As It Happens

'It hits you right in the heart': Musicians perform 1-on-1 concerts during pandemic

Despite the coronavirus pandemic closing cultural centres around the world, members of two orchestras in the German city of Stuttgart haven't stopped playing - in fact they have performed over 1,500 shows since quarantine began.  

'Sometimes people find wonderful peace,' says flutist who spearheaded the format

Flute player Stephanie Winker performing a one-on-one show at Galerie Valentien in Stuttgart, Germany. (Submitted by Stephanie Winker)
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Despite the widespread closures of cultural centres around, members of two orchestras in the German city of Stuttgart haven't stopped playing. In fact, they have performed over 1,500 shows since the county's pandemic restrictions were put into place. 

But instead of playing in a theatre to an audience of hundreds, each of these musicians performs in a garden or an empty factory to one person at a time. 

Stephanie Winker, a Juilliard-trained flutist who created the format, said the ability to play shows, albeit small ones, is important for musicians because they "depend on resonance" with others.  

"We don't depend so much on money, but we depend on reaction to what we do so we can communicate. And for communication, you need somebody who [will] listen," she told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Winker says anyone who is interested in the experience can be become an audience member  by signing up for a one-on-one concert online.

"You take your place on a chair and your concert starts. You can be a four-year-old child or you can be a 100-year-old grandmother. We've had both." 

Winker says each performance starts with one minute of eye contact between the musician and the audience member, allowing the artist to decide what type of music best suits the situation. (Submitted by Stephanie Winker)

One of the most striking parts of these performances is the one minute of eye contact made between the musician and the single audience member before the show, Winker said.

She says this mutual gaze is the "impulse for the choice of music that's going to be played."

"As a listener, you are as important a part in this performance as the musician is because he or she will just take what happened emotionally between you both and make it into sound, make it into music," she said. 

"After I meet my listener, I decide what suits best, where I can meet the atmosphere best that was created between the two of us." 

Winker said the idea for the long stare at the start came from wanting "to frame the concert with something that would be appropriate for the intimacy and would make the music to be even more intensely perceived."

"Sometimes people start to cry after half a minute. Sometimes people find wonderful peace. You can just see how they relax, how they let go. It's really, really touching. And it's just as profound on the musician's side as it is on the audience's side," she said. 

"Once you're so raw … then a piece of beautiful music starts, it hits you right in the heart."  

Another advantage of this format is that musicians can enjoy playing in venues that aren't commonly associated with classical music — like churches, rooftops, closed bars and clubs, hotel swimming pools or someone's back garden, she said. 

This format of concert allows classical music to be performed in spaces and at venues not usually associated with the style, Winker said. (Submitted by Stephanie Winker)

"The most unusual was of a goat stable where the goats were still there. They had their little babies and were all really calm, listening and chewing while I was playing. It was one of the most peaceful concert settings I ever had," she said. 

The idea is beginning to spread its way around the world, she said, with musicians starting one-on-one performances in England, the U.S., Switzerland and Paris. 

"We want to have this cultural meetup, like an exchange of culture," she said. 


Written by Adam Jacobson. Interview produced by Sarah Cooper.

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