Musicians Playing Through the Lockdown, to One Listener at a Time

Patrick Kingsley, a world correspondent, and Laetitia Vancon, a photojournalist, are driving greater than three,700 miles to discover the reopening of the European continent after coronavirus lockdowns. Read all their dispatches.

STUTTGART, Germany — Atop a hill beside a winery, a lady sat down a few yards from a stranger holding a double bass. She sat in silence for a minute, attempting to maintain his gaze.

It was arduous wanting him in the eye. She’d spent weeks staring at screens, largely in isolation. Human contact felt intense, unusual. After 30 or 40 seconds, she glanced away.

But then the musician raised his bow. The air started to hum with the deep chords of the instrument. She started to calm down.

But two state-funded orchestras in Stuttgart — the Stuttgart State Orchestra and the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra — are trying to do something more personal. Something that won’t keep people separated by windshields, or sitting in a mostly empty auditorium, or staring at their computer screens. Something that might stir some raw emotion.

The challenge was to achieve this without risking infection.

The solution is an ongoing series of one-on-one concerts — in which one orchestra member plays for one audience member, without ever speaking to them.

After applying to attend online, concertgoers are then allocated a 10-minute slot in one of 27 sites around the city. They include Stuttgart’s deserted airport, an art gallery, the garden of a private villa — and the terrace beside the vineyard, where Ms. Brusdeylins heard the rendition of “Greensleeves.”

The audience of one arrives with no knowledge about the music that awaits him or her, or the performer or instrument that will provide it. The person simply is asked to sit down opposite the musician, and to lock eyes with the player for 60 seconds.

Then the musician plays for 10 minutes — sometimes squeezing in two or three pieces. They tend to arrive having rehearsed a handful of potential pieces, but change the final selection for each performance. Ms. Brusdeylins was subsequently treated to part of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.

Finally, the concertgoer stands up and leaves without applauding, usually wordlessly. There is no ticket fee, but attendees can donate instead to a fund for freelance musicians left without an income by the crisis.

It’s often an overwhelming experience for the musicians, too.

For Mr. Schattel, it has been a revelation to finally play for an audience, after weeks of playing at home only for himself.

“You need an audience to really express what you feel,” he said, after performing for Ms. Brusdeylins. “This made me feel free again — like the world is turning” once more.

And it’s moving to see a stranger for the first time, he said, to make that direct eye contact, and to decide what to play based on those initial impressions of who that person is.

And then to play for them, and them alone.

When Mr. Schattel played for Ms. Brusdeylins, he didn’t actually tailor his set in homage to her life story; he hadn’t known of her time in England. But she was right to feel that he’d consciously chosen “Greensleeves.”

He could immediately tell she was nervous, he remembered later. And “Greensleeves,” he felt, was the perfect melody to put her at her ease.

“I thought this would lift her up and take her by the hand,” Mr. Schattel said. “This would invite her to come with me.”

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