At the height of the Covid-19 spread, one voice rose to inspire hope in music lovers around the globe. Andrea Bocelli, the Italian world-class tenor, sang his heart out in an empty cathedral. It reduced listeners to tears.
The moving performance was part of a solo Easter concert. Streamed live on April 12 from Milan, it has been watched more than 40 million times so far – 22 million views or so, within the day itself.
Bocelli was accompanied only by the cathedral's organist, Emanuele Vianelli, because the Duomo, like many other landmarks, was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As he sang, a montage of images showed the deserted streets of Paris, London and New York. It highlighted the stark nature of what our world had become, with majority of cities under lockdown.
More recently, the Barcelona Opera resumed business with a different kind of audience. The Gran Teatre Del Liceu filled its 2,292 seats with plants for a performance by the UceLi Quartet on June 22.
Opening as if to a human audience, it played a standard reminder about turning off mobile phones and the performers bowed respectfully to the greenery before playing. It was the new normal, of sorts.
According to a release on the opera house’s website, the performance aimed to offer a different perspective. It also wanted to send out a message of the important relationship we all share with nature.
The plants was said to have come from local nurseries. They were all later donated along with a certificate to health care professionals, specifically at the Hospital Clínic situated within Barcelona.
‘Closer Than Being At An Actual Concert’
“Covid-19 has changed us all” is the usual belief that almost everyone subscribes to. We can’t deny it. Yet, the pandemic has also proven that life is resilient and it bounces back in the most beautiful ways.
Live music for one, is not dead. It has just found another way to exist. While it may not be entirely the same, it can still offer a magical experience. We all just need to adapt and learn to enjoy it in a new form.
In Thailand, rock fans watched their favourite bands play via video-meeting platform Zoom. It was part of a music festival that has moved fully online to survive. The six-hour-long show gave people a chance to see and interact with artistes from afar.
Held on June 7, performers did their thing in a studio in front of hundreds of streamed-in concert goers, accompanied by a computer-generated whale swimming lazily across the screen.
The Top Hits Thailand festival drew rave reviews. Some 3,000 people paid 499 baht (US$16) to watch the performances. It was organised by record label What The Duck to help support the industry.
"A virtual music festival allows audiences and artists to interact, and they can sing along and talk to each other," managing director Samkwan Tonsompong told Reuters. “I think this is closer than being at an actual concert.”
KCON, the world's largest K-pop festival, went online for the first time on June 10. A reported 4.81 million viewers tuned in from 152 countries, throughout the weeklong live streaming.
K-pop acts like Monsta X, (G)I-DLE, LOONA, AB6IX, EVERGLOW, The Boyz and SF9 participated. The programme included performances, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, member-focused fancams and 360-degree VR peeks inside artiste green rooms.
These successes can now act as a guide for other music festivals. They also show that digital performances can work, albeit offering a different experience than what fans would come to expect.
Best Enjoyed Live
We cannot ignore the fact that live performances are a crucial part of the music industry. Ask a concertgoer for example, and he or she will tell you that the experience is akin to “living in the moment”.
BBC Radio was quick to recognise this crucial aspect of music. In June, it introduced a series of lunchtime concerts broadcasted from London's Wigmore Hall. Performers included pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida and singers Mark Padmore and Iestyn Davies.
Alan Davey, controller of BBC Radio 3 and BBC Classical Music stated: “Live music is in the DNA of Radio 3 and so its loss is felt by all, not just at home but also in the music industry.”
BBC Radio later continued with more four recitals, which was presented live at Glasgow’s City Halls in July. The performances took place in an empty venue with no audience present.
“There is a real primal need for live music and the refuge and respite it gives our audiences – the response to our Wigmore Hall series has been tremendous. We know it also matters to musicians themselves to make this live connection again,” Davey said, prior to the series happening.
Performers from other genres are keen to reconnect with their fans through live events as well. They know that the community of music lovers are in desperate need for a fix of fresh music.
The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were among 1,500 musicians who signed a letter to the British government recently, asking for it to help save the country’s live music industry amid the pandemic.
The joint open letter, which also included signatures from other famous names the likes of Ed Sheeran, Lionel Richie, Dua Lipa and pop group Little Mix, said that it is crucial to focus on jumpstarting live music events.
“For the good of the economy, the careers of emerging British artistes, and the UK’s global music standing, we must ensure that a live music industry remains when the pandemic has finally passed,” the letter read.
Whether to save livelihoods or music itself, it just comes to show that live performances are indeed an irreplaceable experience – something that recorded music will find hard to compete with.
Cover Image: Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.