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Christopher Duigan: Piano concerts adapting to change


One of the country’s most prolific and accomplished concert pianists, Christopher Duigan, has performed two live-streamed free concerts every week throughout lockdown.

So far he has clocked in an astonishing 70 concerts since the beginning of lockdown!

Duigan, and his Music Revival initiative, are synonymous with accessible live classical music concerts performed throughout South Africa, with home-town Pietermaritzburg as its fulcrum. For the past 30 something years, Duigan performed on average 100 performances a year – solo, with associates and with musical ensembles.

Together with virtually the whole global arts community, his ability to perform ground to a halt when live performance opportunities ceased, and gatherings were prohibited the moment hard lockdown was declared.

In order not to lose momentum, Duigan opted to explore live music concerts streamed from his beautiful Maritzburg home. The sessions have become more technologically sophisticated and more creatively interesting with the passing of the months, and Duigan, and his plethora of appreciative loyal fans around the country, have become comfortable with the twice-weekly musical offerings.

Duigan is quite possibly the only concert pianist in the world, and certainly the only pianist in South Africa, to be doing this.

“This started off as a temporary project, an interim measure to allow me to perform over hard lockdown, but it is becoming a permanent and important part of my output, and I intend to continue with this, in addition to live concerts which are slowly beginning to open up,” he says.

“My live concerts have appealed particularly to dedicated music lovers, but interestingly the online concerts are also providing a service akin to informal music therapy – an hour of company and calm midst all the uncertainty. It is surprising how many of the comments are appreciative of this. It’s not only about the music necessarily, but also what the music represents. The predictability and structure of the music is soothing and reassuring.

“I read with interest about the musicians who have performed during times of war and crisis and am beginning to understand better about the restorative and healing role of music.  I am inspired by Myra Hess who arranged 20000 regular lunch time concerts over six and a half years during the Second World War – performing midst the bombing. She personified the war motto of Keep Calm and Carry On. Her commitment and bravery were astonishing.

“And of course, the concerts can be watched from anywhere in the world, so I am not bound by geography, which means friends of friends are beginning to join us from all over the place. And that they are regular and free – so the predictability allows people to schedule and plan. Viewers can comment and give feedback on FB, so I can respond and interact with after the concert which personalises the experience. It is such a fascinating process!”

Duigan plays carefully structured repertoires of familiar music, interspersed with some original and improv pieces. The tone is informal and cosy – music interspersed by conversation, with Chris talking about the pieces being performed… and occasionally apologising for the intrusion of his dachshunds who wander “on stage”!

“Another element to online concerts is that it’s such a great possibility for sharing a regular music experience with children in a safe, easy environment. I have so many requests about concerts for kids. Almost, quite by chance, we have come up with a concept which works for family audiences.”

Pre-lockdown Christopher Duigan was one of South Africa’s busiest concert artists. His performances ranged from those of the core classical repertoire, both as soloist with orchestra and in recital to music well beyond the classical repertoire. His strong sense of community was shown in his active promotion of regular Music Revival concerts across KZN and other parts of the country. These concerts have not only developed new audiences in various communities but also provided performance platform for many young and aspiring soloists. Duigan’s work as an entrepreneurial musician has attracted international attention for his innovative and ground-breaking approach and his activities have been said to be truly representative of a 21st century classical musician.

The challenge is of course earning an income through the online medium. Duigan is clear that he wants to continue to offer the concerts for free – and invites audiences to make a donation if they are able, but the financial implications of his concert series is difficult, especially as there are costs involved in creating the concerts.

“I hope to find a way to make the numbers work as I intend to continue. In fact, if feels as though I am just getting started!”

Catch Christopher Duigan Live In Concert on Saturdays and in Piano Hour on Wednesdays at 6pm. South African audiences receive better feed at his channel on YouTube, but concerts can also be accessed through the Music Revival website and FB at Christopher Duigan-pianist.