I have never visited Norway, let alone been to a concert there but thanks to the new normal, I have been enjoying the latest series of live performances from Oslo and Bergen, in my kitchen in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a laptop plugged into a couple of speakers.
Musicians from the Oslo Philharmonic have been broadcasting digital concerts from the Oslo Concert Hall and so far I’ve heard some superb performances of a range of music including a Bach keyboard concerto (BWV 1056), Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un Faune, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet and Steve Riech’s Vermont Counterpoint and New York Counterpoint: all works for solo, small ensemble or chamber orchestra, making self-distancing possible.
Last week, I heard their stunning performance of Berio’s Folk Songs with the soprano Stina Steingrim Levvel. Her command of a wide range of styles and languages was remarkable. But it was the way she communicated with her invisible audience, that was so compelling. I was on the edge of my seat.
Another treat from Norway was the opening concert of the Bergen International Festival last week. Its concerts are also going online in venues without an audience. This concert by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra introduced me to the music of Jörg Widman: his exciting brass Fanfare, his rhythmic 180 Beats per Minute for string orchestra and his Con Brio for orchestra with fragments of Beethoven’s 7th symphony flickering almost imperceptibly inside the music. After a wonderful performance of Mozart’s concert aria, Ch’io mi scordi di te? with soprano Mari Eriksmoen as soloist, the concert concluded with Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa for two violins, string orchestra and prepared piano – a thrilling and hopeful piece which I hadn’t heard for ages and which seemed perfectly programmed for these uncertain times.
These are just two organisations producing live concert broadcasts during restrictions and whilst they don’t have their usual physical audiences perhaps they have a more world-wide online following. With major concert halls around the world closed to the public, is it time for a rethink?
As well as these wonderful events from Norway, I’ve now seen online concerts from Germany, Hungary, the US and the UK. I’m getting used to watching performances in empty concert halls – the echo of footsteps on the stage, normally soaked up by an audience, musicians bowing to rows of empty seats, no clapping, no-one shaking hands. Sometimes a wave from the musicians breaks the ice as if they recognise that we are watching.
Of course there are many musicians performing in much more informal settings. International soloists, violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk, recently played solos and as a trio, broadcast on Live with Carnegie Hall, chatting and performing from their homes in three different locations. It was great to hear such musicianship and ensemble playing, unfazed by all the obstacles that come from being in different continents, on computers, with headphones. Throughout the world, musicians are now finding a new way of reaching us.
I heard about all these events and many more, thanks to Alec Ross who has been researching and updating links to some great online performances across the world through his website: The Rest is Noise. (link below)
As the pandemic goes on, I’ll be continuing to watch online concerts in my kitchen. If you too would like to hear some first class performances online, here are a few links:
Alex Ross with the latest what’s online: The Rest is Noise – Covid 19 Live streams
On now till 6/06/20: Bergen International Festival
Live concerts from Oslo Concert Hall: https://ofo.no/en/mellomspill-interlude
Live With Carnegie Hall: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Explore/Watch-and-Listen/Live-with-Carnegie-Hall
Live concerts from Budapest Festival Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic: Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, recorded concerts and more: https://www.rsno.org.uk/rsno-online/
London Symphony Orchestra: https://lso.co.uk/whats-on/alwaysplaying.html
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3PnXsxbTjKHCVCc7ZVYPNlV/bbc-sso-in-isolation-musicliftsthespirit
Yo-Yo Ma and Silkroad Ensemble: Songs of Comfort on You Tube