By Thomas Escritt
BERLIN, March 13 (Reuters) - Bans on mass gatherings introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic might have been expected to deal a death blow to musical life, but have instead prompted a boom in free online concerts.
One musician to step up to the plate is Russian-German pianist Igor Levit, who took to Twitter on Thursday evening to stream an impromptu rendition of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata Op. 53 from his Berlin flat to entertain audiences penned at home by the virus.
Across Europe and the world, authorities are shuttering schools, museums, bars and concert halls in an effort to prevent the kind of close physical contact that fosters the transmission of a virus that has killed more than 4,000 people worldwide.
Germany has so far reported 2,369 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths. Berlin, among other German cities and regions, has announced plans to gradually close schools and reduce public transport over the coming week.
"It's a sad time, it's a weird time, but acting is better than doing nothing," Levit told viewers of his stream, before sitting down at his Steinway to trill the piece's swooping opening bars.
"Let's bring the house concert into the 21st century!"
Across Germany, opera houses and concert halls had the same idea. Berlin's Staatsoper, rather than calling off a performance of George Bizet's Carmen, opted to stream the story of the bewitching gypsy girl online for audiences worldwide.
Moments after that ended, the baton passed across town to conductor Simon Rattle who led the Berlin Philarmonic in a performance of Luciano Berio's Sinfonia and Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
"The Philharmonie Berlin will be closed until 19 April – as a measure to counteract the spread of the coronavirus," the orchestra said on its streaming platform, adding that it had decided to give the concert anyway, "without an audience".
Nor was the generosity confined to the high-brow: earlier this week English crooner James Blunt's concert in Hamburg's empty Elbphilarmonie also took place before an invisible audience of millions.
After Levit's 25-minute concert was retweeted 1,500 times and garnered almost 6,000 likes, the pianist seemed to have acquired a taste for the new genre.
"Overwhelmed. Thank you. See you tomorrow, same time. 7pm CET," Levit tweeted. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt Editing by Gareth Jones)
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