National Orchestra of France delivers rousing 'Boléro' from home

The National Orchestra of France may be stuck home, but that didn't stop the 50 musicians from stitching together a performance of "Boléro," by Maurice Ravel. "We are starting to realize that we really need each other," a kettle drum player said. 

Look closely: The kettle drum player has a wooden spoon in one hand, a ladle in the other ... and doesn't even have his drums.

But, hey, cutting a few corners can be forgiven of an orchestra that managed the remarkable feat of performing "Bolero" while its musicians are scattered far and wide under coronavirus lockdowns.

Why? To send this message to music lovers: We are still here for you.

Like building a musical jigsaw puzzle, the National Orchestra of France used the magic of technology to weave together the sight and sounds of its musicians, who filmed themselves playing alone in their homes into a seamless, rousing whole.

Posting a video of their stitched-together performance on YouTube was a way of keeping in touch with each other and with audiences they sorely miss playing for.

"For us, the public is essential. Without the public, we don't really exist," said Didier Benetti, the kettle drum player.

The video posted Sunday has quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views.

The performance starts with three musicians: a cellist, a violinist, and a percussionist with "Stay home" written on his red drum.

A flutist joins, haunting, bewitching, seemingly playing in his lounge.

The musical tension and power builds as more and more join, until they are an orchestra of 50.

Mr. Benetti rearranged French composer Maurice Ravel's work, chopping it down from the usual 15 minutes to a more manageable and social media-friendly length of just under four minutes.

The musicians got their scores by email. They also got an audio track to listen to through headphones as they played. That audio included a previous recording of the music and the ticking sound of a metronome, to help them keep time and stay in perfect unison despite being scattered to the winds.

The musicians filmed themselves over four days in the final week of March. One violinist played outside, with a beautiful seascape as his backdrop. Most of the others filmed themselves inside, making the performance feel particularly intimate. No black tie. The clothes were casual, with open shirts, T-shirts, jeans.

Dimitri Scapolan, a video producer and sound engineer, burned the midnight oil to stitch together the musicians' self-shot footage into a remarkably coherent musical and visual patchwork.

For a smoother sound, Mr. Scapolan also blended in audio of a previous performance that the orchestra recorded before the new coronavirus turned the world upside down. France is one of Europe's hardest-hit countries, with more than 57,000 confirmed cases and 4,000 dead.

When France went into lockdown on March 17, Mr. Benetti couldn't take his hefty kettle drums home. So unlike other musicians, he had to improvise for the video, enthusiastically pretending to bang two chairs in his living room with utensils he took from his kitchen.

Performing for the video was "very therapeutic," but still felt like second-best compared to being all together on stage, Mr. Benetti said.

But isolation is having an unforeseen upside.

"We are starting to realize that we really need each other," he said. "Music is sharing."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.