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May 19, 2024
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The Busker and the Diva
Produced by: Judith Kampfner
Margaret Leng Tan and James Graseck were boyfriend and girlfriend while they both attended Julliard in 1970. Margaret was offered a place by a Juilliard scout who came to her native Singapore. At the age of 16, she became a piano major in New York. She loved New York, but James who came from Long Island, found it dirty - hating the streets and the noise. That hasnít stopped him in his chosen line of work -- for the last 20 years heís been a busker - a street musician, well known in the subway system. Margaret meanwhile has had a long career as an unconventional pianist as a protege of John Cage and in the words of the New York Times "a diva of the toy piano". While at Julliard, Margaret and James drifted apart because they were studying different instruments and had different courses, and they lost touch when they graduated. Their very different musical lives took them in different directions but recently, their paths crossed again, in the bowels of Grand Central station. Their meeting quickly developed once again into an intimate relationship, physically, emotionally and professionally. Producer Judith Kampfner traces their reunion and the obstacles to their relationship, which lie more in their approaches to music making and their polarized positions in the musical spectrum than their bond as individuals. This is the story of both their personal romance, and their professional lives.

Program Credits

The Busker and the Diva was produced by Judith Kampfner. The show was mixed by Jared Weissbrot. This program airs as part of a special international collaboration with Radio Netherlands, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. The music you heard throughout was all performed by Jimmy and/or Margaret, including one performance from Margaret's archive from her Julliard days. A lot of that music is available on cd Ė we have more information and links on our website,


Recklessly Romantic - The Violin Music of James Graseck
Jim Graseck is known and loved by New Yorkers for his solo violin performances in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to MTA subway platforms.

Margaret Leng Tan
Learn more about the pianist featured in the program.

Sorceress of the New Piano: The Artistry of Margaret Leng Tan
Learn about this new film profiling the life and work of Margaret Leng Tan.

Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York
by: Susie J. Tanenbaum 1995
This book explores New York City subway musicians and what motivates them to perform in urban spaces characterized by routine and alienation.

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Programs by Judith Kampfner

If you liked this program, you may also enjoy:
A Complicated Friendship
Van Gogh and Gauguin

Radio for between the ears
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