformed somebody’s infuriating and neglected car alarm into a piece of improvised music.

    Read more: Pianist harmonises with a car alarm, creates the perfect quarantine soundtrack

  10. In a quartet of helicopters

    As transport goes, helicopters carry a certain glamour.

    And in 1995 the Arditti Quartet added a sprinkle of music to their helicopter rides – we say ‘rides’, because all four musicians were in a vehicle each – when they performed Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet, a piece composed specially for skyward musicians.

  11. In a carpark

    10 years ago, the Multi-Story Orchestra was formed to take spectacular concerts to unexpected venues. The orchestra transformed a Peckham multi-storey carpark into a classical concert venue, and has since toured elsewhere doing the same.

    Concert series like Bold Tendencies, and Classic FM’s Opera Company in the UK Opera North, have similarly brought classical music out of the concert hall and into the carpark.

  12. Down the pub

    Let’s get classical music out of formal settings and into beer-slopped pub bars.

    That’s what the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment said when it established the concert series Night Shift in 2014, bringing chamber and classical music into boozy, relaxed pub sessions. Cheers to that.

  13. Crammed onto the iconic London Eye

    In 2019, musicians of the London Philharmonic Orchestra got cosy in one of the pods of the popular tourist destination, the London Eye, and performed a sublime bit of Borodin.

    While the musicians experienced spectacular 360 views of the UK capital, so did viewers of the video – which captured the whole thing in 360° filming technology to allow us to feel like we were really there.