2020 was a special year.

First of all, I would like to reflect on the tragic, devastating events – a global pandemic that has gripped the entire world. Young and old, rich and poor, no matter what continent you live on, no one can escape the effects of an unexpected, and now all-important epidemic. Millions of people have already had the disease, in worse or lighter forms, many struggling with long-lasting effects of it. Worldwide, it has already claimed almost 3 million lives – and no one knows when the much-wanted immunity will be reached. In addition to the health concerns, Corona’s effect on society is also enormous. Many lose their income, get lonely, miss out on the fun, enjoyable things in life. Schools, stores, restaurants close, no museums, concerts, festivals, no visiting each other – a whole new reality emerges. 

In the world of music, the consequences are also enormous: no performances, concerts, recordings possible, playing together difficult. Artists are getting creative, making music together remotely, digitally, or from different balconies …  For pop, rock, R&B, and more, “bubbles” are created, classical musicians create videos, YouTube movies to share their performances.

There are also positive consequences of all the challenges. We now dwell on things that “used to” be taken for granted: shaking hands, just going to work, shopping, going to the pub, traveling, going to a concert, going on vacation.  Our desire for “normal” makes us appreciate all these things much more when we can again. 

We do a lot more indoors, cooking good food when the restaurants are closed, listening to music when we can’t go to concerts or festivals. Music is a very powerful medium. It can connect, comfort, arouse emotions, and can also incite.  Music touches people, sometimes many years later you get an unexpectedly strong memory of something you heard, experienced.

1983 Zeneakademia / Music Academy / Budapest.

Very first concert at Budapest Festival Orchestra, founded by conductor Ivan Fischer, then 32, and master pianist Zoltan Kocsis, 31.  I happen to hear on Roon now Mikhail Glinka’s famous overture from his opera “Ruslan and Lyudmila”. Glinka was followed the example/ mentor for the “great” Russian composers who in the 19th century: Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and more. Compelling, mesmerizing music – we as young conservatory students (I was 17) went crazy. About the way, my daughter would now at a pop concert if concerts were possible …  Glinka was the first piece, the orchestra was full of our teachers, fellow students, the cream of the classical performers at the time. Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto followed, performed by Zoltan Kocsis, by then a world-famous – fantastic, inspiring concert, romantic and very Russian. The concert was double sold out, stairs, railings, and aisles were full of people, it was a real party.

All this in the middle of Soviet communism, where the general feeling with Russia was not exactly positive …  But music, art, and human contact are stronger than politics, nationality, skin color – or a virus. The beautiful, fairy-tale Russian tradition and culture, music, painting, and literature were always appreciated, an inspiration to many, regardless of political backgrounds. Beautiful evidence of the power and comfort music can provide.

Now, almost 37 years later, I get a warm feeling from the sounds of Glinka, a kind of comfort and encouragement for the coming still uncertain time.

We miss concerts, live music, museums, human contacts terribly. But we draw comfort and hope from listening – for now – to streaming, speakers, headphones – or our own musical instruments.

Image: Music Academy Main Hall, Budapest. Source: FORTEPAN / Lissák Tivadar, CC BY-SA 3.0 via  Wikimedia Commons