Concerts and social distancing do not go hand in hand. In response to the lockdown fallout, a few temporary stand-ins have been offered, like Wireless Connect’s VR sets and live-streamed festivals. Kings Place arts centre in King’s Cross, however, has come up with a more permanent answer: tiny gigs. I’m here for the first day of its free Culture Clinic. The idea is that musicians chat to a very small audience (a maximum of six people from the same social bubble are allowed into each performance) about how they’ve felt during the pandemic, and then create a 15-minute performance reflecting their experience.
Wearing a mask, I’m ushered into a concert hall where jazz pianist Elliot Galvin is perched at a Steinway baby grand. Sitting two metres away in the low-lit, cavernous space, he asks me how I’ve found lockdown. It’s the first time a stranger has asked me this question, and I’m unexpectedly talkative. He takes my words and transforms them into a delicate improvisation with sweeping melodies and jazz inflections. After months of listening to music through speakers, hearing warm buttery notes ringing around me is both humbling and completely overwhelming.
Three other audience members join me for the next session from classical duo violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster. ‘It’s so wonderful to hear applause again,’ says Urioste, as the sound of my clapping echoes in the 415-seat concert hall.
It doesn’t compare to sharing gig with a room full of fans, but what makes this so special is the intimacy. It’s a privilege being treated to an experience that would normally be off limits for anyone without the cash to hire a private pianist. If anything can make you appreciate the power of hearing live music, it’s this.
The next Culture Clinics at Kings Place will take place on August 22 and 29. It is free to attend, but donations encouraged.
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