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    How to Watch Eurovision 2022

    LONDON — The Eurovision Song Contest started in 1956 as a friendly music competition between public service television broadcasters and has since grown into the world’s largest — and perhaps most eccentric — live music event.This year, the competition takes place while there is a war in Europe; in February, the event’s organizers announced that Russia would be barred from competing, citing “the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine.”This week, 35 other countries, including Ukraine, competed in semifinal rounds ahead of Saturday’s final, which attracts more than 180 million viewers around the world. The event, held in Italy this year, rewards live viewership, with clips from performances and reactions spreading quickly across social media.Below are rundowns on hotly tipped acts, advice about how to watch from the United States and views about how the war in Ukraine is likely to affect the competition.Sweden’s entry this year is Cornelia Jakobs, who sings “Hold Me Closer,” a warm and emotional pop track.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesHow does the Eurovision Song Contest work?Each country selects an act with an original song that must be performed live onstage. The song is picked either by the national broadcaster or through some kind of contest. (For example, Sweden has the “Melodifestivalen” to choose its entry.) There are a number of rules that entrants must follow, including a limit of three minutes on song length and a ban on lyrics or gestures deemed by the organizers to be political.Despite the name, countries beyond Europe’s traditional geographical borders also compete in Eurovision. Israel debuted in 1973, for example, and Australia has been taking part since 2015. This year, Armenia and Montenegro are returning to the contest after not competing in 2021. Smaller nations are also represented, such as San Marino, a landlocked enclave in Italy with a population of just over 30,000. Last year, San Marino’s entry, performed by the singer Senhit, featured an appearance by the American rapper Flo Rida.The winner of Eurovision is chosen by a combination of votes by viewers at home and by national juries in each country. The scores from the national juries are tallied first, then the fan votes are announced, act by act, starting with the countries that received the lowest jury points. This part of the show can be tense and even uncomfortable to watch, with cameras last year showing entrants from Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain each receiving the dreaded “zero points” from the public.After the two semifinals have whittled the entrants down, the qualifiers join entries from the “big five” countries — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — which have an automatic pass to the final because they contribute the most financially to the running of the contest. Twenty-five countries will compete at the final this year.Traditionally, the competition is held in the country that won the previous year. Turin, in Italy, hosts this year after the rock band Maneskin triumphed in 2021.The crowd at Thursday’s semifinal in Turin, Italy.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesHow can Americans watch the competition?The streaming service Peacock will be airing the final on Saturday from 3 p.m. Eastern time. The service also streamed the competition’s semifinals. The figure skater Johnny Weir will be providing commentary on the broadcast.The commentary can often add some humor to the many long hours of televised competition. In Britain, the comedy host Graham Norton has become renowned for his reactions and quips.“We’ve got a real range of music tonight,” Norton said while introducing the 2021 competition from the Dutch city of Rotterdam. “Brilliant staging, great lighting, some wonderful vocalists, and others — well, some as flat as Holland.”Oleh Psiuk, center, of Ukraine’s entry, Kalush Orchestra, posing this week in Turin with a group of people protesting the war in Ukraine. Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesHow has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected the competition?Initially, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, said that Russia could continue to participate because the competition was a “nonpolitical cultural event.”The day after the invasion, however, with Ukraine and other countries threatening to withdraw, the broadcasting union backtracked. Russia could not take part, the union said in a statement, because the country’s inclusion “would bring the competition into disrepute.”Sentimentality, friendly bias and politics can affect the voting. This year, Ukraine is favored to win, with the rap and folk band Kalush Orchestra representing the country. Its song, “Stefania,” is an ode to the mother of one of the band members. The act received special permission from the Ukrainian government to travel for the competition and has performed throughout Europe to raise funds for the war effort.Ukraine won the contest in 2016 with “1944,” by Jamala. The song was a memorial to Crimean Tatars during World War II, but it was also interpreted as a comment on the Russian invasion of Crimea, which took place two years earlier.Kalush Orchestra received special permission from the Ukrainian government to travel to Italy for the competition.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesWhat happens if Ukraine wins this year?If Ukraine does take the title, the war and humanitarian crisis in the country would most likely present challenges to its hosting the competition in 2023.In the past, when a country has been unable to host, another has stepped in. The last time that happened was in 1980, when Israel declined to host after winning for a second straight year. The competition was held in the Netherlands instead.If Australia ever wins the competition, the logistical difficulties of hosting a primarily European contest on a different continent mean that a European country and broadcaster would co-host the following year’s contest alongside Australia, according to the European Broadcasting Union.Australia’s entry, Sheldon Riley, during a dress rehearsal in Turin. His track reflects on his childhood experiences, including being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesWhich other acts should I know about?Sweden has won Eurovision six times (second only to Ireland), with ABBA one of the acts to have claimed victory for the country. The Swedish entrant this year is Cornelia Jakobs, who sings “Hold Me Closer,” a warm and emotional pop track that builds with each subsequent verse.The Spanish entry, performed by Chanel, has also been predicted to do well at the final, with a catchy song, “SloMo,” accompanied by a high-energy dance routine.The prospects for Britain, after last year’s zero points overall, are looking up. The country’s entry, “Space Man,” is performed by the TikTok star Sam Ryder and has been gathering some momentum.There has also been praise for Australia’s entry, “Not the Same,” performed by Sheldon Riley. The song reflects his childhood experiences, including a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome he received at age 6.Maneskin has gone on to global fame since winning the 2021 competition, performing on “Saturday Night Live” and at the Coachella festival this year.The duo Subwoolfer, representing Norway, wear wolf masks, surrounded by dancers in morph costumes, for their act.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesAre there any surreal acts this year?Eurovision entrants have a tradition of employing surreal staging, lyrics and costumes to stand out.This year, the Norwegian entry, by the pop duo Subwoolfer, has gained attention. Their song, “Give That Wolf a Banana,” has the pair wearing wolf masks, with backing dancers in yellow morph suits.The Moldovan entry, “Trenuletul,” by Zdob si Zdub and the Advahov Brothers, has built a following by pairing traditional instruments like the accordion with the electric guitar. Their song’s upbeat lyrics are matched by the band’s enthusiastic choreography.Each year, fans travel to the competition to see their country compete. Here, some were in Turin for Thursday’s semifinal.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesWhat about North American versions of Eurovision?The NBC show “American Song Contest” reimagines Eurovision for the United States, with 56 entries from 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. Instead of airing over the course of a week, like Eurovision does, the contest has been airing weekly on the network since March.The final took place on Monday, when AleXa, representing Oklahoma, won with “Wonderland.” The song received 710 points overall from the jury and public voting, 207 ahead of the second-place entry, from Colorado.But underwhelming ratings suggest that “American Song Contest” failed to capture the excitement of Eurovision. In an interview with The New York Times, Audrey Morrissey, an executive on the show, suggested that U.S. audiences might need time to get used to the format. “It is a very different sort of mechanism — there isn’t another show where performance happens and there isn’t a critique right after,” she said.Next year, there will be a Eurovision Canada, where entries from the country’s three territories and 10 provinces will compete in an offshoot of the original. International expansion has been an ambition for Eurovision. Martin Österdahl, an executive supervisor of the competition, told a podcast recently, “We’re changing our focus slightly in our strategy from managing a contest to managing a brand, and that brand will be a global entertainment superbrand.” More

