A classical music lover watches the video of an online concert of the National Center for the Performing Arts on April 27, in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, east China (LI QING)
Li Zhe, a violinist who has been with the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) Orchestra for a decade, reached a personal milestone. The NCPA has suspended over 100 performances since January 24 due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. On April 11, it presented a concert online.
In the Maestro's Club, a small hall at the impressive NCPA building in Beijing where celebrated artists are feted, the NCPA Orchestra performed the Beethoven String Quartet, a piece of music played by four stringed instruments. Instead of facing the usual audience, the group of musicians faced cameras as the performance was live-streamed online. "I'd never played in an online concert before," Li said.
This year marks German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birth anniversary. Xu Jinzhao, a Chinese pianist who plays chamber music—instrumental music played by a small group of musicians—told Beijing Review, "His music is a message of hope and can inspire people with the power of art and life. Through his music, we wanted to pay tribute to the medical workers fighting the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the frontline, and express our support for those who suffered during the epidemic."
Ren Xiaolong, orchestra manager of the NCPA, said before the concert, "The situation requires people to maintain social distancing. However, music and life should not drift apart." So the NCPA, following the trend in China and further, decided to start staging online performances. "Although the audience can't enter the halls, we can still give them good music, especially to those who are going through a tough period," Ren said.
This is how the NCPA's online project was conceived. The April 11 concert, A Belated Spring, also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the NCPA Orchestra. Besides the string quartet music, it included a wind quintet, five wind instruments playing another Beethoven composition.
The NCPA concert found an echo one day later when Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang solo in the empty Duomo Cathedral in Milan to celebrate Easter. The live-streamed concert was watched by millions. Bocelli said it was his prayer. He was praying for all the people affected by the pandemic in Italy and around the world, he told China Global Television Network.
Music has the magic power of healing, especially for music lovers, Xu said. The audience is appreciating the online mode because it can meet their cultural demands during the prevention and control of the epidemic. The NCPA said it would stage online concerts every Saturday till the offline public performances can resume.
To ensure the live-streaming is of high quality, professional technical teams are getting involved. According to the NCPA, the team from video-sharing app Kuaishou, also known as Kwai, which is partnering with them for the live-streaming, arrives at the center hours before the concerts begin to check the equipment.
The shooting is done from dual positions to present both details of individual musicians and the entire concert scene. "Online broadcasting provides the best angle to watch a performance," Xu said. Though online performances may not provide the best tonal quality, they are still an attractive choice for many, he added.
The April 11 concert had been viewed more than 27 million times on over 30 streaming platforms by the next day. "Internet technology has not only made it convenient for music lovers to enjoy concerts but also expanded the influence of music," Xu said.
Besides the actual performance, the online concerts also have live interactions with the audience. An NCPA member anchors the event, taking the audience virtually backstage before the concert begins, and inviting the musicians to introduce the music and the instruments they will play.
On April 25, renowned cellist Li-Wei Qin gave a solo concert. Besides telling the audience abonut the pieces he was going to play, he also talked about his life in quarantine as a musician, which in a way represented all musicians. "It is a pity that offline concerts are canceled and we have lost a valuable chance to communicate with our audience face-to-face," Qin said. "But I am also happy to have abundant time to learn new songs and improve my skills."
"Some people might feel classical music distant. But musicians by telling their audience about their daily life and instruments can bridge the distance," Xu said.
(Print Edition Title: Messages of Hope)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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