Chinese violinist Yin Shen, performing a piece by Bach for a single audience member / © AFP
With Swiss concert halls shut due to the coronavirus crisis, musicians from one orchestra have taken a unique approach to lifting the spirits of the nation's music lovers
Instead of playing to their usual packed houses, the musicians have taken to performing solo concerts for a single audience member sat just metres away.
The result has been a much closer, more intimate experience -- with surprising results for performers and spectators alike
Musicians from the Geneva-based orchestra of French-speaking Switzerland have been performing 10-minute works at venues around the city, including flower shops, boutiques and former industrial buildings.
The single spectator is only given the date, time and location, with the performer and the music remaining a mystery until show-time.
In a gallery on an island in the Rhone river, concert-goer Filipe De Figueiredo settled in to watch viola player Verena Schweizer perform a sonata by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
"It's almost a little bit intimidating to be right in front of the musician. Not only do you listen to them but you can see close up what they are doing. It's a really enjoyable experience," De Figueiredo told AFP.
Schweizer, who joined the orchestra in 1998, said playing without the others required a completely different kind of preparation.
"It's extraordinary for us, because we're sharing a very intimate moment with someone we don't even know and it's very intense. Yes, very special," the German-born viola player said.
"There are people who are very moved -- almost all of them -- and that is gratifying for us, because we don't normally have these reactions: the crowd is anonymous."
- Calm in the silence -
Composed of 112 permanent musicians, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande was founded in 1918 by Ernest Ansermet, who was its principal conductor until 1967.
Its tours have taken it through leading concert halls in the likes of Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco and Buenos Aires.
Now its musicians are on their own in flower shops.
"We really get all types of reactions. There are some people who leave after the concert without saying a word, full of emotion," said Steve Roger, the orchestra's general manager.
"Others want to share this moment with the musicians and take a few minutes to talk with them about what they have just heard, the daily life of the musicians and the current difficulties.
"As for the audiences, we have had just as many registered supporters who rushed online to be certain of getting a spot, as people who don't typically come to the concerts."
The Swiss government announced Wednesday the first stage of lifting the restrictions imposed to curb the virus.
From Monday, up to 15 people can congregate, rather than five, non-essential shops can reopen and concerts will be allowed -- albeit without an audience.
In the next wave of restriction-easing, planned for March 22, the government is eyeing a limited number of spectators at cultural events.
Schweizer is missing the sound of a live crowd -- from the applause and reaction, to the rustling, and squeaking of seats.
She said that after her first one-to-one concert, she learned to leave a pause before starting, to let both parties settle in to the shared adventure.
"It's important when the person comes in to really see who they are, and to find a calm, a silence which opens the ears so they are ready to hear," she said.