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    When Classical Music Was an Alibi

    The idea that musicians and their work are apolitical flourished after World War II, in part thanks to the process of denazification.On April 16, 1955, the soprano Camilla Williams became the first Black singer to appear at the Vienna State Opera, bowing as Cio-Cio-san in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” Critics hailed it as a landmark and said it illustrated how much Vienna had changed since the end of World War II, a decade earlier.What went undiscussed by the newspapers at Williams’s debut, however, were the colleagues she performed with: among others, Wilhelm Loibner, Erich von Wymetal and Richard Sallaba, all of whom were active musicians in Austria under National Socialism.Sallaba, a tenor, sang in several special performances of Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” for the Nazi leisure organization “Kraft durch Freude” (“Strength Through Joy”) between 1941 and 1943. On July 15, 1942, Loibner conducted a performance of Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” for the Wehrmacht, and barely a month after Hitler committed suicide, he was back on the podium at the Vienna State Opera leading Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Von Wymetal, who coached Williams for her debut, assumed his position as the State Opera’s stage director after Lothar Wallerstein, a Jew, fled in 1938.Was Williams’s milestone tainted because she worked with those whose artistic careers directly benefited from the Nazi regime? Faced with such a question, we might be tempted to say that politics has nothing to do with classical music. It is an argument that has been heard again and again when artists come under scrutiny for their involvement in current events — most recently, musicians whose ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have been questioned.When the soprano Camilla Williams became the first Black singer to appear at the Vienna State Opera, it was alongside musicians who had been active when Austria was occupied by Nazi Germany.Archive/AlamyPerforming classical music, or listening to it, has never been an apolitical act. But the idea that it might be flourished in the wake of World War II, thanks in part to the process of denazification, the Allied initiative to purge German-speaking Europe of Nazi political, social and cultural influence.The American and British military demanded that German and Austrian musicians who wanted to resume work fill out “Fragebogen,” comprehensive questionnaires that sought to determine the extent of their political complicity. This resulted in lists of “white,” “black,” “gray acceptable” and “gray unacceptable” artists — categories that were immediately the subject of disagreement. The process also varied widely by region. American officials were initially committed to systematic denazification and decried the “superficial, disorganized and haphazard” efforts in the zones occupied by France, Britain and Soviet Russia.But even in the American zone, strict blacklists were short-lived. By 1947, responsibility for assessing guilt was transferred to German-run trial courts, which were invested in resuming the rhythms of institutionalized music-making, for cultural and economic reasons. The moral aims of denazification quickly conflicted with the realities of music as an industry and a set of labor practices. Austria’s often-claimed position after the war as “Hitler’s first victim” likewise meant that musical affairs there resumed quickly — with even less public conversation about accountability.Musicians slipped through the denazification process with relative ease. Many rank-and-file artists had been required to join Nazi organizations in order to remained employed, and the correlation of such membership to ideological commitment was often ambiguous. Individuals tended to lie on their forms to obtain a more advantageous status. And artists such as the eminent conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler referred to music’s apolitical status as a kind of alibi, even when they had performed on occasions, and as part of institutions, with deep ties to the regime.Allied forces were keen to “clean up” the reputations of musicians whose talents they valued, and even aided some in gliding through the denazification process. On July 4, 1945, the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was asked to fill out a Fragebogen because she was on the Salzburg register of National Socialists in Austria. Had the form been deemed acceptable, the American military would have approved her return to the stage.But when the American intelligence officer overseeing her case, Otto von Pasetti, realized that she had lied on the form, he destroyed it. The following day, she was asked to fill out another one. Although it was not any more accurate, Pasetti accepted it because Schwarzkopf’s status as a celebrity diva had convinced him that “no other suitable singer” was available for major operatic performances. Shortly thereafter, she climbed into a jeep driven by an American officer, Lieutenant Albert van Arden, and was driven 250 kilometers to Graz, Austria, to sing Konstanze in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.”After 1945, then, career continuity was more the norm than the exception. Denazification status defined immediate employability but was only one factor in musicians’ prospects. Artists looking to resume their careers readily identified themselves as POWs, refugees, bombing victims, disabled soldiers and widows, many facing housing and food insecurity. Reference letters used postwar hardship as a justification for priority consideration or tried to explain how a person had been pulled into, as one put it, the “vortex” of Nazi politics. One baritone assured administrators that although he had been detained in a prison camp for several years, he still “had the opportunity to practice.”These