Munich is the only city in Germany that auditions its street musicians. The standard of the selected musical performers is therefore particularly high, and the public often gets to witness exceptional open-air gigs. We accompanied a street musician to the audition and to his stops in the city.
On a rainy summer day, Fausto Cassara stands waiting in front of Munich's city hall. He has travelled from Palermo to the Bavarian capital to visit friends. And he wants to take the opportunity to present his art to the locals. Fausto is a trained guitarist, who studied at the conservatory in Venice. He can play Bach, jazz, progressive rock, pop, he can improvise or make his strings sound according to the exact guidelines of a composition. No one can easily outperform him on the guitar. But: The people from the city administration don’t know that yet. And they first have to be convinced by the talents who sing, play the violin, the dulcimer or the guitar in the Fußgängerzone (pedestrian street). This also applies to Fausto's musical ability.
He enters the city administration office, where street musicians in Munich have to apply. All newcomers, who have never performed in Munich’s public space before, have to pass a short aptitude test. This is how the city wants to prevent music from becoming a noise nuisance caused by dilettantes strumming around. In Germany, Munich is the only city that holds such a casting. And one thing is for sure: It’s a good idea. The performance of the musicians who play their instruments between the Stachus (square) and Isartor (gate), between Odeonsplatz (square) and Sendlinger Tor (gate), is usually of a very high standard. When time permits, you can wander from one open-air concert to the next here. From classic to pop to jazz and world music.
“That’s what´s so special about the streets. This direct contact and people who appreciate our playing, who take their time.”
Soon, Fausto will begin his first performance. But before that, a friendly lady from the city information desk leads him into the empty courtyard of the town hall. “I just want to test his skills quickly,“ she says. Fausto stands in a corner and begins to play. He improvises for several minutes; it is complex guitar art that you don't get to hear very often. The city’s quality inspector quickly gives her approval. Fausto then receives a permit for the next day.
All musicians are allowed to perform in the city centre on two days between Monday and Saturday, and, if they are lucky and quick, also on Sunday. They have to change their location every hour. And standing in front of them in the audience, you wonder how many people they've played in front of, what places they've been to and how much courage it takes to venture into the hustle and bustle of the city centre with their voice and the sound of their instrument. How great is the tension before the first chord?
“I'm always a bit nervous before I start. I don't know how people will react, or if they will react at all or just pass by,“ says Fausto, who is a little disappointed before his first performance. “I'm not allowed to play with an amplifier, which makes it difficult for me. People will hardly hear me.“ He is used to a different arrangement in Palermo, Glasgow, Venice or London, where he also had gigs on the street, always with electronic support.
“It wouldn't be loud or disruptive, but classical pieces are hardly possible without it.“ He wants to give it a try anyway. Under the vaulted ceiling of the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) on Marienplatz (main square), the sound is very good, but you can actually only guess which Bach piece Fausto is playing. Nevertheless, during this hour quite a few people have already listened to his music and left some money.
“I'm always a bit nervous before I start. I don't know how people will react, or if they will react at all or just pass by.“
For his next stop, he chooses a place outside the city centre. Again in a vault, because its reverberation best amplifies and carries the sound of the strings. There are fewer passers-by here than on the busy Marienplatz, but they listen more attentively. Some settle down on the benches nearby, close their eyes and let themselves be carried away by Fausto's mostly plucked pieces. He plays with high concentration, deeply absorbed in his music. He acknowledges the applause with a shy grin. “A great place”, Fausto says in between, “super sound here”.
Fausto calls it a day. “A beer would be great now!“ He goes to Bratwurst Glöckl's stand-up bar at the cathedral. His lager beer tastes excellent. He chats about the day with friends who join him, tells them about the amplifier problem, raves about Munich's beauty and orders another beer.
“A great place”, Fausto says in between, “super sound here”.
An acquaintance tells him that he can certainly use an amplifier outside the city centre, as long as residents don’t feel disturbed, playing is tolerated. “Good to know!”, Fausto says and takes his mini speakers with him the next day.
After a short odyssey along Isar river, Fausto finds the perfect spot: underneath Maximiliansbrücke (bridge), over which the traffic is thundering towards the Maximilianeum. Fausto plugs in his guitar. Then he starts! The mighty arch of the bridge carries his sound out over the river. People come over the stone footbridge, which runs so beautifully along the water, stop near Fausto and listen devoutly.
Small clusters of people keep forming. Fausto plucks the strings, the sound builds up, uplifting cascades of euphony that deeply touch the people under the bridge. You can read it in their faces. They are relaxed, moved, smiling rapturously. Some linger for a while – after all, they are treated to a private concert by a very good guitarist. You don't get an opportunity like this very often. Then it gets dark. Fausto packs up. Another round of applause.
Fausto plucks the strings, the sound builds up, uplifting cascades of euphony that deeply touch the people under the bridge.
“That’s what´s so special about the streets. This direct contact and people who appreciate our playing, who take their time”, he says. And it’s true. How often do we rush past violinists and harmonica players, guitarists and cellists in the city? It´s worth pausing. Many of them are great artists who give us a free concert. Fausto walks down the stone bridge towards Muffat hall. “It was great under the bridge!” He is happy and will come back again, sometime, and delight the people of Munich with his music.