As Robert Burns so accurately decried « The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley ».
No one could have predicted that the world pandemic of Covid-19 would have altered the lives and livelihoods of all 7.74 billion inhabitants of the world. I can think of no time in the history of the music profession and performance art in general wherein as cataclysmic an event as Covid-19 has affected performer, presenter and public alike as dramatically as these past 12 months.
Having personally suffered from a life-threatening bout with this virus that relegated me to 32 days in a coma on a ventilator, 45 days in hospital and a slow, steady and ongoing recovery, now in its ninth month, I can well attest to the seriousness of this illness and its potential to wreck havoc with human life. This article in the CHUM Hospital magazine and this one from the National Post best describe my travail. I consider myself fortunate to have survived. This experience has allowed me to see even more clearly the important role that music and its unique language of emotion plays on all humanity inclined to appreciate its magical message.
As with every other arts organization I know of, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival was stopped in its tracks by the pandemic in early March of 2020. All our plans were put on hold; all our concerts were postponed and, for a period of three months, we questioned how we would find light at the end of Covid’s dark tunnel. The Covid-19 cataclysm pushed the music industry into the 21st century as all avenues for professional expression as we knew them became suddenly shut. Our musical voices were silenced and the special relationship of human interaction which is the concert experience was suddenly absent; the lights of the stage were pitched into the abyss of darkness.
As I emerged from my coma and returned home in May of 2020, having won my battle with this formidable foe, I became suddenly aware of how important it was to find other avenues to reach out and connect with the public. The audience is without question the ying to the yang of every performer. Without one, the other cannot exist. With the concert stage taken away, the option of a digital stage became the only avenue down which to turn to create and cultivate an expressive musical message in 2020. As a result, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival has become a Festival Re-imagined. We are reinventing ourselves in this optic and exploring a brand new digital profile. There seems to be no limit to the potential digital creativity affords, certainly for the present and likely the future. The Festival is forever altered and will likely, from now on, present a hybrid of both live and digital content. I foresee following this hybrid path wherein the digital medium will complement and enhance live performance in the immediate future starting in the 2021 season. Though it is impossible to duplicate the magic of human engagement ignited between performer and public in a concert hall, the dimension of the experience and widening of boundaries through the digital medium is indisputable.
Embracing the digital reality and starting in June of 2020, the Festival created three projects, each dedicated to shed light on the unique circumstances of our imposed isolation. We decided to explore the creative possibilities inherent in the uniqueness of each and every performer who makes up the artistic moving parts of what this Festival is all about, giving an intimate portrait about how each was dealing with this sudden life-altering change. That said, we have stayed true to our mission of encouraging the best emerging talents and celebrating excellence in musical performance. We have held close to our hearts the intimate experience the performer can afford the chamber music audience. In our way of thinking and in the team spirit of that which chamber music is all about, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.