When pianist Anna Petrova sends her live performance of Chopin’s Nocturne or Schubert’s Serenade to a COVID-19 patient, there are times when all she can hear is the breathing.
When her music turns passionate, the rhythm of inhale-exhale grows faster. During a lyrical passage, she hears the breath deepen.
From her home, Petrova plays for these patients, who are alone in their rooms at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Her musical partner, Molly Carr, a cofounder of the nonprofit Project Music Heals Us, connected her with the hospital staff, and together they use FaceTime to transmit sonatas and serenades.
This music is “all we can give them,” she said. “It’s our way of holding their hands and saying, ‘Someone is next to you.’ ”
Petrova is sheltering in place in Kentucky; she just finished the semester at the University of Louisville, where she is a professor of piano.
Last Saturday, she was to have rejoined the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra for its season finale. The featured soloist, she was poised to perform Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.
The concert would have been a happy reunion. Petrova, a Bulgaria native, is a longtime friend and colleague of Port Angeles Symphony conductor Jonathan Pasternack. She came to Port Angeles for the first time in spring 2017.
With the full orchestra surrounding her, she performed Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, inspiring the capacity crowd to a standing ovation.
Then in March 2018, she returned to give a solo recital to benefit the Port Angeles Symphony.
Now in Washington state, in Kentucky and across the nation, concerts have been postponed and halls gone silent. Yet artists such as Petrova and Carr devote much of their days to practicing, “for the love of the music,” said Petrova, who is now sharing her home with Carr, a violist.
Carr and her husband are New Yorkers who fled the city more than a month ago. Since then, Petrova and Carr have been learning new music, expanding their repertoire and performing 30- to 45-minute concerts for COVID-19 patients.
The FaceTime app shows them little; sometimes all they can see are the patients’ eyes above a ventilator mask.
The women have traveled far together as Novel Voices, a duo that, beginning in 2018, toured internationally. They performed in refugee communities in Europe and Israel and have released an album, titled “Novel Voices,” on the Melos label.
Just before the coronavirus-induced shutdown in March, Petrova and Carr finished recording a CD, a collection of American composers including Amy Beach and George Gershwin to be released in 2021.
Also next year, Pasternack said he plans to invite Petrova back to Port Angeles to perform the Prokofiev concerto with the orchestra.
She is a versatile performer, Pasternack said, one who brings a poetic simplicity to classical music.
The conductor, along with the orchestra’s musicians and the symphony board of directors, is still weighing how to shape this fall’s concerts.
Both Petrova and Pasternack studied at the Manhattan School of Music. While Pasternack is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Petrova moved from Bulgaria to New York City when she was 18. That was 15 years ago.
A prizewinner of piano competitions in Spain, Bulgaria and Russia, Petrova has since earned her doctorate in music.
With the academic year over, Petrova’s teaching duties are nearly complete; she is about to issue grades for her students.
The University of Louisville always ends its spring semester just before the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. There’s no horse race this year and, for the first summer in decades, no in-person performances on Petrova’s calendar.
In addition to her volunteer concerts for hospital patients, she’ll upload some live-streamed concerts with the Manhattan Chamber Players, an ensemble of musicians playing from their living rooms.
“I really miss interacting with the audience,” Petrova said, adding she has no idea what the future is for live performance.
Yet she is certain of one thing.
“Regardless of what the world gives me,” she said, “music will find its way out, through me.”