Coming face to face with a maestro: 1:1 Concerts

The concept of 1:1 Concerts couldn't be simpler: you, the listener, sit opposite a musician and spend the next ten minutes in their company as they play a piece of music. These ten-minute musical encounters allow you to sharpen your senses and have a more conscious, attentive listening experience. “After more than 1500 concerts, the format is spreading like wildfire,” says cultural mediator Christian Siegmund, who initiated the project together with flautist Stephanie Winker, production designer Franziska Ritter and architect Sophie von Mansberg.


The team first developed the idea for the Volkenroda Summer Concerts, a chamber music festival regularly held by an old monastery in Thuringia. After many cultural institutions shut down or moved online when the Corona crisis hit, the team felt there was a new need for personal encounters and live performances. “A few weeks after the lockdown, Stephanie Winker came up with the idea of offering an analog music experience once again,” says Siegmund. They quickly adapted their intimate concert format to comply with the distancing measures and have now brought it to Stuttgart, Dresden and Berlin.


For the audience member, both the musician and the piece played remain a surprise until the last minute. Performer and listener encounter each other in complete silence, with loud greetings and applause discouraged. Instead, the pair meet by a sharing a minute of quiet eye contact. This intensive exchange was inspired by Marina Abramović’s performance “The Artist is Present” which the Abramović showed to countless strangers at New York’s MoMA in 2010. Familiar with the “Abramović method”, Siegmund is a mediator who uses mindfulness in his work. “Music just sounds different when preceded by silence,” he says. “This performative silence doesn’t just originate from the audience member; it arises in both player and listener. Besides the music they play, the musician is also enveloped by silence. So the pair are meeting on equal – silent – terms.”

What also makes these encounters special are the venues where they take place: they have been held outside, in galleries, on empty factory floors and in private houses. The music reacts to the atmosphere of the surroundings. “Whether it’s the light-flooded Robert Morat Galerie in Mitte, the gloomy Basalt Bar in Wedding, the art deco St. Augustin church in Prenzlauer Berg or indeed Berlin Decks in Moabit, each room, when coupled with the music, is impressive in its own way,” says Siegmund.


This interplay of architecture and sound was evident when the concerts came to Berlin Decks. “We were impressed by the vastness of the space. This was also reflected in the acoustics: it takes several seconds for a sound to fade away completely. That's why after seeing the hall we decided to use trombone and vocals.” On the day, audience members were treated to a performance by Thomas Leyendecker, a trombonist from the Berlin Philharmonic, and Israeli mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit.


The concerts are free of charge, with attendees invited to donate to the German Orchestra Foundation’s emergency Corona fund. The musicians voluntarily waive their fees, as do 1:1’s founders: “We still have an income, so it’s important for us to use our work to support the musicians, many of whom have lost all their income since Corona.” So far, the relief fund has been able to collect over €2 million, with the 1:1 concerts playing their part.