As the COVID-19 crisis sweeps across the globe forcing governments to shut down everyday life as we know it, creatives, artists and musicians are responding in kind, defying lockdowns with their imaginative virtual takes on real-world events.
In Denmark, where the summer tradition of festival-going has been cancelled due to the pandemic, Danish double bass player Mathæus Beck brainstormed an online alternative: a Corona Concert series broadcast live from his living room. The online festival, scheduled from April 16th to 19th, will feature 16 concerts and performances, spotlighting a broad array of Danish musicians — from electronic pop phenomenon Lydmor and jazz saxophone virtuoso Ollie Wallace to classical-inspired folk band Dreamers Circus — for a virtual musical celebration as the musicians join Bech remotely.
Denmark in New York caught up with Mathæus Bech to discuss the story behind the Corona Festival initiative and why it’s important to keep the live musical experience alive during a time of isolation.
Denmark In New York: Hi Mathæus, thank you for participating in this interview. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the story behind this concert series amid the COVID-19 crisis?
Mathæus Bech: On the evening of the Danish lockdown I stayed up all night preparing this concept so that people would have a positive message to wake up to. The idea is that I will host live-streamed concerts from my own apartment every evening as long as the country remains in lockdown. It’s free to watch with the possibility of donating to the cause and the musicians.
What compelled you to launch the Corona Concert?
Mathæus Bech: On the evening of Denmark’s lockdown, I was at the opera and, during the intermission, everybody was on their phones watching the Prime Minister’s press conference. It was such a weird feeling going back into the theatre knowing that this would be the last time anybody could see live art for an undefined period of time. The contrast between a 50-people choir and 50-piece symphony orchestra on stage, and the fact that culture was about to effectively be closed down was remarkable.
I wanted to prove just this — that music will always find a way — no matter the circumstances
In some way, it became clear to me just how life-changing this pandemic will be, and also how unstoppable a force music really is. I wanted to prove just this — that music will always find a way — no matter the circumstances. And that is what compelled me to start this.
Why do you think online performances of live music are assembling so many people in this time of COVID-19?
Mathæus Bech: Music, art and culture is not just a cherry on top of a cultural cake — it is a necessity. We need it to make sense of ourselves as well as the world around us — especially in times like these, where everything has been turned on its head. Musicians need an outlet–an audience–and this seems to be the best way for musicians to reach out. Art forms that occur in real time, such as live music, have a special intimacy, urgency and unpredictability that is hard to get otherwise.
What reactions have you received from musicians and audiences?
Mathæus Bech: In general, musicians seem to be more nervous than usual. I think it is partly due to the unfamiliarity of the situation, but also because live music really is a two-way form of communication. Artists feed off from the audience and vice versa. When you can’t get the affirmation that catching a glimpse of a smile in the audience gives you, you feel a lot more exposed and lonely.
We need it to make sense of ourselves as well as the world around us — especially in times like these, where everything has been turned on its head.
The support from the audiences have been incredible and heartwarming. It is amazing that so many people donate and show, literally, that they value what we are doing, and also the amount of heartfelt comments and messages are wonderful.
What has been the main challenge in setting up this initiative?
Mathæus Bech: Balancing it with my personal life, it being in my living room and all. And also balancing the artistic vision and the business side of things. I’m a musician — I started this as an artistic project — a point I wanted to make. Now that all summer festivals have been shut down for the year, business are rushing to make streaming their new business model over the summer. As I was among the first to do it and got a lot of exposure there are a lot of opportunities and offers that I’m honestly not interested in, but in some ways have to consider given how insecure the future is.
What is your best advice to other creative entrepreneurs who want to make a positive difference during this time of struggle?
Mathæus Bech: Follow your heart. Do what you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Listen to Hard Times by Gillian Welch.
Sofus Goldschmidt Pedersen is the Politics, Culture and Public Diplomacy intern at Denmark In New York.