Philadelphia musicians bring Bach to commuters to honor composer’s 334th birthday

Bob Cafaro, a cellist with The Philadelphia Orchestra, played Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major Friday afternoon.

His performance was not at a concert hall but at SEPTA’s Jefferson Station, and his show was free.

Still, most of the commuters passing through the busy concourse didn’t know why Cafaro was playing.

Among the handfuls of people who stopped to listen, Barbara Danin said she catches her train from Jefferson Station every day. She has heard musicians there before, but she hasn’t seen them in a while.

“I think it’s just the fact that it’s unexpected, it’s uplifting,” Danin said of the rich melody that made her stop. “You know, it’s the end of the long week, and it’s just delightful to hear excellent music in this area.”

Danin experienced the tail end of Philadelphia’s Bach in the Subways, a celebration that started in New York City in 2011.

Cities across the globe — including Los Angeles, Stockholm and Abu Dhabi — celebrated Bach this year with performances in subways and other public places.

Some individual Philadelphia musicians took part in the years since New York led the way, but there was no official galvanizing of musicians in the City of Brotherly Love until 2017.

James Pavlock invited some Philadelphia Orchestra members to play that year, and the number of performances in Philadelphia has gone from a handful to more than a dozen in three years.

Bach is one of the greatest composers, Pavlock said, and his birthday is a great opportunity to celebrate his work.

“His music is a delight to the ear, it’s beautiful, but it’s technically perfect,” said Pavlock. “It’s symmetrical, you know his counterpoint, which is basically overlapping melodies, is just considered to be perfection.”

It’s more than a love of Bach that drives musicians to participate.

“Bach is my god, that’s my religion, and I’ve been appointed as the priest today to spread the word of god not just for the ones that come to the orchestra — everyone,” said Cafaro.

Chloe Cooper, a high school student who plays flute, performed in one of these concerts Thursday because she believes Bach should be accessible.

“Because not everyone can afford to go see the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Philly Pops or any professional ensemble,” Cooper said. “But there are definitely people that can appreciate classical music even though they might not be able to see it live.“

If nothing else, “they might find a moment of beauty and take some time to just relax and enjoy,” said Dara Morales, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra who has played during Bach in the Subways for three years.

“I love the gesture, that Bach belongs to everybody,” she said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.