As New Yorkers start to imagine what live events might look like in a post-pandemic world, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is offering one vision of how socially-distanced music can still bring people together. The 1:1 CONCERTS, which took place this past weekend and will happen again next weekend, offer one person at a time the chance to experience an intimate 10-minute program performed by a single musician, across a number of wholly unique spaces in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Between the isolation and the cavernous surroundings, it’s a surreal and somewhat overwhelming experience. At dress rehearsals last Friday, my guide Sarah navigated me through two very large warehouses and two very scenic rooftops to peer in on four concerts. Being led through the mostly empty industrial landscape made it all feel like some top secret experimental program.
Our first stop was at the former Sweet’N Low factory, where—three flights up—I got to witness Shaw Pong Liu playing the erhu for her very first audience of one.
The music was filled with longing and melancholy, and hearing it bounce off the chipped paint in the hollow, industrial space made it all the more otherworldly. After the program, her audience member quietly thanked her with a little nod and walked out— audience members are asked to refrain from clapping to allow the concerts to be “embedded in silence.”
And it was clearly a very emotional experience for the musicians.
“That was really sweet,” Pong said as she choked back her tears. “That was my first indoor concert for anybody in 14 months!”
Noting the dramatic backdrop of the venue, she added, “I’m also hearing my sound in a space other than my tiny office which has no acoustics. And to be able to play with some sound information from the room is feeling really good right now.”
Next, we went to a nearby warehouse rooftop where I watched Danny Mekonnen play the tenor sax.
“This is the first time I’ve played music in public since January 2020,” Mekonnen said. “I didn’t do a single online performance…I haven’t taken that kind of a break in 27 years, so it’s a lot, it’s heavy.”
Mekonnen described the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience. “I think one of the reasons I signed up for this is to remember…that I have a really special connection to this instrument that transcends words or understanding,” he said. “I’ve been playing so long, I’ve committed to it so deeply, it’s this relationship. I give to my instrument and my instrument gives to me in the same way we give to our audiences and our audiences give to us.”
Back inside a different warehouse, Edward Perez’s performed on the double bass. The last year has been rough on him, but unlike many of the other artists, Perez had started performing again: “In the last couple of months, I’ve been able to play kind of regularly and it’s lifted my spirits a lot.”
Playing the viola on the rooftop of the same building, Mario Gotoh took a moment to soak in the emotional intensity of the 1:1 CONCERTS after this past year.
“Oh this is awesome,” she said. “I never get to play one-on-one, so it’s really intimate. It’s a new space and a new encounter and you never know what that might invite…especially when we are more sensitive and aware of our surroundings and our personal space. It’s been different with every person and every encounter.”