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The Library of Congress Commissions Original Music Inspired by COVID-19

Stills of musical performances from Jeremy Jordan, Kathryn Bates, and Andrew Nogal

Amid the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Library of Congress (LOC) has launched the Boccaccio Project, a series of original musical compositions inspired by coronavirus.

The project was inspired by 14th-century writer Giovanni Boccaccio and his famed work The Decameron. In the book, 10 Italians take shelter from the Black Death in a remote village and tell each other nightly stories to pass the time. “Given the global pandemic we all are facing, the modern parallels of isolation and the desire to reach out to one another artistically are striking,” LOC concert producer David Plylar explains in his introduction to the project.

With The Decameron in mind, the LOC has commissioned 10 composers to write brief solo works responding to coronavirus; each composition is then brought to life by a different performer. “Sequestered Thoughts was inspired by spending many days alone in solitude during the COVID-19 pandemic of Spring 2020,” composer Damien Sneed says of his contribution, which was performed by pianist Jeremy Jordan. “It opens with a virtuosic fluttering in the right hand juxtaposed against a strong and determined left-hand motif speaking to the many meandering thoughts that come to one when they find themselves devoid of human interaction and fellowship.” 

Miya Masaoka’s composition, Intuit (a way to stay in this world), was performed by cellist Kathryn Bates. “In this piece, there are limited modalities for the performer to control and negotiate the suggested and indicated delicate balance of these parameters in the score. Just as this musical balance is negotiated, so is the balance of our lives in lockdown,” Masaoka explains. “This piece is a positive and optimistic hope for a way to be present in the outside world of lockdown, and a wish to find a healthy balance between our own interiority and the outside world, which, under such extraordinary circumstances, we seek relief.”

The Library of Congress will continue to debut Boccaccio Project compositions on weekday evenings through Friday, June 26. Once the pandemic no longer poses a threat, they’ll resume hosting concerts in-person, but until then, people everywhere can enjoy these online performances. “We look forward to the day when we can share music again together in the same physical space,” David Plylar says. “In the meantime we hope that you stay safe and healthy.”

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