There are a lot of things that one can say about Well-Strung’s holiday performance at Town Hall on Sunday, and they’re all true: the energy was infectious, the Christmas medley delightful, the technical expertise superb. There’s a story told about Julie Andrews; apparently she was asked once to sing off-key for a part, and couldn’t—her pitch was too perfect. In the same vein, I don’t think these guys could perform any song badly… or, indeed, deliver anything less than perfection.
I don’t miss a Well-Strung concert, and I’ve said all of those things, and more, before.
As usual, they managed to seamlessly weave classical pieces from Bach and Mozart and Vivaldi with pop songs from Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift, Italian opera combined with ‘60s girl bands, and even had a holiday version of their signature piece The Devil Went Down to Georgia—as “Santa went down to Target.” (One of the first songs I heard Well-Strung perform was Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, and I can say the same thing now about The Charlie Daniels Band’s Georgia that I said then—in both cases, Well-Strung does it better than the original.)
So what made this concert different?
Now in the musicians’ seventh year together, Well-Strung’s sound has matured. The high energy was always there, but now it seems more focused, more precise. They are in synch with each other and pass moods back and forth as easily as they pass notes and phrases. And it has to be said, Edmund Bagnell’s voice grows even more achingly beautiful every year.
This was my first opportunity to be in the balcony and have a closer look at what they do on-stage, and what struck me in particular was watching Daniel Shevlin on the cello. I’ve never seen anyone play anything with such utter grace before; he seems almost to caress the strings. It was moving and almost unspeakably intimate to watch.
The sold-out audience that filled Town Hall went mad for them. “They’re the best ever!” confided my neighbor up in the balcony, an eight-year-old wearing a festive dress for the occasion. I had to agree. Toward the end of the program they did the Well-Strung version of Leonard Cohen’s often-covered Hallelujah, ending the final chorus a cappella, standing and facing out into the audience, their voices echoing into the space, and there was a full thirty seconds of silence before the applause broke out. It’s that thirty seconds that tells it all, that says magic happened here, you just heard something extraordinary.
They’ll be back this summer to continue the magic at the Provincetown Art House. If you’re very, very lucky, perhaps you’ll get to feel it, too.
Well-Strung is Edmund Bagnell (violin), Christopher Marchant (violin), Trevor Wadleigh (viola) and Daniel Shevlin (cello), produced by Mark Cortale.