Making Music in Pandemic Times
by Jan Schmidt-Garre, October 2021
Home Music Berlin
When the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020, it was clear to pianist Francesco Piemontesi, with whom I have been friends for many years, and to me, a director of musical films and operas, that difficult months were ahead for performing artists and especially for independent musicians. Many of them began streaming their music live from their living rooms. As sympathetic as we were to the impulse not to bury our heads in the sand, to keep in touch with the audience and to let our fingers, throats and mouths maintain their agility, many of these concerts, produced with little technical sophistication, seemed questionable to us. We decided instead to launch a concert series and offer a stage to the many outstanding classical musicians from all over the world who, like the Swiss Piemontesi, had moved to Berlin in recent years. Their feedback was enthusiastic: “A glimmer of hope”, “I haven’t touched my violin for weeks”, “finally a reason to practice again”, “my voice is already quite rusty...!”
Live from Schinkel Pavillon
Fortunately, the idea of organizing the concerts in Piemontesi’s apartment was quickly discarded when Nina Pohl, the director of the internationally very renowned Schinkel Pavillon, an exhibition space for contemporary art that had been shut down like all other cultural institutions, became enthusiastic about the idea and made her beautiful hall available for the concerts. A fellow pianist lent us his grand piano at a friendship price (a Steinway New York from 1901), the equipment rental companies also accommodated us, and the technical team showed the highest level of commitment despite modest fees. When the label Naxos Audiovisual agreed to take over a large part of the financing in the record time of 24 hours, we were ready to go. From 30 March onwards, forteen concerts were held under the name “Home Music Berlin”, without spectators, for a virtual audience on the web, recorded by masked camera and sound technicians. Word quickly spread about the artistic quality of the streams, which could be seen on various platforms, so that soon thousands of viewers from all over the world were participating live every Monday and Friday at 20:30.
A Musical Portrait of the City of Berlin
The concerts reflect the wealth of the music city Berlin. Artists from Russia, the Ukraine, the USA, England, Israel, Switzerland, France, Denmark and Germany took part, including great musicians such as Alexander Melnikov, Christian Tetzlaff, Sharon Kam, Jacquelyn Wagner, Isabelle Faust, Iddo Bar-Shai and Tabea Zimmermann. It would never have been possible to gather all these artists in a row without the lockdown. Just like a hundred years ago, the city of Berlin showed its very own artistic profile. Anyone who wanted to hear Furtwängler, Nikisch, Wilhelm Kempff, Busoni or Horowitz back then, when musicians travelled much less than they do today, had to come to Berlin. In order to hear Stravinsky, Cortot, Ravel and Satie, people travelled to Paris.
Home Music Berlin – The Documentary
From the very beginning, Jan Schmidt-Garre and feature film cameraman Michael Kotschi also documented the genesis of the project. Rehearsals, private scenes backstage, the setup, all the crazy working under the conditions of the lockdown. Talks with the artists and atmospheric pictures behind the scenes were created. In the summer of 2021, the musicians reunited and enjoyed the opportunity to meet again in larger numbers, celebrate and make music at a summer party.
If we now present the concerts and the documentary in the late phase of the pandemic, we naturally hope to be able to play and hear concerts all over the world again soon. But it would still be nice if something of the spirit of solidarity among colleagues that we were able to experience, and of the artistic idiosyncrasy of Berlin as a city of music, could be carried over into the new normality.