claims of hardship easily slid into narratives of victimhood. Bombed concert halls and opera houses in formerly Nazi territories were potent symbols of destruction and the necessity of rebuilding, but also enabled the focus to shift from Nazi atrocities to German suffering. At the opening of the rebuilt Vienna State Opera on Nov. 5, 1955, just months after Williams’s debut in “Butterfly,” the conductor Karl Böhm — who had led concerts celebrating Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 — was on the podium for the celebration. No Jewish survivors were invited to participate.Performances amid the rubble reignited a sense of community and attempted to rehabilitate classical music as inherently humanistic, universal and uplifting after its supposed “corruption” by propagandistic use during the Nazi era. In “The German Catastrophe” (1946), the historian Friedrich Meinecke evoked the power of German music as a restorative force: “What is more individual and German than the great German music from Bach to Brahms?” For Meinecke, the country’s music was redemptive, expressing the national spirit while still possessing a “universal Occidental effect.”Some composers, encouraged by the Allies, promoted the idea that modernist musical techniques were particularly antifascist because they had been banned by the Nazis — an exaggeration both of Nazi officials’ stylistic understanding and of the level of control they exerted over the arts. Winfried Zillig, a German who composed in the 12-tone style, had many career successes from 1933 to 1945, including major opera premieres and a position in occupied Poland, granted as a reward for his operas’ political values.The composer Winfried Zillig’s career flourished under the Nazis, but he later claimed that the regime had repressed his music.Ullstein Bild, via Getty ImagesBut Zillig later claimed that the Nazis had repressed his music. Around the time of his denazification trial, he expressed outrage at being “one of the few surviving ‘degenerates’” — that is, composers who, as modernists, were targeted by the regime — who was facing the indignity of being labeled a propagandist. Zillig’s self-flattering version of events was enshrined in Adorno’s writing about him and was not debunked until 2002, long after his death. His career as a conductor and radio director flourished in West Germany, and he played an important role in the dissemination of modern music.Despite the black-and-white thinking that too often accompanies these topics, and how easy it is to retrospectively condemn, Zillig’s career is a reminder that all working Austrian and German musicians were implicated in the Third Reich. The fact that classical music was the industry they worked in does not mean they transcended politics.The more uncomfortable truth may be that the ambiguity of classical musicians’ status under Nazism makes them prime examples of “implicated subjects,” to use the theorist Michael Rothberg’s phrase. Rothberg writes that “implicated subjects occupy positions aligned with power and privilege without being themselves direct agents of harm; they contribute to, inhabit, inherit or benefit from regimes of domination, but do not originate or control such regimes.”Many German and Austrian musicians occupied this liminal place, neither victim nor perpetrator but a participant in the history that produced both those positions. The well-meaning but blunt categories of denazification after 1945 actually blurred our understanding of the complex systems that led to war and genocide and how musicians operated within them.In 1948, seven years before Camilla Williams sang “Butterfly” in Vienna, the Black American soprano Ellabelle Davis gave a recital there, marking the first time a Black concert singer had performed in the Austrian capital since the outbreak of the war. Calling Davis’s performance “the first fully validated representative of the vocal arts from overseas since the war,” one critic heralded her debut as a turning point in Vienna’s musical journey, an opening of borders and an acceptance of voices that only a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.Commentators also pointed out that Davis was the first Black singer to perform in a Viennese classical venue since Marian Anderson in November 1937, a few short months before the Nazi annexation. At last, these critics said, the city was being restored to its previous era of musical openness. Such comments created a timeline that bridged the Nazi era, cordoning it off as an aberration.Yet other competing continuities also defined Vienna. Only a few months before Davis’s recital, the composer Arnold Schoenberg, who was Jewish, shared a scathing critique of the city’s postwar racial politics. Schoenberg, who had fled Europe in the 1930s, wrote in 1948, “I have the impression that in Vienna racial issues are still more important than artistic merit for judging artwork.”Later, in 1951, he affirmed that judgment: “I would like it best if performances of my music in Vienna were banned completely and forever. I have never been treated as badly as I was there.” Appeals to continuity after World War II could condemn or vindicate. Both classical music’s history of racism and its universalist aspirations persisted.In moments of war and violence, it can be tempting to either downplay classical music’s involvement in global events or emphasize music’s power only when it is used as a force for what a given observer perceives as good. Insisting on a utopian, apolitical status for this art form renders us unable to see how even high culture is implicated in the messy realities of political and social life. We must work to understand the complex politics of music, even when that means embracing discomfort and ambiguity.Emily Richmond Pollock teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the author of “Opera After the Zero Hour: The Problem of Tradition and the Possibility of Renewal in Postwar West Germany.” More

