A passionate commitment to keep connecting

At a time of separation, many artists feel more personally connected to audiences than ever

You know those diary columns penned by socialites that drip with name-dropping? Well, here’s mine. For what a month I’ve had. To highlight just a few A-list artists: I’ve popped in to some of pianist Igor Levit’s daily house concerts; stopped by cellist Alisa Weilerstein’s place where she’s been playing the Bach Suites, one movement per day; and few hosts have proved quite as debonair as violinist Daniel Hope (and few living rooms proved quite so stylish), whose home has become a hangout for the most impressive of chamber music soirées, Hope@Home.

Of course in reality (and before anyone reports me to the authorities) I’ve barely brushed the borders of my postcode for more than a month now. All the above has been made possible by the passionate commitment of artists to keep communicating. Some of it has been of audiophile quality, some little more sophisticated than a webcam angled towards a photo frame-topped piano. What has united it all has been a wonderful spirit of generosity – and spontaneity.

Different nations’ rules have posed contrasting challenges, but creativity has won out. One fun project saw members of the London Mozart Players recording their relevant bits of Carnival of the Animals, all subsequently sewn together. And there can’t be many families who can observe lockdown laws and put on a chamber reduction of a movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 – but this is exactly what the Kanneh-Mason household managed on the day pianist Isata was due to have performed the work at the Royal Albert Hall. Plus, as I write this, a life-affirming Spem in Alium has arrived from Stile Antico, the 40 parts recorded on smartphones and spectacularly compiled.

But most moving of all was the Good Friday performance of Bach’s St John Passion from St Thomas Church, Leipzig, where the composer had been cantor, and where he now rests. A suitably social distance-friendly chamber reduction was used within the church, while the broadcast cut to a screen-filling collage of postage stamp-sized singers for the chorales. Few moments have so poignantly captured the insistence, by so many, that even at a time of enforced separation, we shall be united by, and in, music.

Great artists have invariably found themselves placed on pedestals, but while some of the grandest (particularly in the past) may have adored the adulation, most I meet these days feel regretful about the distance fame imposes between them and their audiences, and they do everything they can to break down barriers. It’s a pleasing paradox that it is at this time of division that many artists have arguably felt more personally connected to audiences than ever before. But when the likes of Levit, Weilerstein or Hope invite us virtually into their living rooms, in one crucial sense it’s not so different to what they do when, in more normal times, they perform on a stage before audiences of thousands, or in a recording studio before a microphone. They’re using music to connect with people. And when the concerts begin again, perhaps the openness, dedication and imagination they and so many have shown through these past weeks will live on, through that sense of connection being stronger even than before. martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

This article appears in the June 2020 issue of Gramophone, available now

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