It is a truth universally acknowledged that an artist quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic must be in want of a live audience. The outbreak of “shelter-in-place” orders in the Bay Area on Tuesday, as well as the entire state of California later last week, has rendered even the most informal of studio concerts impossible. Thousands of musicians worry about their financial prospects after the widespread cancellation of concerts months out from now. In this time of artistic upheaval, Yo-Yo Ma, Broadway actress Laura Benanti and others have taken social media by the storm with their calls for sharing musical performance as a way of processing and connecting with others. Riding the virtual tide of “Songs of Comfort,” Bay Area musicians from the Del Sol String Quartet and the concert violinist Francisco Fullana spread hope through “socially distanced” performances over the weekend.
The Del Sol String Quartet is a San Francisco-based group that for 27+ years has sought to share “living” music or the sounds and stories of composers from around the world whether Ben Johnston’s just intonation or Gabriela Lena Frank’s South American-infused classical repertoire. The artistic director and violist Charlton Lee and cellist Kathryn Bates live-streamed from a home in San Francisco on Saturday at 7 p.m., acknowledging upfront that their impromptu viola-cello concert was wildly different from the four-hour Pacific Pythagorean Music Festival slated for that night. Though the time lag of the Facebook livestream made for somewhat-amusing slowdowns of the musicians’ skilled motions, Lee and Bates delivered high-quality music for their 30-something virtual audience.
“We’re just so happy that we can share at least a little something with you — not quite what we originally planned with a whole big festival, now just the two of us,” Lee remarked to catch up the audience members just then joining the livestream.
In a nod to March being International Women’s month, the duo performed two viola-cello pieces by female composers. Bates and Lee started their 20-minute virtual concert with Anne Clyne’s “October Rose,” which features two lilting string melodies interwoven in a B-Flat major tonality. Other than Bates’ upper body being obstructed by her music stand and technical glitches freezing up Lee every few seconds, the viewer could fancy they were in an intimate chamber concert in a English cottage-style living room. Lee and Bates then set down their instruments for a few minutes to reflect on the current state of musicianship and ensemble performance in the time of the coronavirus.
“Glad we can play for a few of you here — very brutal time for everyone I know but particularly for the community of performing artists getting utterly hammered, for people in the freelance world who just lost everything,” Lee reflected, crouching down in front of the camera.
Bates then dovetailed on the profound sentiment of loss and frustration in the artistic community with being unable to perform with and for others. Bates acknowledged, however, that people should only do what they “can and are able” to help others: “Ways you can support artists include donating tickets you have already bought and supporting various non-profits supporting musicians. Everyone is hurting and we [musicians] are trying to figure out how to still even exist at the other end of all this.”
The following performance of the percussive, agile “Zapatos de Chincha” by their longtime acquaintance Gabriela Lena Frank brought much-needed levity to the somber occasions of shelter-in-place. The quartet had commissioned the piece two years prior as a “birthday present” for their 25th Anniversary festival, and Bates prefaced the particular song choice as simply because “We all need a little groove in our lives right now.” And while the piece was pared down to just viola and cello due to shelter in place, one could feel the vibrance and dynamism of Frank’s composition. The piece featured a variety of pizzicato textures on Bates’ cello and shifting rhythmic cadences on the viola fitting for music inspired by the light-footed movement of Afro-Peruvian music, tap dance and the cajon (a wooden box percussion instrument).
After a brief 30 minutes, Bates and Lee signed off to almost 50 viewers with an invitation to create and share art, no matter how rudimentary or advanced it is.
“This is a beautiful time to find new ways to express ourselves,” Bates mused and then more jokingly said: “Also, if we ever get a break from this [shelter-in-place order], maybe we’ll convince the other two members of our quartet to shelter and make music with us!”
Less than 24 hours before Del Sol aired, Palo Alto-based concert violinist Francisco Fullana embraced this same acute need for live performance through somewhat-different means. He sent out a Facebook message on Friday afternoon to his University Terrace neighbors, inviting everyone at 4:30 p.m. to come to the central lawn by the community center to “listen or watch, whether through open windows or sitting on the lawn while following the 6-feet guidelines from other families.” He then brought out a violin (though sadly not his Stradivarius dubbed “Miss Mary”) to perform a selection of light, resonant classical violin solo repertoire.
Fullana chose the upbeat Bach E-Major Partita because “it feels like the sun is shining when I play it!” along with Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo and Albeniz’s Asturias. Fullana has publicly shared on Facebook before that Albeniz’s Asturias captures his childhood memories of the sunshine, fields and family homes in Spain, making his choice to share the piece with his Palo Alto neighbors in the present time extremely touching. Professor Alice Ting of the Stanford Biology Department shares that she and her partner Fullana have been overwhelmed by the warm community reception to his performance, with some neighbors emailing their thanks just for him having the idea of holding a concert.
“As a concert violinist, performing for a live audience [whether a recital, concerto or chamber music on stage] is at the heart of my life. The coronavirus pandemic has stopped all that, and though I have been practicing at home and sharing some performances through social media, it’s not quite the same,” Fullana wrote in an email, echoing the sentiment of Lee and Bates in their livestream. “Live music has magical soothing effects on people. It allows them to reflect and take a break from the anxiety around us, from the confined lives that we are all living at the moment. That is why I decided to send out the email to the University Terrace community.”
Similar to Lee and Bates advocating for compassionate musicianship through their thoughtful livestream, Fullana strongly believes that his violin can bring some peace and a moment of self-reflection to families around the Stanford community and the Peninsula. At least for the community of University Terrace within Palo Alto, Fullana has certainly proven that “People can enjoy some Bach or Paginini in the only setting that live music is possible at the moment: outdoors and 6 feet or more apart!” While he speaks in jest, Fullana like Del Sol hopes to build on their initial forays into “socially distanced” strings performance — whether in the open air or livestream — to persist in musical performance that makes visible the vulnerability of artists and uplifts the greater community amidst the cultural turbulence of the pandemic.
This piece marks the inaugural installment of a new Arts & Life column “Voices of Cancelled Stanford Shows” (VoCSS). With an acronym that calls to mind the Latin “vox” or voice and the style sheet language CSS, this column is a designated space for students, faculty and members of the greater Stanford community to speak to how the performing arts and the coronavirus pandemic have — and continue to — intersect in their lives. Updated weekly on Monday mornings through the digital edition of The Daily, the column may encompass the stories of everyone from classical musicians and artistic directors to theater-makers and independent artists at all experience levels — amateur, collegiate and professional. As shown by this “prelude” piece, the Stanford connection can be tangential in acknowledgment of the call for “distant socializing” while members of our community are currently dispersed throughout the world.
If this piece resonated with you at all, please take 1-2 minutes to fill out or forward widely this form, where you can recommend yourself, your performing group or others in the broader Stanford community you want to see featured in an upcoming installment of VoCSS.
Contact Natalie Francis at natfran ‘at’ stanford.edu.