Festival Musique de Chambre Montréal
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Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch
Denis Brott, cello
Jean-Willy Kunz, organ
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Yom Kippur
September 27, 2020

This live video recorded performance from Temple Emanu-El in Montreal was filmed on the occasion of the Jewish New Year observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Usually performed in front of a congregation, this haunting melody, played by the cello then chanted by the cantor and choir causes all who are present to delve deeply into their heart and soul, looking for forgiveness.

No matter the religion, we all have doubt, regret, guilt and weakness within. We all seek absolution without judgement as a means of inner peace. We seek redemption, we seek forgiveness.

Performing Kol Nidrei this year was especially meaningful for me.

In mid-March 2020, upon returning from concerts in Europe, I was severely stricken with Covid-19. I almost lost my life. I endured 32 days in an induced coma on a ventilator. I suffered both a viral and bronchial infection. My lungs appeared white on X ray. I dealt with complications affecting my kidneys and liver. I lost 25 kilos including significant muscle mass such that I was unable to walk. I suffered terrifying hallucinations. I spent 45 days in hospital and have been recovering and rehabilitating ever since.

When I returned home from the ICU on May 4th I could barely stand. I needed a walker to balance and to move. The daily functions I had previously taken for granted needed to be relearned. I suffered from post-traumatic stress and nightmares. My hands trembled constantly, making even eating and drinking a challenge. I developed severe neuropathy and swelling, especially in my hands. They buzzed as if asleep. They looked like the hands of the Michelin-man. The pain was excruciating.

Three weeks later I began the arduous process of returning to playing my cello again.

For a musician, your instrument is your voice. I liken my experience to someone who has had a stroke and lost their ability to speak. My trembling hands could barely hold my bow. Attempting to make a sound, what came out was barely a whisper. I had almost no strength and the strings under my left hand felt like razor wire.

Three and a half months later I recorded this video of Kol Nidrei.

It took resolve I did not know I had. The suffering I endured made me appreciate what a privilege it is to speak again. To speak with my cello.

Never have I felt as emotionally implicated in playing this chant of atonement, this song without words, as after having suffered with Covid-19. Losing what I love most and finding it back again has been somewhat miraculous. It made me delve into my heart and soul and discover what really mattered to me. It was a catharsis.

For the first time in my life I feel I understand the extent of music’s message. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to speak this language.

I share this moment with you in humility. I offer this musical prayer with a generosity of spirit filled with love and empathy for the human condition and appreciation for the power within us all to overcome, to discover ourselves and to live again.

Denis Brott.