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    Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko's Putin Ties Threaten Their Careers

    The Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and the diva Anna Netrebko have lost engagements because of their ties to Putin, as geopolitics and music collide once again.A conductor, perceived to be aligned with the opposition in wartime, pushed from his podium in disgrace.Another, two decades later, offered a prestigious position, only to withdraw under pressure after protests of his ties to a despised foreign regime.The first, Karl Muck, a German-Swiss maestro, led the Boston Symphony Orchestra until he was arrested and interned, in what is now widely viewed as a shameful example of anti-German hysteria at the start of World War I.The profound musical legacy of the second — Wilhelm Furtwängler, who never joined the Nazi Party but was essentially its court conductor, dooming his appointment to the New York Philharmonic — still struggles to emerge from his association with Hitler.How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now?One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.The swift unraveling of his international career — and the decision of Anna Netrebko, a Russian diva who is one of the biggest stars in opera, to withdraw from performances amid renewed attention to her own ties to Mr. Putin — raises a host of difficult questions.What is the point at which cultural exchange — always a blur between being a humanizing balm and a tool of propaganda, a co-opting of music’s supposed neutrality — becomes unbearable? What is sufficient distance from authoritarian leadership?And what is sufficient disavowal, particularly in a context when speaking up could threaten the safety of artists or their families?Mr. Gergiev, with his quasi-governmental role as general and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, is closer to Furtwängler than to Muck. He has endorsed Mr. Putin in the past and promoted his policies with concerts in Russia and abroad. But when he has spoken — he has remained silent through this latest firestorm — he has tended to sound like Furtwängler, who longed to focus only on scores and said, “My job is music.”The legacy of the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler has been tainted by his association with Hitler.Teldec“Am not politician, but exponent of German music, which belongs to all humanity regardless of politics,” Furtwängler wrote in 1936, in clipped telegram style, withdrawing under pressure from the New York Philharmonic post.Classical music likes to think of itself this way: floating serenely above politics, in a realm of beauty and unity. Its repertory — so much of it composed in the distant past — seems insulated from present-day conflicts. What can Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony do except good?But politics and music — a field in which Russian performers have long been stars — have swiftly collided since the invasion of Ukraine. The Mariinsky Orchestra’s tours have been canceled. On Sunday, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it would no longer engage with performers or other organizations that have voiced support for Mr. Putin. Presenters in the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands have announced the cancellations of performances by some artists who support Mr. Putin.Ms. Netrebko had engagements at the Bavarian State Opera canceled, and then announced that she planned to “step back from performing for the time being,” withdrawing from her upcoming dates at the Zurich Opera.The Russian diva Anna Netrebko and Mr. Gergiev appeared together with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2018.Lisi Niesner/ReutersThe artistic director in Zurich, Andreas Homoki, noted some of the complexities, welcoming a statement that Ms. Netrebko made opposing the war but suggesting that her failure to condemn Mr. Putin put her at odds with the opera house’s position. But Mr. Homoki took pains to note that his company did not “consider it appropriate to judge the decisions and actions of citizens of repressive regimes based on the perspective of those living in a Western European democracy.”In her first public statement on the war, in an Instagram post Saturday morning, Ms. Netrebko — who has long been criticized for her ties to Mr. Putin, and was photographed in 2014 holding a flag used by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine — initially seemed to be issuing the kind of statement that had been lacking from Mr. Gergiev.“First of all: I am opposed to this war.” So far, so good.“I am Russian and I love my country,” Ms. Netrebko went on, “but I have many friends in Ukraine and the pain and suffering right now breaks my heart. I want this war to end and for people to be able to live in peace.”Though she conspicuously didn’t mention Mr. Putin, Ms. Netrebko’s words were simple and tender, a needle — love of her country and empathy for another — seemingly threaded.But unfortunately for those of us who have cherished her as a performer, there was more. In the next slide, she added that “forcing artists, or any public figure, to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right.”“I am not a political person,” she wrote, echoing the Furtwängler perspective. “I am not an expert in politics. I am an artist and my purpose is to unite people across political divides.”She then added to her Instagram story, alongside heart and praying-hands emojis, a text that used an expletive in reference to her Western critics, and said they were “as evil as blind aggressors.”So much for threading the needle. And a series of posts over the following days, which were later deleted, only muddied the waters further.What could have smoothed over criticism instead inflamed it. The politically outspoken pianist Igor Levit, who was born in Russia, did not mention Ms. Netrebko by name in his own Instagram post on Sunday morning, but wrote, “Being a musician does not free you from being a citizen, from taking responsibility, from being a grown-up.”“PS,” he added: “And never, never bring up music and your being a musician as an excuse. Do not insult art.”Ms. Netrebko performs at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesThe Met, where Ms. Netrebko is scheduled to star in Puccini’s “Turandot” this spring, seemed to have her in mind — along with a producing partnership with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow — when it made its announcement on Sunday.“While we believe strongly in the warm friendship and cultural exchange that has long existed between the artists and artistic institutions of Russia and the United States,” the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said in a video statement, “we can no longer engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him.”It’s true: Ms. Netrebko is not a politician, expert or otherwise. In this she is unlike Mr. Gergiev, who has repeatedly and explicitly worked as a government propagandist, leading battlefield concerts in South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia, in 2008, and in Palmyra after that Syrian site was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces in 2016. In Ossetia, he even led Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony, completed during the German siege of that city in World War II and as charged a musical memorial as there is to Russian suffering.Mr. Gergiev conducting in Palmyra, after the ancient city was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces in 2016.Olga Balashova/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via Associated PressBut Ms. Netrebko is certainly a political actor — the kind of “political person” she denies being. Again and again in the past, she has voiced her political opinions, publicly if vaguely. (She said that she had been caught off-guard when she was handed the separatist flag in that 2014 photograph with a separatist leader, which was taken after she gave him a donation for a theater in a region controlled by separatists; that donation, she claimed at the time, was “not about politics.”)Ms. Netrebko can hold whichever flag she wants, of course. But she should not be surprised that there are consequences. In January 2015, after her Met performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” under Mr. Gergiev’s baton, a protester climbed onto the stage during her curtain call and unfurled a banner that called them “active contributors to Putin’s war against Ukraine.”The Met, which opened a performance this week with the Ukrainian national anthem, has left vague the way it intends to police its new test. But I hope the company will look at the existing record rather than requiring new, public words from artists who may have legitimate reasons of safety to remain silent about Mr. Putin and his actions. Eliciting — coercing, some might say — affirmative statements hardly seems the right way to oppose authoritarianism.Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 4A city is captured. More

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    When Europe Offered Black Composers an Ear

