• “See Me: A Global Concert” is an original musical film that fuses performances by orchestras and choirs from around the world, during the pandemic.
  • Lockdowns and travel restrictions forced crews in different locations to organize both performances and film-making remotely.
  • The result is a celebration of hope and connection amid the disruption of COVID-19.
  • The film’s world premiere will be screened at the opening night of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda.

Whether it’s singing from balconies, performing policeman or Zoom choirs, music has united people throughout the pandemic. Now the makers of a remarkable new film have taken this collective creativity to an altogether new level.

See Me: A Global Concert, a 23-minute original musical film, weaves together the music and cultures of orchestras and choirs from around the world into one collaborative concert.

An enchanting journey across Afghanistan, Austria, Brazil, China, Italy, South Africa and the US, it captures a moment in history – and explores how the power of hope and connection has endured throughout the crisis.

The result is not just a beautiful and unique film. With the musicians and crew overcoming multiple challenges to get it made, the project itself is testament to human ingenuity and perseverance.

Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello on a US beach
See Me features Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach Suite No.2 for cello.
Image: See Me

Testing times

“See Me: A Global Concert”, a film project conceived by conductor Marin Alsop and the World Economic Forum, spans the individual to the global. As Alsop puts it, “it is a journey, from one voice playing solo Bach, to many voices singing a new piece by Reena Esmail, to hundreds of voices celebrating our beautiful planet in Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony. It’s a journey that we hope brings comfort, joy, and most importantly, hope”.

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs, alongside young musicians from orchestras and choirs in Beijing, Drakensberg, Florence, Kabul, Philadelphia, São Paulo and Vienna. The internationally-renowned creative team behind the project included film director Bernadette Wegenstein and creative director Es Devlin.

Dealing with these many time zones as well as lockdowns and travel restrictions, the different crews had to organize both performances and film-making through a series of phone calls and virtual meetings.

And each location had its own trials and tribulations. These ranged from the singers of the Choir of the State Orchestra of São Paulo being required by authorities to wear masks during the performance, to wind gusts in Philadelphia during the outdoor performance by the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra of the “storm” movement of the Beethoven Pastorale, to fog enveloping a soloist from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The choir in Drakensberg, South Africa.
The choir in Drakensberg, South Africa.
Image: See Me

What’s more, doing all this during a global pandemic meant relying on colleagues wherever they were and whether or not they’d ever met face to face. Many of the collaborators have still never met in person.

As the film’s director Bernadette Wegenstein says, it was all about trust.

Local flavour

Far from seeing these challenges as obstacles, the film-makers embraced the unusual situation. For John Benam, the film’s director of photography, the opportunity to work with a multitude of personalities and cultures was richly rewarding.

“It’s so nice to have a subject like this, rooted in music and languages that people can all gravitate towards and share,” he says.

“In a weird, unique, COVID-19 way, everyone involved in making the film captured a little bit of the local flavour for each of their respective countries and environments.”

Woman plays a brass instrument
Images of a soloist from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra captured during on the foggiest day of the year.
Image: See Me

A simple idea

Wegenstein compares creating a coherent whole from these snapshots of countries and cultures to assembling a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

And while the completed picture is a patchwork of textures, the excitement came from the novelty of the experience. As Benam says: to film the multiple Grammy-winning Yo-Yo Ma without the formality typically associated with these types of performances was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

beach patterns concert See Me music connection
Sand art by Jim Denevan features throughout the film
Image: See Me

In “See Me: A Global Concert”, aerial footage shows Yo-Yo Ma as a lone cellist surrounded by the expansive sands of Crane Beach in the US. Stripped of props, a stage and even a venue, the performance – like others in the film – instead immerses viewers in the environment and unique conditions under which the concert took place.

The film was created in conjunction with female conductors and young musicians from across the globe, including Chen Lin who captured the connection between the socially-distanced performers of the NCPA Orchestra in Beijing.

The NCPA Orchestra in Beijing.
The NCPA Orchestra’s performance in Beijing took place in a deserted concert hall.
Image: See Me

A new mindset

It was an experience that forced everyone involved to act and think differently. For film producer Annette Porter the sense of urgency that accompanied the project was a positive force, which enhanced the finished film.

“With the centre of the pandemic behind us and pushing us in and closing doors, it just forced us to make the film more rapidly and more thoroughly. And I don't want to return to a type of film-making that doesn't include this,” she says.

Daniel Walsh, the South African unit’s cinematographer, points out that film-makers have always been required to solve problems. And nowhere is this more evident than in the making of this film.

“This film is as much about the process as the end product”, said Nico Daswani, Head of Arts and Culture for the World Economic Forum, and the Executive Producer of the Film. “It was built on old and new friendships, people coming together to make something remarkable. That is its most enduring legacy.”

The world premiere of “See Me: A Global Concert” will be screened at the opening night of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda Week, on Sunday 24 January, with additional screenings throughout the event. Audiences will also be able to watch the film on the Forum’s YouTube channel and at film festivals throughout 2021.

The project was made possible thanks to the generous support of Intesa Sanpaolo.