Welcome to Day 3 of Elena’s Virtual Artistic Residence! Today Elena will talk about lockdown and finding ways to live and create during the pandemic.

I remember how in January l was looking at my friend’s Instagram and was surprised that quarantine restrictions were imposed in the city where he lived. As you might guess the friend was based in China. At the time almost no one in London had heard about what was to become known as the coronavirus and then Covid-19.

That same day I also had a lesson with my student and we discussed what it would be like to work from home and I remember feeling a little scared at the thought that I might not be able to work at all as my entire performing and teaching work depends on being able travel. But I quickly forgot about my worries as the whole virus thing seemed very far away.

Two months later I found myself urgently switching to online teaching and without any live concerts scheduled for the foreseeable future.

That became a time to remember that small and simple things matter. I’ve appreciated my daily walks when every tree and every ray of sunlight have given me so much joy. It was incredible to see streets without cars and no people out and about. It seemed to me that nature appreciated the new rules. I enjoyed birds singing that I’ve never heard before because they were drowned out by cars.

My first lockdown adventure was taking part in an online music festival and experiencing my first ever live stream. It was very strange to play in front of my phone’s screen and not feel any interaction with audience, but it was rewarding to read people’s comments afterwards.

I also returned to drawing and treated it like a form therapy as it helped me not to think about the news and to fully focus solely on the process of drawing. 

During lockdown I missed playing music with other people and started using an app for virtual collaborations. Though it was very far from live ensemble playing, it meant I had something to look forward to. No matter how fast your internet connection may be there is always a lag in the sound (which I now know is called “latency”). But this app created an illusion for us of playing together. The idea behind the app is that one person records their part first and then sends it to the other person. The second person listens to the first person’s recording and, using headphones, adds their part. The app then synchronizes both recordings. It’s possible to record many parts and I have heard several large ensembles based in different cities recording pieces “together” this way. 

I recorded a piece with the violinist, Anya Ovsyanikova. We had never met before lockdown. I accidentally saw Anya’s profile in a social network and wrote her a message asking if she wanted to play something together virtually. Anya was keen to record several pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich and I happily agreed to that. A very moving moment for us came in June when we met for the first time after lockdown was eased.

It’s nice to be able to make plans for live performance again and we look forward to recording a piece for Russian Art+Culture platform soon. But I shall miss the bird song.