    Spurned by institutions in America, artists were sometimes given more opportunities across the Atlantic.In early September 1945, amid the rubble of a bombed-out Berlin, the Afro-Caribbean conductor Rudolph Dunbar stepped onto a podium and bowed to an enthusiastic audience of German citizens and American military personnel.The orchestra had gathered in an old movie theater functioning as a makeshift concert hall in the newly designated American zone of the city. First on the program was “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then came a fairly standard set of orchestral pieces, with Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture followed by Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony. But one piece stood out from the rest: William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony.” When it premiered in 1931 in Rochester, N.Y., it was the first symphony by a Black American to be performed by a major orchestra.Still’s symphony received a robust round of performances in the United States in the 1930s. That decade was a watershed for Black composers like him, who finally managed to convince powerful American ensembles to perform their music. The “Afro-American Symphony” was quickly followed by Florence Price’s Symphony in E Minor, in 1933, and William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony,” in 1934. These works appeared frequently on concert programs in America at the time — and then disappeared.Still’s symphony received a robust round of performances in the United States in the 1930s.The Vicksburg Post/Associated PressIt was Dunbar, a clarinetist who had studied at the Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School), who brought back Still’s music. In New York, the two had struck up a friendship before Dunbar set off in 1924 for Europe, where he studied and performed for over a decade. A student of renowned musicians like the conductor Felix Weingartner and the clarinetist Louis Cahuzac, he was steeped in the world of European art music.But he was also a committed Black activist. Running in the same circles as Black Marxists and Pan-Africanists like George Padmore, Dunbar had long made plain his loathing of white supremacy, whether in the form of Nazism or British imperialism. In fact, he’d already performed Still’s “Afro-American Symphony” for its European debut a few years earlier, on a concert with the London Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall to raise funds for Black soldiers fighting the Nazis.Dunbar was invited to perform in Berlin by Leo Borchard, whom the victorious Allies had appointed the Philharmonic’s conductor, and was also an anti-Nazi dissident and resistance fighter who aided German Jews fleeing the Third Reich. The message of Dunbar’s debut could not be clearer: Classical music could not be divorced from a global fight against racism.In the 1980s, the pianist Althea Waites brought the music of Florence Price (shown here) to German audiences — who eagerly applauded.University of Arkansas Libraries Special CollectionsThe work of racial justice in the arts has always been a global effort. Europe’s role in this fight, however, deserves closer inspection. Spurned by the barriers white-dominated institutions placed on them in the United States, Black American composers and musicians have long perpetuated the idea that European audiences were more welcoming. Writing to The New York Age newspaper while studying abroad in London in 1908, the Black American composer Clarence Cameron White said as much: “On every side you find the European musician and music-lover as well realizes that music is too broad and too universal to be circumscribed by the complexion of the skin or texture of the hair.”There is some truth to White’s claim. Some of the earliest performances of William Grant Still’s music had taken place in Paris. At the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in February 1933, the Pasdeloup Orchestra performed his symphonic poem “Africa,” led by the Austrian conductor Richard Lert, who later fled to the United States after the rise of the Nazis. Safely exiled in Los Angeles, in 1944, Lert invited Black American bass Kenneth Spencer to join him in a performance of Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio “The Ordering of Moses,” another work by a Black composer that would soon disappear for decades.In June, one of the largest festivals outside the United States to celebrate the music of Black composers took place in Hamburg, Germany. Daniel Dittus/ElbphilharmonieIn Torino, Italy, in 1952, the Black American conductor Dean Dixon introduced the music of Ulysses Kay — who was residing at the American Academy in Rome as a winner of the prestigious Rome Prize — to Italian audiences. “Once you secure the allied interest of Europeans according to the highest standards available, you will be heard,” Dixon said.Later, during the Cold War, Kay toured Soviet Russia on behalf of the State Department. In the 1980s, the pianist Althea Waites brought the music of Florence Price to German audiences — who eagerly applauded. “There they listen to my music instead of looking at me,” Waites said. In recent years, composers such as Tania León and George Lewis have also received premieres in Europe.In June, one of the largest festivals outside the United States to celebrate the music of Black composers took place in Hamburg, Germany. Initiated and led by the Hampsong Foundation and the performer and scholar Louise Toppin, the three-day festival at the Elbphilharmonie showcased an array of contemporary pieces and historical works. (Full disclosure: I wrote program notes for the festival and supervised the translations for it.)“The whole experience ended up being a real celebration of Black excellence, but on a continent that I have called home for the past eight years,” said the composer Anthony R. Green, an American based in the Netherlands, whose pieces “Three Quotes from Shakespeare” and “Sojourner Truth” appeared in the festival.William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” was played at the festival.via W.E.B. Du Bois Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst LibrariesStaging the festival was no easy feat. It involved translating dozens of Black American art songs from English into German. Moreover, historical negligence shaped what scores and parts the orchestra and singers could find. “This music was forgotten about,” the conductor Roderick Cox said of William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony.” “It was neglected; you couldn’t get access to this music through the publishers; the parts were in shambles.”Indeed, Dawson’s symphony — once heralded as a brilliant success — had been dormant in the United States for decades. Perhaps unsurprising, the only recent recording of it was made in Vienna.But praising Europe for offering a platform for the music of Black American composers omits an important part of the story. White European support of and advocacy for Black American musicians has often come at the expense of their own Black populations. As many Black European intellectuals and activists have pointed out, Europeans know the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, but do they know those of Oury Jalloh, Stephen Lawrence, and Jerry Masslo?Prestigious music institutes such as Darmstadt, in Germany, have rarely invited Black composers to join their international communities, or given Germany-based Black composers such as Robert Owens and Benjamin Patterson their due. In the city of Hamburg, which has a Black population dating back to the 19th century and was the birthplace of Marie Nejar, an Afro-German woman who survived the Nazis performing as a child actress, the performers and audience at the Elbphilharmonie’s music festival this summer were almost entirely white.Europe has been lax about promoting its own historical Black composers and musicians, such as George Bridgetower, Amanda Aldridge, Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Avril Coleridge-Taylor. Many recent high-profile performances of Black European performers and composers can be attributed to the Chineke Orchestra in England — Europe’s first ensemble to have a majority of musicians of color — rather than to white European musical institutions. Other Black European composers, such as Werner Jaegerhuber, a Haitian-German composer who lived in Germany from 1915 until he was forced to flee the Nazis in 1937, have yet to receive significant European attention.The recognition of Black composers on any stage puts pressure on institutions to contend with their racist pasts and to imagine a better future. Rudolph Dunbar’s performance of Still’s “Afro-American Symphony” and Roderick Cox’s of Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony,” nearly a century apart, suggest that efforts to advance racial justice go hand in hand with a commitment to embracing music’s power. Performing the music of Black composers is not simply or only an opportunity to correct historical wrongs. Nor should it be considered the equivalent to eating your proverbial broccoli. Rather, it is an invitation to dine on the most exquisite meals. To fight for the music of Black composers is to fight for a better world. More

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    Asian Composers Reflect on Careers in Western Classical Music

