Solo for Flute, Airport Terminal and One Listener

On Sunday afternoon, Patrick Stein walked into Terminal 1 at Stuttgart Airport, normally one of the busiest in southern Germany.

He’d been there hundreds of times before, having once worked at the airport. Except this time was different. The hangar-like building for once wasn’t teeming with passengers struggling to check weighty bags into flights, or rushing to get through security. In fact, the terminal was eerily empty, except for two chairs.

One of the chairs was for Mr. Stein. In the other sat Stephanie Winker, a flute player, waiting to give Mr. Stein his first experience of live music since Germany went into lockdown in March.

Mr. Stein said in a telephone interview that he had known the concert was going to be a strange event. It was, after all, a one-on-one, 10-minute performance; he was not allowed to speak to the musician, or even to applaud at the end.

What Mr. Stein hadn’t expected, he said, was how moving the experience would be. After sitting down opposite Ms. Winker — more than six feet apart to maintain social distancing — the pair gazed into each other’s eyes, as the musician decided which piece to play.

“It was such an intimate moment,” Mr. Stein, 29, said. “It was like she was reading my mind.”

Ms. Winker then lifted her instrument and launched into the “Allemande” from Bach’s Partita in A Minor for solo flute. It immediately “hit me right in my heart,” Mr. Stein said. But that was not just the thrill of hearing live music again, Mr. Stein said. He had just heard that exact same melody in his car on the way to the airport — albeit as a sample in a novelty pop song.

“It was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Mr. Stein said. “She had read my mind!”

Ms. Winker said in a telephone interview that she had come up with the idea for one-on-one shows last year while thinking of new ways to put on concerts at a chamber music festival. She had been inspired by Marina Abramovic, the performance artist, whose 2010 work “The Artist Is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, involved the artist staring into the eyes of anyone who sat opposite her.

Ms. Winker said she immediately wanted to revive the concert series when lockdown began. “When corona came, and there were all these rules where the only thing you can do is be two meters apart from everyone, I just thought, ‘Wow.’ One-on-one concerts would be the only form of performance that could work in this moment,” she said.

Attendees said they certainly found the intimate scale of the event moving, even in such bizarre surroundings. “I’ve never felt such a connection between musician and audience,” said Maike Knauer, 19, one of the concertgoers, in a written statement.

Kai Gniffke, the director-general of the SWR Symphony Orchestra, one of the orchestras involved in organizing the concert series, said he, too, had been moved. When he sat down opposite Markus Tillier, a cellist, he had felt sad, he said, thinking about how this was the only way he could experience a concert, maybe for months.

Mr. Tillier looked into his eyes, then started to play a slow, mournful piece. “It was exactly what I needed in that situation,” Mr. Gniffke said.

Hanno Dönneweg, a bassoonist at the SWR Symphony Orchestra, who performed at the airport on Sunday, said his experience of being in the building this time was very different. “Normally when I go into the airport, I only have a few minutes until the plane leaves, and I’m stressed and rushing to the security check and I’m looking at my watch,” he said, in a telephone interview. “Today, it was totally calm and empty.”

The setting brought home just how much the world had changed because of the pandemic, he added. “Nothing is moving anymore,” he said. “Everything has come to a stop.”

Mr. Dönneweg played for four women, he said. Some walked up to the performance area confidently, he said, others nervously tried to avoid eye contact. He said he had been nervous too. “Sometimes during playing I’m thinking, ‘Does she like it? Does she like bassoon? Would she be happier with a violin or cello?’” he said.

During the last performance, the audience member appeared to cry, he recalled. “I didn’t know if she was sad, maybe thinking of someone she had lost, or she was happy because of the music.”

He desperately wanted to play a grand concert hall again, he added, to play complicated, loud works in front of one or two thousand people. “But the emotions with this are totally different,” he said. He had connected with people on Sunday in a way he never would have managed in a large space. “Maybe we should keep doing it after,” he said.


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