Life in lockdown: conductor Aleksandar Marković

12:50, 18th May 2020

Serbian conductor Aleksandar Marković explains how he is coping with lockdown.

‘I’m not bored – there are so many things I want to do and I appreciate the free time. I’ve been going through books I’ve always wanted to read – long ones that require the concentration and focus I don’t always have when I’m travelling, rehearsing and performing. I go out and do sport, and get through the day feeling richer, but the inevitability of the situation is depressing.

When the crisis began, I had just come back from the US, where I had been conducting Eugene Onegin with Seattle Opera for two months. I was supposed to spend a month in Vienna preparing new projects and relaxing before going to Poland to conduct Sinfonia Varsovia in a special anniversary event. I was waiting for the taxi to the airport when they called to say it was cancelled. That was when it hit me that the situation was real. It started to feel like the apocalypse, the restructuring of everything we know, forcing us to reimagine our entire lives.

I had five projects lined up for after the summer and one by one they fell away. One was Strauss’s Elektra. I’d been studying the score and once it was cancelled, I kept going – I wasn’t going to put it back on the shelf. I’m projecting a vision of what I want to happen afterwards, trusting that if you sit down and go through the ritual of going through a score, you attract the possibility that your work will eventually be realised.

I have moments when I fear the impact on the music industry, but I want to believe that this might cause a surge in interest for classical music and the arts, because music is food for the soul. If you look through history, human beings resist war and situations like this through the arts. When we’re cornered, we tend to come back to our intellectual and cultural heritage. It nourishes our hearts and injects hope and positivity. It might sound romantic, but I want to believe that the outcome might be positive and take us further and higher.

When we’re cornered, we tend to come back to our intellectual and cultural heritage. It nourishes our hearts and injects hope and positivity

In recent years we have perfected communication at a distance – being there but not being there – posting about our private and business lives and being in touch with the rest of the world very quickly. It’s ironic that suddenly, because of the crisis, we are forced to communicate only like that. For a while, we’re forced to give up the social element of sitting across from each other, the energy of live performance, friends and laughter, which is so indispensable to the feeling of being alive. We have to interact with other screens – I’m a screen and you’re a screen.

This might create an awareness that there is no substitute for real, personal interaction and the energy of the concert performance. When you’re on the podium there is so much energy – both from the musicians in front of you, and from the eyes and ears of the audience. That energy is not replaceable with any live stream or any living room experience, although it’s good that these live streams exist at the moment, so that people can rediscover music when there’s nothing else to do.

I’ve felt very impressionable over the last weeks. I will look through an online picture gallery or watch a good movie and start to cry, or lie in the garden in the sun listening to a Bruckner symphony, feeling rejuvenated. You start to interpret everything and draw beauty from everywhere – paintings, books, operas. Artists have this advantage of being able to nourish themselves. I think of music all the time – all the works I’ve ever performed come back to me the whole time. At the same time, we’re acutely sensitive, because that’s a prerequisite of being a good artist, so in difficult times we’re even more impressionable, which makes us even more happy or low. Our hearts are open, and we go through the day going from one emotion to the next.

At the beginning, none of us realised how far the situation might go and as it progresses, we are understanding the consequences, besides the tragic number of people who have died and been affected. The unknown element is scary. There are days where I have mild feelings of depression and of being cornered. I don’t fight against them – I embrace them. I try to coast through the day as well as I can: talk to the people I love, cook something, have an Aperol Spritz and watch an opera on television. You can’t resist your emotions, and it’s important to feed your hope, your feelings for other people, your positivity. It’s clear why you’re feeling down – embrace and accept it and you can deal with it without sinking into hopelessness. It’s a process, but you have to work on it, steering yourself through the situation every day.

It’s clear why you’re feeling down – embrace and accept it and you can deal with it without sinking into hopelessness

Last weekend, it was my girlfriend’s birthday, so I rented a convertible car and took her on two road trips in the Austrian Alps. After eight weeks of being in a relationship between home and the grocery store, it was so refreshing. Suddenly you cherish time in nature. You stop, look and smell. Nature is blooming, birds are chirping, and creeks are running, and there’s so much gratitude, appreciating things that are simple, and which you might not even notice usually.

I also feel closer to my family and friends, and grateful for having them and seeing them on screen. When this is over, these connections and relationships are going to be even richer, underlined by a new sense of appreciation.’


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