    For all their shared experiences, each of these five artists has a unique story of struggles and triumphs.Asian composers who write in Western classical musical forms, like symphonies and operas, tend to have a few things in common. Many learned European styles from an early age, and finished their studies at conservatories there or in the United States. And many later found themselves relegated to programming ghettos like Lunar New Year concerts. (One recent study found that works by Asian composers make up only about 2 percent of American orchestral performances planned for the coming season.)At times, the music of Asian composers has been misunderstood or exoticized; they have been subjected to simple errors such as, in the case of Huang Ruo, who was born in China, repeated misspellings of his name.For all their shared experiences, each of these artists has a unique story. Here, five of them provide a small sampling of the lessons, struggles and triumphs of composers who were born in Asia and made a career for themselves in Western classical music. These are edited excerpts from interviews with them.Tan DunMusic is my language. To me “West” and “East” are just ways of talking — or like ways of cooking. I’m a chef, and sometimes I find my recipe is like my orchestrations. It would be so boring if you asked me to cook in one style. Eastern and Western, then, have for me become a unique recipe in which one plus one equals one.I am in a very special zone historically. I’m 63, and part of the first generation of Eastern composers after the Cultural Revolution to deal with Western forms. But it’s just like rosemary, butter and vegetables. You can cook this way, that way — and that’s why the same orchestras sound so different, from Debussy to Stravinsky to myself.I’m lucky. When I came to the United States as a student, my teachers and classmates gave me enormous encouragement to discover myself. And I learned so much from John Cage. After this, it felt so easy to compose. And when people approach me for commissions, I re-approach them about what I’m thinking about. I remember when Kurt Masur asked me to write something for the New York Philharmonic — the Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra — I said, “Can I write something for water?” He said, “As long as you don’t flood our orchestra.”Yes, we often are misunderstood. It’s like when you cook beautiful black bean with chili sauce and chocolate. They may say, “Hey, this is a little strange.” But you explain why, and that can be very interesting. Thank God I love to talk. And there has been progress for us. I am the first Eastern composer to be the dean of a Western conservatory, at Bard. That’s like a Chinese chef becoming the chef of an Italian restaurant. That’s the future: a different way of approaching color, boundary-less, a unity of the soul.Du Yun”If I’m a spokesperson,” Du Yun said, “it’s for my own voice.”Caitlin Ochs for The New York TimesOne thing about composers like Tan Dun: They came out of the Cultural Revolution, after a door had closed for so many years. So there was so much focus on what China was doing, a lot of curiosity — curiosity rather than active racism. Our generation — I’m 44 — is so different.We learn Western music with such rigorous systems. And we do not close our ears to different traditions or styles; that attitude determines early on that you don’t have that kind of boundary, or ownership. But you still hear those conversation topics about “East meets West.” It’s so tiring. East has been meeting West for thousands of years; if we’re always still just meeting, that’s a problem.Programming Chinese composers around Lunar New Year is in general very problematic. Do we need to celebrate the culture? Yes. Do we need to celebrate the tradition? Absolutely. But it can be part of the main subscription series, or a yearlong series. Then you can really tell stories, not just group people by a country.My name does not give me ownership of Chinese culture. There are so many things I don’t know. There are so many burdens and fights — as the woman, the woman of color, the Chinese woman — that I decided to fight nothing and just create my own stuff. I told myself that if I had a great body of work, that would speak to what a Chinese woman can do.I never wanted to be pigeonholed, to be a reduced representation. I wanted to always open that Pandora’s box of messiness — and I encourage others to celebrate messiness, the unclean narrative of your life. Every immigrant has her own path; your work should absolutely be reflective of that. So if I’m a spokesperson, it’s for my own voice. And through that particular voice, I hope there is something that resonates.Bright ShengWhen someone asks Bright Sheng whether he’s a Chinese or American composer, he responds, “100 percent both.”Nora Tam/South China Morning Post, via Getty ImagesWhen I left China, it was a time of economic and, in a different way, cultural reform. I’m glad I came to the United States, but I do have a little bit of guilt. I probably could have done more there. But my agenda was to try to learn Western music and become the best pianist, conductor and composer I could be. I was fortunate to meet Leonard Bernstein, and I was under his wing for five years. Now, at 65, when someone asks me if I consider myself a Chinese or American composer, I say, in the most humble way, “100 percent both.” I’m well-versed in both cultures.There has been racism and misunderstanding, but that is inevitable. Would that be different if there were Asian people running orchestras? Yes, of course. My response has just been to try to write the best music I can. I wrote an opera for San Francisco Opera — “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which they’re reviving. It’s a very popular Chinese story, and when I worked on it with David Henry Hwang, we asked ourselves: “Is this for a Western audience or Eastern audience?” We decided first and foremost it should just be good, and it had to be touching. Good music transcends.For example, a piece of mine, “H’un (Lacerations),” premiered at the 92nd Street Y in New York. It is subtitled “In Memoriam 1966-1976” — about the Cultural Revolution — and it is very harsh and dramatic, with no melody. My mother was there, and she said it brought back a lot of painful memories. I was also sitting next to this very old Jewish woman, and after I took a bow onstage, she leaned over and said, “If you changed the title to ‘Auschwitz,’ this would be just as appropriate.” That was the highest compliment.Unsuk Chin“I believe in multiple identities and think that without curiosity,” Unsuk Chin said, “any style or any musical culture atrophies and risks becoming a museum.”Julie Glassberg for The New York TimesThe Korea of my childhood and adolescence was a very different place from what it is today. In the 1960s, it was an impoverished developing country, devastated by colonialism and by the Korean War, and until the late 1980s, there was a military dictatorship in place. In order to develop as a composer, one had to go abroad, as there didn’t exist an infrastructure for new music. Now 60, and having lived for 35 years in Europe, it remains important for me to contribute to the contemporary music scene in Asia.When I moved to Germany, there was a tendency to put composers in certain boxes, with all the aesthetic turf wars back then. Since I was neither interested in joining any camp or fashionable avant-garde or other trends, fulfilling exotic expectations, or assumptions of how a woman should or should not compose, I had to start a career in other countries while still living in Germany. Prejudices such as viewing an Asian composer or performing musician only through “sociological” lenses are still relatively common in various countries, but times are changing. Of course, there exist prejudices and complacency in the whole world, including in Asia. Perhaps the only remedy to this apparently, and sadly, all-too-human impulse is try to retain a sense of wonder and attempt to find distance to oneself.I have worked in different countries for decades, and have felt a need to stay curious about different musical cultures, traditions and genres. I believe in multiple identities and think that without curiosity, any musical style or culture atrophies and risks becoming a museum: Art has always thrived when there has been cross-fertilization.At the same time, one should be wary of the danger of exoticism and superficial cultural appropriation. I think that a contemporary composer needs to study different cultures, traditions and genres, but make use of those influences in a selective, historically conscious and self-critical manner.Huang RuoHuang Ruo said that if he spoke English with an accent, he composed with one, too.Rathkopf PhotographyWhen people heard I came from China, they would often say, “Does your music sound like Tan Dun?” I don’t think they meant any harm, but it shows a certain ignorance. I tried to explain that China is a big country, and we all speak with our own voice.I started as an instrumental composer, and a lot of those works got programmed at Asian-themed or Lunar New Year concerts. I didn’t notice at first, but you begin to see patterns. I don’t feel my work has any less quality than my other colleagues who are not minority composers, but for conductors, programmers and artistic directors, it doesn’t seem to come to their mind that you can naturally program an Asian composer’s work next to Beethoven or Tchaikovsky.That’s one of the reasons I turned to opera. I thought, there must be no opera company having a themed season devoted to Asian composers. So finally, I got to be programmed next to “Fidelio” and “Madama Butterfly.” That was my revenge. Also, I’ve wanted to write on subjects that reflect Asian or Asian American topics, to really share these stories. In this case it is actually me making the choice.Someone once told me I speak English with an accent. I said, “Otherwise, how would you know that’s me speaking?” I feel the same way as a composer. I want to have my own originality, to speak with my own accent — with my love of Western musical styles, but also this heritage I carry of Chinese culture.Without coming to the United States, I would be a different composer. If I went to Europe instead, I would also be very different. But I feel I made the right decision, and at 44 I fully embrace who I am today, and where I am as well. More

