We are glad to continue posting more interviews with different profiles related to the lute (professional musicians, teachers, societies, luthiers ...) with the main intention of highlighting the impact of COVID on the particular activity of this sector.
I hope this can help to put a spotlight on the situation of this very small segment of the music sector.
If you are interested on posting your own point of view, your initiatives or the difficulties that have arisen, do not hesitate to contact me.
In this occasion, we are glad to have Michal Gondko's point of view about the lute in times of COVID.
First of all, thanks Michal for sharing your experience during this difficult time.
The pandemic in Europe locked us all up in our houses around March 2020, in what situation were the Lute Society at that moment and what do you remember from the first moments?
I remember that I just returned from the UK where Nigel North and I taught for a few days and performed a concert of 16th-century Italian lute duets. Literally a few days later, as the world started descending into the first lockdown, countries were closing their borders and free movement became impossible, a rather unpleasant feeling.
Fortunately, we were able to return home in time. The result was, of course, a cascade of concert cancellations which affected everyone in this profession. In the following weeks one could only sit and watch how the situation unfolds.
... after a few weeks, the restrictions become the new normality and everything indicates that we will spend several months with a very limited activity, first, and with severe restrictions later. How does this situation impact your planning and your projects?
Thankfully, many events were rescheduled to the following year (or later), which, at that moment, was a much-needed reassurance that not all is lost and that there are things to look forward to. Some festivals even provided a symbolic, but still a compensation for the cancelled concerts. I’m grateful for their solidarity in those days.
Right after the first weeks of shock, alternative ways to continue the activity in a non-face-to-face way begin to appear, what initiatives, ideas, projects do you find at that time to continue your activity?
Restrictions did cause a considerable void. However, I soon began to realise that the quantities of time that were now at my disposal could – and should – be used to advance projects and ideas for which time and energy were notoriously lacking since years.
I focused on preparing new repertoire, as well as on recording. Besides intabulating and learning BWV 995 and 1006a, I prepared and recorded two CDs: a solo album (my second one) and the new album of my ensemble, La Morra. Later, in the early 2021, I dived deeper into video production, with the aim to start creating a good quality audio-visual content on my own. I like it a lot, it really drew me in, but the learning curve is steep, so releasing results may yet take a while.
Since the first lockdown, I also occassionally teach online.
Above all, the idea was to stay active and keep one’s fingers and musicianship in form. Being able to spend so much time with the instrument was like a bonus semester or two of studies.
Do you think that the new ways of working that emerged in 2020 will be permanent? To what degree do you think you will continue to develop activities in this same way?
This whole situation would have been much, much harder for everyone without the internet at our disposal. Online concerts were a great way to spread hope through beauty during the lockdown periods. People took the opportunity to improve their playing in private online tuition. Currently, after a long “online-only” period in cultural life, there is a considerable thirst for live events. However, the pandemic is not over and we may yet find ourselves moving back to the internet again if imposing new restrictions becomes a necessity (though I hope that this will not be the case). Now, at least, I will be prepared for such a situation.
I suspect we will now have a hybrid period of live and online events, and that more of the former will be available for online viewing than before the pandemic, not least because presenters now have some experience with providing it. On the other hand, we have seen that, without high-end equipment and blazing-fast connection speeds (both of which are not at the disposal of most people), broadcasting via internet can be limiting. I hope that, in a long run, the “online experience” will have made us aware of the superiority of the “live experience”, on many levels.
In general, perhaps more pronounced way in Spain, the focus has been on the difficulties of certain sectors in the face of COVID, such as the hospitality industry, but I consider that music has been the great forgotten. What have you missed during this time regarding institutions or society? Do you think things could have been done differently?
I can only speak of Switzerland, since this is where I live. One can always do things differently; often better, too. In many countries music and other performative arts were first to be shut down and last to be restarted by the governments, which does say something about the attitude to those sectors. In Switzerland, it took some time for the support to become available to the community of artists, but eventually it was there, and it did help many to make it through the most difficult period, myself included.
One year later ... how does 2021 look for you? Is the pre-covid activity being reactivated?
Very few concerts that were scheduled for 2021 will actually happen this year. Most were moved to 2022, some to 2023. So it is still going to be a while until the train is rolling again. I can’t say that I work less, though; only that I perform less. Currently, the bulk of my work consists of practicing, rehearsing, writing, recording and editing, and only sometimes performing.
Can you tell us about what projects you have underway and also how we can support your activity?
Having spent a few months playing Renaissance lutes, I’m now back to playing my 11-course lute and am working on a concert programme entirely devoted to the music by Denis Gaultier, which I have several performances scheduled with until the end of the year. Two recordings mentioned above are waiting to be edited and I hope to get to it in the course of summer.
Making the solo album was quite an experience. Thanks to the generosity of a private collector, I had a fascinating historical instrument at my disposal. Known to many as the “Presbyter” lute, it is dated “1595”. The rest of the unclear label ties it to Padua.
However, these may be just remnants of a repair label, the instrument itself could be older. Its soundboard and back are original. After several restorations it is now a 7-course lute and works wonderfully as such. I was given the opportunity to use this instrument for a recording some time before the outbreak of the pandemic; however, busy as I was with other work, I didn’t expect to be able to record any time soon.
The idea returned quite early during the first lockdown when I started thinking how to use the free time. I devised a programme which showcases the richness of lute music contemporary with the instrument in a manner that is not unlike the mixture of repertoire found in the anthologies of the time. I recorded in October 2020. However, CD release dates are now somewhat unpredictable for reasons related to the pandemic. I hope that the release of mine will happen at some point in the first half of 2022.
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