Reinventing TV amid a global pandemic: Tenebrae


It’s been ages since I’ve felt motivated to write.

I know that seems incredible given that the most recent posts have ostensibly been about sharing advice on how to tackle some of the current challenges we’re all facing.

That writing differs from this. That’s writing that seemed like a good idea to post.

This post is writing is something I’ve wanted to note down. This is journalling. This is documenting. This is writing when you’re ‘back in the saddle’.

I watched Tenebrae on BBC Four this evening. I had been aware of their isolation performance – 19 singers and conductor Nigel Short all performing in separate video feeds sync’ed together and presented as one on a composite background.

It is a remarkable thing to see. Something to marvel at. Wizardry, in a way. As though television itself is being reinvented right before our eyes. We have no choice but to accept an entirely different visual grammar. How quickly we adjust. How grateful we are for the considerable effort involved. How we take technology for granted.

At the same time as enjoying it (and seeing the Other Half completely focussed during the Miserere), I also found it quite painful.

On the one hand, here was something that had been made because of the COVID19 crisis, and because of isolation. On the other hand, here was something that was reminding us what we didn’t have because of COVID19: live performance.

Earlier today I spoke to an old friend who had read The Economist. He started talking about how there wasn’t a plan for how mass gatherings would be re-introduced because there wasn’t an exit strategy. At least there isn’t one being talked about. And until there was how could any ensemble motivate themselves to plan for a future season – to plan work for their staff.

Three weeks ago I thought I might step back in the Southbank Centre in the summer. Today I’m catastrophising and finding it difficult to imagine that will be possible this side of Christmas.

I appreciated hearing from my pal and for the reality check he offered. But seeing a visual reminder of what I didn’t have the freedom to experience in the same physical space (and no sense of when that freedom might be reinstated) made things almost unbearable in my particular bubble.

Isolation productions are double-edged experiences in this way. And I freely admit to finding the latter experience linger. I just hope the sense of urgency and momentum continues amongst performers and administrators alike. I cannot tell you how much the idea I can’t hear my favourite performers perform is a heartbreaking thing.

There was another unexpected twist to the Tenebrae broadcast. The production behind the programme were the same people behind last year’s Proms coverage. Remember that? It seems like a distant memory now.

So too the unnecessary contretemps that occurred on the blog and on Twitter as a result. Being able to articulate thoughts and responses to something I care about remains as vital to me now as it was then. I’m wondering whether our capacity to hold dissonant thoughts has changed at all in the meantime. I do hope so.