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    For U.K. Bands, Touring Europe Is Now a Highway to Brexit Hell

    It’s not just that musicians need visas. Band merchandise is now a complicated export, and most tour vans are only allowed to make three stops.LONDON — When the British rock band Two Door Cinema Club began playing shows across Europe a decade ago, the group’s three members would jump in a van, throw their instruments in the back and drive from their then hometown, Belfast, Northern Ireland, to sweaty clubs in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris.“We did that hundreds of times,” Kevin Baird, the group’s bassist, said recently by phone. “Everything was at a moment’s notice,” he added.Now, it’s not so simple for Two Door Cinema Club — or any British act — to tour Europe. Last Friday, the band headlined the Cruïlla music festival in Barcelona, Spain, playing to an audience of 25,000 screaming fans. But because of Britain’s 2020 departure from the European Union, known as Brexit, the band spent weeks beforehand applying for visas and immersing themselves in complicated new rules around trucking and exporting merchandise like T-shirts.Visas and travel within Britain to apply for them cost 7,500 pounds, about $10,400, for the band, two extra musicians, and an eight-person crew, Baird said. New rules mean that a British tour van carrying audio and lighting equipment, or merchandise, can only make three stops in mainland Europe before it must return home.Before Britain left the E.U., Two Door Cinema Club would head off on tour at a moment’s notice. Samuel Aranda for The New York Times“It’s proved a headache when there was never a headache before,” Baird said. “If we were a band starting out, we wouldn’t have done it,” he added.For much of this year, Brexit has been an even bigger talking point in Britain’s music industry than the coronavirus pandemic. Since Jan. 1, when a trade deal between Britain and the European Union came into force, hundreds of British musicians — including Dua Lipa and Radiohead — have complained that the deal makes touring the continent more costly for stadium acts, and almost impossible for new bands.The new rules are “a looming catastrophe” for young musicians, Elton John wrote on Instagram in June. “This is about whether one of the U.K.’s most successful industries, worth £111 billion a year, is allowed to prosper and contribute hugely to both our cultural and economic wealth, or crash and burn,” he added.Even musicians who supported Brexit have complained. Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, told a TV interviewer in June that, although he welcomed Britain’s departure from the European Union, he found the new rules unreasonable. He then addressed Britain’s government: “Get your act together,” he said.The furor over the regulations has led to a blame game between Britain’s government and the European Union over which side is responsible for the new barriers, and who made viable offers when negotiating the trade deal.Regardless of who is responsible, the issue has become an embarrassment for the British government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his government is working “flat out” on the issue. “We must fix this,” he told lawmakers in March.Yet so far, there hasn’t been enough progress to appease musicians. In June, Britain agreed to new trade deals that the government said would allow musicians to tour easily in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This was met with disdain: “Ah those infamous tours of mountainous Liechtenstein with its total lack of airport,” Simone Marie of the band Primal Scream wrote on Twitter.“We’re all becoming increasingly despondent,” said Annabella Coldrick, the chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, a trade body. In June, she helped launch Let the Music Move, a campaign for the government to compensate artists for the new extra costs and renegotiate the tour rules.Rebecca Swann drove her truck from Britain to Spain, carrying the band’s equipment.Samuel Aranda for The New York TimesThe band’s equipment, which now can make only three stops in mainland Europe before it must return home.Samuel Aranda for The New York Times“The problems are only just starting to become clear,” as the coronavirus pandemic eases and bands start booking tours, Coldrick said. The biggest sticking point was the regulation that vans and trucks can only stop three times before they must return to Britain, she added.Several British music trucking businesses have already moved some of their operations to Ireland to get around the rules. But Coldrick said this was not a viable solution: Trucks would also have to make longer journeys to pick bands up, increasing costs. It also seemed like a poor outcome for Britain, she said, because the country was losing companies and workers.For Two Door Cinema Club, the main issue was visas, said Colin Schaverien, the band’s manager. In June, a member of the band’s crew was rejected for a visa on a technicality related to his job title, so he had to reapply. Another band member, based in Belfast, was told they had to fly to Scotland for a visa appointment.Despite the band’s problems before traveling to Spain, Two Door Cinema Club’s show last Friday went off without a hitch.“All the things we were worried about didn’t materialize,” said Baird, the bassist. The band’s equipment, traveling in a truck from London, cleared customs on the British side in 25 minutes; checks at the border in France took only 10. The band, whose members flew to Barcelona, had no problems at the airport.Once in, the group was so excited to be playing a show after months sitting at home during the coronavirus pandemic, they took selfies of every moment, Baird said.Fans, mostly in face masks, enjoying Two Door Cinema Club’s show at the music festival.Samuel Aranda for The New York TimesThe crowd was equally excited, said Marc Loan, 36, a fan who was in the audience. “I made sure I didn’t drink much, so I didn’t have to miss anything,” he added.“It was amazing,” Baird said of the night.Brexit was the last thing on his mind during the gig, Baird added, but it reared its head the next day when the band and crew headed to the airport to fly home. Members of the group with Irish passports, which everyone born in Northern Ireland can hold as well as a British one, breezed through passport control; those with British passports were stuck in line for only an hour.The band was pleased with the trip but Baird was worried about how a more complicated schedule would work. “We’re all well aware this was a one-off concert,” he said. “What we’re apprehensive about is next year when we’re playing three different countries in three days. I expect that will be a lot harder.” More

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    How to Watch Eurovision 2021

    Even in a normal year, the competition’s unique traditions can be confusing to newcomers. Here’s what you need to know.LONDON — The Eurovision Song Contest is the world’s biggest music competition: a fiercely competitive, always surprising, sometimes surreal Olympics of song. Broadcast live across the world, the competition has taken place since 1956, making it one of the longest running television shows of all time. More

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    Second Time Lucky? Eurovision Hopefuls Try Again.

