New ways explored to connect with audiences
The lights dimmed, the conductor lifted his baton, and chorus members started to sing at a concert given by the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra in Shaanxi province on Oct 31.
However, this performance at the Xi'an Concert Hall was special, as it was staged in an empty auditorium.
Conducted by Zhu Yizhang, the livestreamed concert attracted more than 40,000 viewers that night and the next day, and an edited version has been viewed about 1 million times online.
Titled Don't Worry, the concert was staged for audiences unable to attend live performances during the coronavirus outbreak, and also to pay tribute to front-line healthcare workers.
A total of 11 pop songs, such as Legend, written and first performed by singer-songwriter Li Jian, and Big Fish, written by Qian Lei and Yin Yue, which was debuted by singer Zhou Shen, were adapted into choral songs for the concert.
The chorus, launched in 2017 by the orchestra, decided to stage the special online concert after two new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases were identified in Shaanxi among a tour group in Xi'an on Oct 17.
Cao Jiwen, branding director of the orchestra, said the Xi'an Concert Hall, home to the ensemble and its chorus, is located close to popular scenic areas, such as Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the Great Tang All Day Mall Pedestrian Street, which the tour group visited.
To rehearse for the concert, the chorus and staff members at the venue were given nucleic acid tests every 48 hours.
Cao said the live concerts due to be performed by the orchestra and chorus were canceled after the new cases were detected in Xi'an, including the orchestra's nationwide tour and performances for its new season.
"Fears about the virus have been with us for the past two years, and may be around for some time, so we decided to stage an online concert for people in the hope of offering them comfort, making them feel less lonely, and allowing them to enjoy the performance from the comfort of home," Cao said.
The performance was livestreamed on Bilibili, one of China's most popular online video sharing and entertainment platforms, which is known for its danmu (bullet screens) service, on which viewers post real-time comments while watching a film or show.
Cao said, "I was touched when I saw a screen full of comments from online audience members offering one another support."
Wang Yixi, a soprano and chorus member who took part in the concert on Oct 31, said, "Although there was no audience in the concert hall, this was a different way to interact with audiences online."
Screens were set up on the stage for the musicians to read comments posted by viewers.
Born and raised in Xianyang, Shaanxi, Wang received vocal training as a teenager and later obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees in voice performance from the Xi'an Conservatory of Music. In 2018, a year after she graduated, Wang joined the chorus of the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra.
It was not the first time she had performed in an empty concert hall, as on March 27 last year, the orchestra and chorus gave their first online concert, which was livestreamed on Bilibili.
Cao said: "Early last year, we, like many other people, went through a very hard time after the coronavirus pandemic hit. Concert halls closed down and performances were canceled. We felt very sad and depressed. Launching online programs seemed to be the only way for us to stay in touch with our audiences."
This year, with the pandemic under control in China, live performances have resumed, including those given by the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra.
Cao said, "Although new cases of COVID-19 again forced us to cancel our performances, we now feel differently about this. Early last year, the orchestra didn't know how to deal with the situation, so musicians worked extremely hard to study technology and launch online programs.
"This time, we feel very confident and relaxed. Everything is in order, and our task is to bring good music to the public."
The first online program Wang took part in featured performances teaching audiences to sing at home during the lockdown.