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Music reaches out in dark times

As the coronavirus shuts down live performances, Western classical musicians have taken to social media to connect with audiences

Members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra play Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’ from their homes.
Members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra play Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’ from their homes.

Covid-19 has separated performers from their audiences and everyone’s feeling bereft. It’s touching, therefore, to see artists and musical institutions reach out, in the last week or two, and remind their audiences that they are very much in their thoughts.

After it closed, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra rallied its members to perform at home, then stitched the parts together. The resulting 4-minute video (available on YouTube), a rendition of Ode To Joy, from the famous final movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, is serene to begin with but ends with catharsis.

Cello maestro Yo-Yo Ma has been performing “songs of comfort" and posting them on Twitter: Dvořák’s Going Home, Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, the “Sarabande" from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3, dedicated to “health workers on the front lines". Pianist Igor Levit has performed three solo concerts, which he live-streamed on Twitter. He tweeted after the first: “I have probably never felt the actual life-saving meaning of music and sound before…thank you for allowing me to share this with you."

Earlier this month, the Berliner Philharmonie, home of the renowned Berlin Philharmonic, had to down shutters. The concert hall website ( has video recordings of entire recent seasons and some concerts dating back to 1966. They have made these free to everyone for a month (from the time you activate a voucher on their site, the last date for which is 31 March). “We already miss our public very much and hope that in this way we can remain in contact with our audience at least virtually," said Olaf Maninger, principal cellist and chair of the orchestra’s media board, in a statement.

For classical music fans, the Philharmonie archive is a treasure trove. The site is easily navigable: You can search by composer, conductor, soloist, genre, epoch, season, education or category. Or you can type a favourite piece in the search bar and see if you get lucky. I was delighted to find an extract from Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597, part of a cleverly curated 2013 concert on “spatial music". There’s also a 30-minute documentary by Wim Wenders on the hall’s history.

While classical musicians are leading the way, other artists are stepping up too. Country legend Willie Nelson put together a 5-hour live-streamed concert, Til Further Notice, featuring himself, Lucinda Williams, Kurt Vile, Paul Simon and others, with the sets filmed by the artists at home. Chris Martin of Coldplay played a concert on Instagram, passing the baton to singer John Legend. Comedian and actor Steve Martin, nowadays a professional banjo player, uploaded a short video of himself playing outside, as well as an excellent bluegrass and country playlist on Spotify. Neil Young made a lo-fi half-hour home concert movie, complete with flubs and false starts ( The set included old favourites like Sugar Mountain and Razor Love and the last song he played, a whispered version of Little Wing, had an almost unbearable intimacy.

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