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Bach, the Universe and Everything: Importance of Human Contact

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JS Bach BWV 39 – Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot


Dr Dickon Bevington – Medical Director, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

The Science

For most of us, the pandemic and social distancing have changed everything, but for those most excluded and vulnerable – very little has changed at all.
One of the things it has changed is our awareness of how dependent we are on each other, from our friends and family to the whole web of networked relationships that we inhabit.
As the poet Roethke put it, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see”. We are bound together, just as an orchestra is bound to its audience. The science of human development is clear that our sense of selfhood and agency are created in and through networked contact. We find ourselves reflected in the minds of others and we imagine each other into existence. At a time when we are deprived of so much contact, our imaginations have been unleashed to think about the unspoken, the unexamined, and how we are enriched as we reverberate and resonate with others, across difference. In this talk, Dr Dickon Bevington discusses what it might mean when we return to ‘normal service’ – can we extend our curiosity relentlessly?

The Music

The text of BWV 39 is based on Isaiah 58: 7-8, about offering food to your hungry neighbours and offering shelter to those without a home.
Listen out for the chorus which starts with a step-motif that suggests the poor are staggering along in exhaustion, but then evolves to an intensely emotional, rapid fugue in two parts, depicting the warm welcome of shelter. The choice of this work is especially meaningful as this concert is the first time that the OAE has been able to return to its home venue of Kings Place, London since the lockdown began.

Download the chorale and the programme here
or view it in your browser here


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To make this recording possible, the OAE adhered to a strict protocol. Kings Place was thoroughly cleaned prior to the event and all contact surfaces likely to be encountered by personnel were cleaned with disinfectant throughout the period of work. All participants wore facemasks except for the recording and a strict floor plan with controlled corridors of movement ensured that a social distancing of 2m was maintained at all times. There was no sharing of any kind during the project and all participants washed hands or used hand sanitiser on a regular basis.

All participants completed a health questionnaire confirming that they had not experienced symptoms of Covid-19 with the 14 days prior to the event and that they had not come into contact with anyone who had been diagnosed with the virus in the same period.

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