As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.
Earlier this year, concert violinist Ilya Gringolts sheltered in place in Switzerland, which took the controversial approach (following a brief lockdown) of allowing public spaces to stay open to promote herd immunity. “We were allowed to leave the house for walks and grocery shopping,” Gringolts notes. “The lockdown phase was basically over in May when stores and schools reopened.” He used the time to create a non-profit foundation that promotes new music.
Tell me about your daily routine while quarantined.
There was lots of family time—cooking, helping kids with online learning, organizing the house and garden—but some worrying time, too. The situation brought a lot of uncertainty. On the other hand, in the first two months, the break was welcome for all of us. Many things would not have been done had it not been for the lockdown: For example, I had the time to design and implement a creation with conductor Ilan Volkov of the non-profit I&I Foundation, which supports young, up-and-coming composers.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
It was good to be reminded that our work doesn’t define us, or at least isn’t the only thing that defines us. It was also liberating to practice with no deadlines or purpose, just for the fun of it. I’ve discovered a lot of new repertoire as well.
What are you thoughts about how the pandemic has changed the string world, now and in the future?
It certainly changed the singing and wind world more! I am optimistic and think that we’ll be back soon. My hope would be that repertoire choices in the post-COVID world will become more adventurous. Beethoven is great, but is there really a need for a Beethoven year?
Did you embrace new opportunities on social media during the quarantine?
I’ve tried to stay [involved in] social media, [posting] what little was left of all the interesting projects that would have happened this year. It was a bit difficult to do, but the worst is hopefully behind us: I am not a huge fan of online teaching, even less of half-professional streaming from people’s homes. There’s simply too big of a technological gap still to compete with the live experience, Sorry, Zoom! I did, however, find it helpful when students were encouraged to record their playing. I’m convinced that they benefited from that.
So you weren’t convinced that it was important to stay connected on social media?
Quite frankly, I don’t know whether it is important or not. I think it is very much every artist’s choice as to how present they’d like to be. Being or not being there doesn’t make their output less or more valuable. On the other hand, it is good to have the opportunity to have the illusion of closeness.
What have you learned about your audience during this time?
I think on our side [as players] the hunger to get back onstage has morphed into a sort of resignation that is morphing back into hunger again. I haven’t seen as much activity on the other side [from audiences], sadly. There were plenty of musicians saying how much they’d missed the live experiences, but not so many signs of music being missed on the other side. Hopefully, I am wrong, and this is not a signal of too much supply and too little demand! I believe that the dumping of the archives available for free has devalued our work even further. There is even less hope that we can convince the listener in the future that a good product is worth paying for.
Is the focus on the online experience something that should continue even as venues reopen?
I haven’t done it and am not planning to. I would certainly encourage other players to shift their focus to the music of today. The living, breathing art which, as John Cage said, not detachable from life itself. We are too busy idolizing the past.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen?
I will strive to bring more variation and freshness into the conservative world of music.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine or limitations of the virus change your path?
If anything it makes the newly created art even worthier of fighting for. We need to be strong and support the creative engine of today, the composers.
What projects are you working on?
The big project is the I&I Foundation. We are planning the website launch later in September. Here one can donate to this worthiest of causes: Every small donation counts and with a donation of $3,000 a new work is created!
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