Music in the Time of COVID: Christian Sands and Ashley Bathgate

Village Vanguard Empty(Photo: Sabrina Santiago, The New York Times)

Well, it's been a minute. First and foremost, I hope everyone out there is hanging in, staying safe and sane.

But, I won't mince words: this year has sucked. Especially in terms of live music. This just-ended summer had no Celebrate Brooklyn, no Summerstage, no Warm Up or Tanglewood. Frankly, it felt like a missed opportunity to catch some music in the relatively-safe outdoors, especially considering there probably won't be indoor shows for at least another year. Which is particularly painful, given this is normally the time of year when the Met, NY Phil and Carnegie are hosting their festive opening nights. (Carnegie is holding a "virtual opening night" on Oct. 7 with performances by Jon Batiste, Angelique Kidjo, Lang Lang, Wynton Marsalis, and others.)

Oh, I know. There are lots of live streams which can be heard from the socially-distant safety of your desktop/laptop/phone. But, to be honest, I've had a hard time warming up to them. Live music is meant to be heard directly and with other people around, not through earbuds at 1080p. Not to mention these online performances are generally limited to bedroom solo shows, or small ensembles playing in someone's barn or basement.

But, it's what we have for now, and even if it's less-than-ideal, it's been a lifeline for countless musicians who've lost all of their gigs and whatever income they once made from them. And, as I discovered last night watching a pair of streams back-to-back, the quality has improved significantly over the past six (!) months. (Pro tip: get an Apple TV or other streaming device and a decent pair of speakers.) 

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Music at Home

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Ok, being stuck at home sucks, but at least we have modern technology to get us through the day. And no, I don't mean bingeing Tiger King. There is a ton of great, free music streaming online, too much to list here. NPR Music has a great running tally here, which I use as my basic go-to guide. Below are some highlights (all times EDT).

Opera: Just yesterday, I watched John Adams conduct his own Nixon at China at the Met Opera, one of the Met's daily free live streams. Today's opera, Bizet's Pearl Fishers, will be available until tomorrow night. (Pro tip: as long as you start watching before 6:30pm, you can pause it and resume at some later point.) Among other opera companies, the Vienna State Opera is currently streaming Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Meanwhile, the Met Museum is sharing their recent performance of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson's The Mother of Us All at 7pm.

Classical: The Berlin Philharmonic continues to make its entire archive of high quality digital streams available for free. Closer to home, the NY Phil is offering select videos of past concerts here

Jazz: Fred Hersch has been doing a daily stream on Facebook every day at 1pm. At 7pm, Chick Corea is playing as part of the Live from Our Living Rooms festival, followed by Fabian Almazan and Linda Oh. At 8pm, Lizz Wright appears courtesy of SF Jazz (this one costs $5 for a 1-moth membership.) And, Christian McBride hosts a listening party at Jazz House Kids with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cecile McLorin and Melissa Walker.

Lots of streaming shows from the rock, roots and experimental worlds listed here and elsewhere. 


Beethoven @ 250: Jonathan Biss Performs The Late Piano Sonatas

Last night, pianist Jonathan Biss was supposed to appear at the 92nd Street Y to perform Beethoven's last three piano sonatas. Unfortunately, as with just about everything these days, Biss was unable to perform the recital in person. Instead, he filmed himself performing the sonatas on his own piano in his living room and posted it last night on the 92Y website, via Livestream.

Like the late string quartets, these sonatas (Op. 109, 110, and 111) are powerful, visionary works that completely reinvented the genre, influencing composers for decades to come. Before his penetrating, trance-like performance, Biss spoke about the particular resonance Beethoven's sonatas have in this strange time of social distancing.

"They are products of Beethoven's isolation - especially his profound deafness. He was a person of infinite imagination and idealism, and shuttered off from the rest of the world, those qualities blossomed into something even more extraordinary than they might have otherwise. Which led him to produce these documents of beauty, power, and truth."

The full recital is posted above. You can read Biss' own insightful program notes here. And, if you're inclined to help out, you can donate to 92Y here

Call me an optimist, but I'm still hoping to hear these sonatas in person when the great Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini is scheduled to perform them at Carnegie Hall on May 17, less than a week after Carnegie's last already-canceled performance. I can think of any number of reasons why it won't happen, but it feels better right now to imagine that it will. 

Fred Hersch Live

Every day at 1pm, the great jazz pianist Fred Hersch is hosting a brief, but excellent Facebook live concert from his living room. You can watch today's above; not sure how to get him horizontal, but maybe you'll figure it out.