The COVID-19 pandemic offered any number of unprecedented challenges, but music persisted. Almost immediately, said Kent Walker, Senior Vice President of Global Affairs at Google, people in lockdowns turned to singing and playing music from their homes; the human spirit persisted.
2020 marked the 250th birthday for Ludwig von Beethoven and plans had long been in place for celebrating his Symphony No. 9, Ode to Joy. Orchestras had planned 12 concerts in 12 cities, explained Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but plans needed to shift online. To her delight, the digital transformation brought in new audiences and an extended life of its own. In Germany, Malte Boecker, Director of Beethoven-Haus Bonn, had planned a nationwide culture festival. The initial shock of shut down, he said, turned into a push for innovation. Beethoven himself was a perfect example for the era, Boecker continued, because he was both innovative and desperate to connect in the face of isolating hearing loss. Beethoven’s music and, specifically, Ode to Joy, represents resilience and the power to overcome adversity.
Walker asked the panel to describe what the shift toward technology means for the arts. Alsop expressed her belief that there is no going backward. Technology will be a partner and tools to amplify and share information and insight, bringing everyone into the magic of the creative process. Boecker explained that he had an initial fear that opening tours virtually might diminish the hunger for in-person experience, but discovered this was not the case, as people worldwide are even more curious and more inspired to go into live experiences. Walker agreed that technology can bring stories alive for younger audiences. Google was proud, he continued, that its tools played a part in connecting people to art over the last year.
At the same time, we saw people using culture and using music, in particular, to connect in new ways.
Technology allows us to bring everyone inside the experience and once you bring someone inside a creative experience, there’s a magic that is really irreplaceable.
The truth is that people have tremendous opportunities to reflect on cultural objects from all over the world, get inspired and get more curious, and get more willing to really see things in nature.