Restarting, tentatively

Slowly, live music, in front of live audiences, is beginning to return. In Denmark, critic Andrew Mellor jubilantly announced two weeks ago his first post-lockdown concert, and last night he watched the Royal Danish Opera give its first concert with orchestra, chorus and audience in three months.

Perhaps inevitably, given the stakes, the event itself was a slight letdown. Mellor reports on ‘Business Class conditions’ in the auditorium, with alternate seats sealed off, but a lightweight programme and an (understandably) uncertain atmosphere:

It was a privilege to be here, with better sightlines and more elbow room than ever (and easy, too, in a spacious modern opera house where social distancing in the foyers was a habit long before Covid). But the event itself felt strangely disorientating: was it a celebration? Was it a commemoration? Was it a hesitant emergence or a triumphant return?

This is something we will all need to guard against in ways both big and small: so long-imagined, unlocking lockdown is bound to disappoint. There will be no Covid-VE Day, no street parties. Just lots of gradual, individual adjustments. Mellor is right to observe the difficulty of accurately finding meaning in events during lockdown’s long tail, after meaning seemed to flow abundantly from every action during lockdown itself. After clarity, drift?

Nevertheless, it is exciting to see such events beginning to return. And context will always affect how we hear music. For those keen to seek out that new semantic territory through new music, from next Monday (15 June), Ensemble Musikfabrik will begin performing socially distanced ‘concert miniatures’ to tiny audiences of twelve at a time twice a day (17:30 and 19:00) on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the summer.

Full details (including booking details and hygiene protocol) may be found on the Musikfabrik website. The programme for the first concerts will be:

Mikel UrquizaAlfabet (2018–19) for soprano, trumpet, clarinet and percussion 

Steffen KrebberAmphiference (2019) for drumset, minimoog and two loudspeakers

Karlheinz Stockhausen: KONTAKTE (1958-1960) for piano, percussion and tape 

Performers:

Sarah Maria Sun, soprano
Marco Blaauw, trumpet
Carl Rosman, clarinet
Dirk Rothbrust, percussion
Benjamin Kobler, piano
Ulrich Löffler, minimoog
Kathinka Pasveer, sound direction (Stockhausen)
Steffen Krebber, sound direction (Krebber)

As countries ease out of lockdown at different times and with different Covid legacies, many different approaches to live music will emerge. As Mellor reports, Scandinavian countries have been able to maintain quite a lot of live music: last week the Iceland Symphony Orchestra played to a live audience with little social distancing; orchestras have played in Norway and Finland; and in Sweden they hardly stopped at all. Such events seem some way off for the UK, but we will be looking on with envy and interest.

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