A living room, an office, a bedroom — these are not places you typically picture when you think of orchestra musicians playing instruments.
But that’s just what a group of musicians with the Calgary Philharmonic and Edmonton Symphony orchestras did to bring a beautiful musical piece to audiences self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the virtual performance, musicians — in isolation themselves — are seen standing in front of beds, bookshelves and living rooms as they collectively, but independently, perform Elgar’s Nimrod Variation IX from the Enigma Variations.
“The piece — it feels like something that starts out very sad and then it transitions to something hopeful and something mighty,” Calgary Philharmonic violinist Donovan Seidle said.
“It goes to this very, very strong place and I think, especially when we are downtrodden and when we’re presented with so many challenges, there can be a feeling of helplessness and we need to transition that feeling of helplessness into strength.”
The Calgary Philharmonic musicians have been laid off since both orchestras cancelled performances indefinitely as provincial efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 intensified. While some have turned to their own independent projects or gone off the grid, Seidle said a number of them are regularly talking and doing remote hangouts — and planning projects like these.
“We wanted to figure out ways to connect without audience, even though we weren’t in the concert hall,” Seidle said, adding the response was more than they expected.
He said the musicians have loved seeing all of the comments, shares, likes and supportive messages. As of Wednesday afternoon, the video had more than 25,000 views on Facebook and more than 4,000 on YouTube.
“Mostly, I think it speaks to, in quarantine, we’re not always able to connect with our humanity and connect with one another,” Seidle said.
“That’s something that I think this project is providing to people; it’s a way to access those emotions.”
Seidle explained that art lets people experience a journey set by the performer.
“It allows us to be led on that emotional journey with them. That’s a reconnecting to our own humanity and the ability to emote… It just brings a sense of humanity and the emotions that we need right now,” he said.
“This is what the community needed.”
The project was a big undertaking, Seidle said. It started at his home with his partner and fellow musician Janna Sailor, the conductor seen in the middle of the video.
They recorded a video of Sailor conducting the piece and sent it to each musician, who then watched and played their own part, sending a video of themselves back.
After three days of heavy editing and technical challenges, the final piece was ready.
“It’s an interesting thing to collaborate on. Usually, when we rehearse, we’re in the same room, we can express our thoughts, but this was like a one-way street,” Seidle said.
The group is already working on another virtual project, which they expect to release to the public next week.
When asked what that performance might look like, all Seidle would say was, “Think Battle of Alberta.”
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