„Every Night? Are you serious?“

by Hannah Schmidt ·
First published on April 1st, 2020 in German VAN Magazine

2020 has gone bust. The Bayreuth Festival is cancelled and the great Mahler Festival in Amsterdam, thousands of concerts, both large and small, and numerous opera performances, the big Beethoven year has been a year without music, so far. Many musicians sit in their apartments and fear for their existence, and very many, whether they have been hit existentially or not, are trying to do something different. The pianist Sophie Pacini only leaves her house in exceptional cases and therefore spends a lot of time on her private grand piano, in what she calls her “workshop”. Practice, reflect, practice. The musicianship continues. A certain defiance is noticeable in the community, the desire to simply continue as best as possible – and this manifests itself above all in streaming videos that appear everywhere in social networks. Are we doing ourselves a favor?

VAN: Many musicians stream concerts from their living rooms “now more than ever”. Does music save itself over the corona emptiness?

Sophie Pacini: On the contrary. There is a lot more live music than before and sometimes completely unfiltered. I hardly ever go to Facebook anymore because it totally overwhelms me: here someone is playing a Bach movement, over there someone else is singing an unfinished serenade, suddenly work in progress is visible everywhere. I wonder: is this behaviour an excuse to portray yourself for 24 hours? Before I go public, you need an aesthetic standard. During these streamed house concerts, however, I always ask myself: would you really play that in concert? The interpretation, in this sound quality? Seriously, every night? Why?

So do you think art suffers?

Yes of course. We pianists in particular come to the concert hall and demand that piano technicians are there for us to bring the instrument to perfection, so that we can express it. We go there beforehand, run the repertoire in, become one with the instrument to reproduce something unique in a concert. Our grand pianos at home, on which we hammer for hours every day, they are often far from good shape. For example, Beethoven in particular is a composer who works particularly well in a concert – these emotions, this quake that goes through the floor, that grips you in the feet. If I now sit down on my living room wing, in smurf costume, I can’t put myself into the same attention like in a concert. I don’t even know where the listener is – is he maybe sitting on the toilet right now? It is totally difficult in these circumstances to produce art at the highest level.

But don’t you think that the Waldstein sonata on socks with brooms in the background couldn’t have some charm?

No, somehow I never really liked that. If we consider that the art we produce was meticulously thought through before it was put to paper – there is nothing left to coincidence, it is composed in the most condensed way, everything has a message. It’s about allowing yourself to let go – you do that in a concert, but you let go at home differently.


But with those living room streams you give people a chance to listen to you, they could not otherwise hear this music, right?

There are CDs and records for that. We created them just for this case: we wanted to leave something in case there are no concerts. We brought perfection to the studio, we examined ourselves, together with sound engineers who studied for an infinitely long time. Streaming from home is a kick in the back of the sound engineers and their whole profession.

You also post videos from home on Facebook that you play Beethoven on. Where’s the difference?

I give an insight into the workshop – but it’s nothing more than a workshop.

So would it be better, from your point of view, to completely forego such concert streams during this time?

Understanding music is only possible when we have moments of silence. The situation right now could also be a challenge: people, now you are robbed of your live work – do you really understand the essence of music or is it just occupational therapy? Not to play would mean: We enter into a dialogue with ourselves, we give an insight into our work, into what concerns us and what makes us irreplaceable as artists – namely, that there is no art without an artist, and the artist can only work if he can appear in a perfectly rounded overall picture. Right now we are not making ourselves irreplaceable.

But can’t art also be “broken”? The imperfect living room as its own aesthetic space, the jerking of the recording as a statement, the clattering sound as a song of praise of the flaw?

Of course – if the intention is to show a section of our home workshop. But as we are handling things right now, we grant a concert-like, but raw insight which is unsuitable for art. This is not art, it is simply a bad picture of reality, and it is totally uninteresting to see a picture that has been painted without any immediate sign of an interpretation. The moment of the concert remains sacred to me. Right now, ›at home‹ is like a concert – and the concert moment loses the sacred, the irreplaceable.


Mit dem Laden des Videos akzeptieren Sie die Datenschutzerklärung von YouTube.
Mehr erfahren

Video laden

What do you think this time will change the culture and the artists?

Certainly. A completely different way of thinking is appropriate and also important. We can reflect. So far, we were used to getting up as an artist and doing something – now you get up and have nothing to do. We have to ask ourselves now, what is the content of art, why did I become a musician? Maybe feel that I am totally screwed up at home without concerts? I have to put myself to the test and I believe that many of us will no longer be musicians after this time.

Why that?

Maybe you will become aware of the difference now: did I grow into this?, or: did my parents push me into it?, I am much better off without the pressure to perform? In any case, like many of my colleagues, I miss the music making very much. I miss the sharing of my art. That is why I try to pass on my love of music at least in short messages, somehow.

Did you stand on the balcony last week and play the “Ode to joy”?

Absolutely no way. Our entire neighbourhood took part in it, but I entrenched myself in the basement and did sports. No, you cannot listen to music at all times, you have to understand it and you also need respect. A neighbour here has just lost her husband. Does she really want to hear that, ›be embraced, millions‹? Maybe she just doesn’t want to hear anything.

But is that so different in Italy?

People live in a completely different neighborhood there. They see each other, cook together, people do homework across the balconies. This is not the case here, there are 20 meters between the houses, sometimes you don’t see the neighbors for weeks.

So you stick to what Mauricio Kagel said: Do we simply not listen to Beethoven for a while to regain the ability to appreciate his music?

The question is: Does listening to Beethoven mean that I put Beethoven online in every situation? Or does listening to Beethoven primarily mean to allow Beethoven to exist in his own right? If I sit down at home and hear the 7th symphony or the 2nd movement of Eroica, then I need a moment of silence beforehand, I have to sit down, raise the volume and focus on the fact that I will now hear the funeral march. I have to allow that. Is it necessary that all sonatas, all symphonies are to be performed so often and one after the other in the Beethoven year? The sonatas were written with a completely different background information, the symphonies as well. Combining a symphony and a sonata might be interesting. For me, Beethoven was already kitschy in the Beethoven year. So in a way: yes. I don’t think we are doing ourselves a favour if we just keep playing it.


Mit dem Laden des Videos akzeptieren Sie die Datenschutzerklärung von YouTube.
Mehr erfahren

Video laden