    Eurovision acts are known for being one-hit wonders. Can this year’s contestants, most returnees from the canceled 2020 event, break the stereotype?LONDON — When the Eurovision Song Contest was canceled last March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Vasil Garvanliev, North Macedonia’s entry, was distraught.“My whole life, I’d been working my butt off to get there and my journey didn’t even take off,” Garvanliev, 36, said in a telephone interview. “I was devastated.”For Garvanliev — and the event’s hundreds of millions of fans — Eurovision is far more than a glitzy, high-camp song contest. “It’s the Olympics of singing,” Garvanliev said.Last March he sat on his bed feeling depressed, he remembered, before picking up a keyboard to try to console himself. He started picking out a gentle melody on the instrument, then lyrics popped into his head. “Wait, it won’t be long,” he sung, “trust your heart and just stay strong.”“This song came out of me,” Garvanliev said, “and I thought, ‘Holy smokes, I have something beautiful here.’” Of course, “I didn’t know it’d end up being for this year’s Eurovision,” Garvanliev added. “I didn’t even know I’d be asked back.”For Eurovision 2021, the arena will be at 20 percent capacity, and no dancing will be allowed. Pool photo by Niels WenstedtBut in January, after an eight-month-long agonizing wait, Garvanliev was invited to perform at this year’s competition — one of 26 returning acts from Eurovision 2020. Scheduled for May 22 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2021 is likely to be the strangest edition of the contest ever held — a high bar, given past winners have included Abba and Lordi, a Finnish heavy metal act whose members dress as monsters.The arena will be at 20 percent capacity, with just 3,500 people in the audience cheering the contestants on, while remaining seated to lessen the risk of coronavirus spreading. The event is officially part of a series of Dutch government trials to see how to run large events in a safe way. The contestants will all have made prerecorded versions of their songs in case they catch Covid-19 and are unable to perform.But perhaps the most unusual aspect is that all the returning contestants will be performing a different song from the one they had planned for the 2020 event. In a competition known for one-hit wonders, who disappear from view almost as soon as the contest ends, this year’s contestants have to prove they don’t fit that pattern.“This is our difficult second album,” Garvanliev said, referring to the phenomena of bands struggling to match their early success. He hoped his 2021 song “Here I Stand” wouldn’t fall into that trap.The entrant facing the biggest challenge in capturing last year’s magic is Dadi Freyr, Iceland’s act, with his band Gagnamagnid. Last year, Freyr was the favorite to win thanks to his song “Think About Things,” a catchy disco number about his newborn child.By the time Eurovision was canceled, the song’s video had been watched millions of times on YouTube. Soon, it was going viral on Twitter and TikTok too, after families started performing variations of the video’s dance routine while stuck at home in lockdown.“It changed my life, that song,” Freyr said in a video interview. Before the pandemic, Freyr generally only got booked for shows in Iceland, he said. Suddenly he was selling out tours across Europe.“I’ve probably had one of the best pandemics,” Freyr said.Freyr’s entry this year is another catchy disco track called “10 Years,” this time about his marriage (“How does it keep getting better?” he sings in the chorus). He felt he had to keep the track similar in style to “Think About Things,” since Icelanders had voted for a fun disco tune to represent them at the competition, he said. It still took 12 attempts to come up with a new song he liked, he added.The track’s so far not gone viral, but Freyr said that didn’t bother him. “I didn’t go to try and recreate the success, because I know it’s impossible to predict something like that,” he said. “Luck has to be part of it.”Four other Eurovision returnees said in interviews that they found the pandemic to be the biggest hurdle to writing a new hit. “For the first three or four months of the pandemic, I just didn’t do any writing at all,” said Jessica Alyssa Cerro, Australia’s entry, who performs as Montaigne.“I sort of got to November and was like, ‘Hmm, I should probably start working on that Eurovision song, huh?’” she added.Jeangu Macrooy, the Netherlands’ entry, said in a telephone interview that he similarly struggled. “I was getting no inspiration — I was just sitting inside,” he said.Then, in December when he was trying to write entries for the contest, a host of thoughts and feelings around George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement started bubbling up inside him.Soon he had conjured the lyrics to “Birth of a New Age,” an uplifting track about being “the rage that melts the chains.” Macrooy said he hoped it would speak to everyone standing up for their rights now, whether people of color, L.G.B.T.Q. people or the otherwise marginalized. The chorus of “You can’t break me” is sung in Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca of his native Suriname in South America.“It’s an ode to people claiming their space and saying, ‘I deserve respect and deserve to be accepted for who I am,’” Macrooy said. “I couldn’t have written it if I hadn’t lived through 2020,” he added.He’d recently been dreaming of people dancing to the track, he said, “so if that doesn’t happen at Eurovision, it’ll be awkward.” (The event’s current coronavirus safety rules prevent dancing.)For Montaigne, such dreams are now a thing of the past. She recently found out she would not be traveling to the Netherlands to compete, after Australian officials decided her attendance was too much of a coronavirus risk. Instead, Eurovision fans will have to watch the backup performance of “Technicolour,” which she recorded in March.Montaigne said she was fine with the decision, especially because she knew the pandemic was far from over in the Netherlands, with thousands of new cases of coronavirus currently being reported every day. “It would have been so bad if I was the person who brought coronavirus back to Australia, where we’re sitting in stadiums, having a good time dancing and touching each other,” she said.Even without attending, she still has a story to “tell my grandkids about,” she said. She’s the only Eurovision contestant ever to have missed the event twice because of a pandemic. More