The Greek-Russian star conductor and his musicAeterna orchestra seek new ways to stay in touch with each other and their audiences. They have just started their first project.
"Why is musicAeterna silent, some of you may have wondered," said Teodor Currentzis when he announced the launch of the musicAeterna digital platform, the "virtual residence" of the star conductor's musical family during the coronavirus crisis — and perhaps even longer. "We just wanted to wait and see, so that our voice wouldn't get lost in the confusion of the new digital reality." Initially delayed, the project started on April 23.
Long before the pandemic, Teodor Currentzis was known for unusual formats that kept the otherwise quite conservative classical world on its toes and earned the Greek maestro with a Russian passport the reputation of being a "classical music rebel." From midnight concerts to presenting a program along with a new, incense-scented fragrance: You could always count on Currentzis' projects to be special.
The coronavirus crisis forced a change of plans just as the conductor and his musicians were in the midst of preparing for this year's main projects. They were scheduled to perform the cycle of all Beethoven symphonies at the Beethovenfest in Bonn in March and at the Vienna Konzerthaus, followed by guest performances in Asia and appearances at the Salzburg Festival.
Instead, the musicians and singers — musicAeterna has an orchestra and a choir — are tucked away in their respective homes, in self-isolation in Petersburg and Moscow, Perm and Paris, Madrid and Berlin. The maestro has retired to his country house in the Russian countryside.
The musicAeterna digital platform is meant to help the ensemble remain a "family" despite the pandemic-related isolation; at the same time, it is a creative laboratory. "We continue to work: In our virtual residence, the musicians search for a new language, new means of expression," musicAeterna stated in a press release. "Like in the past, our audience can not only witness but participate in the process."
In addition to recordings of concerts, opera performances and discussions with and about Currentzis and musicAeterna from recent years, there will be live events every two to three days. The individual musicians plan to offer insights into their lives, stream concerts from their living rooms and enter into dialogue with each other and the digital community.
'Music is the main means of communication'
Konstantin Manaev, a hip solo cellist of the orchestra's violoncello group, is active in the project. He shares his isolation in a Berlin backyard apartment with his wife, Julia Smirnova, who is a violinist with musicAeterna. In the coming days and weeks he plans to perform music by young composers living in Berlin and stream it via the platform, live.
Manaev is no newcomer to the digital world: He is artistic director of a small concert series in Fürstenwalde, and his most recent program with pianist Danae Dörken is on YouTube.
On April 26, Manaev and Smirnova will play their first concert from home. "Of course you can't compare an online appearance with a real one," Konstantin admits. "On the other hand, it is precisely times and experiences like these that bring us particularly close together. It is in this confusion of all things that we learn to recognize the voices of others, to listen."
"Music is our cure that helps us get involved in life," says Currentzis in a message to his fans. "Music is not about sound or concerts. Music is the main means of communication.Even in the strictest isolation, in the most existential solitude, music will ensure that we all stay together."
Orchestras go digital
Many orchestras are currently on the move digitally, using various platforms in order not to lose contact with the world outside their own four walls.
The Metropolitan Opera cancelled the rest of this season, leaving its musicians without an income. The orchestra now communicates via the hashtag #MusicConnectsUs, with members of the ensemble, starting with chief conductor Yannick Nezet-Séeuin, posting short music videos.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic is doing the same thing, in hopes that they will be able to return from the digital stage to the real stage soon, while their Berlin colleagues are opening their Digital Concert Hall for free to everyone until April 30.
The goal is to establish a new form of community in times of loneliness and shrinking social contacts. "The whole world around us has become digital," says Konstantin Manaev. "But we are not digital, we are flesh and blood. The virus will pass, but we will remain. And music is eternal."
The very words happen to be musicAeterna's motto:"musica aeterna est."