You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be…
The words of the international hit “You Raise Me Up” with its strong message of optimism has been recreated by former Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor Yoel Levi in a free video performance featuring musicians from some of the greatest symphony orchestras.
Levi, who has lived in Atlanta since 1988, debuted the YouTube recording Thursday, April 16, as a kind of international get well card for a deeply troubled world.
That hopeful message has apparently found a supportive audience on YouTube. In South Korea, where Levi has spent the last seven years as conductor of the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony Orchestra, the video was featured on three of the national television channels. In just the first 18 hours of posting, the video was viewed internationally over 10,000 times.
“I wanted just to give a small message of hope from all my friends, who are musicians around the world,” Levi said, “that we will overcome these difficult periods and like the song says, we will rise again.”
The 19 musicians from 10 different countries who participated were recorded in their homes in places that are all under some form of lockdown.
The performance included representative from orchestras that Levi has conducted over a long and illustrious career that stretches back to the 1970s.
For his soloist, he chose a 17-year-old Korean high school student who had performed in December when Levi conducted the KBS Symphony concert of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. The work is based on six psalms from the Hebrew Bible.
Levi pointed out that could have had his pick of a number of more famous older singers, but he chose the young singer as a strong presence of youthful energy and resilience.
“We must stay positive,” he emphasized. “We need to develop a strong inner voice, like the words of the song, that we’ve chosen.”
Levi also conceived the project, in part, as a kind of warning about the perils that serious musical performance faces.
“The reality is that we all need to adjust,” he said. “And the sooner we adjust, the better off we’ll be in the future. Of course, the entertainment industry will suffer the most because it’ll be the last one to come back to some kind of normality and that could be a long time from now. Time is not on our side.”
Levi, who conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary concert March 10, is fearful that many great orchestras will not survive a long shutdown. In places like Miami, San Antonio, Detroit and Albuquerque, symphony orchestras have closed their doors during the last few years. Even the National Symphony Orchestra in suburban Washington, D.C., announced last year that it was shutting down.
In Atlanta, the symphony orchestra has gone through contract disputes that resulted in lockouts in 2012 and 2014. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Georgia ranks 49th out of 50 states in public funding for the arts. This year, before the pandemic, the state government budgeted a little over $500,000 in arts funding, or about 6 cents per person in Georgia.
“I’m afraid we are in for a very long time without concerts, in concert halls, the way we used to know it,” Levi said. “And I think we need to find a different way to perform and how to attract the public; how we can financially overcome this difficult transitional period.”
At the end of the song “You Raise Me Up,” Levi has each of his musicians express a short personal message in their native language, which, as sincere as it is, is unintelligible unless you speak Dutch, Hebrew, French, Spanish or one of the many languages the performers speak.
Only the music carries a message that everyone understands. For Levi and the musicians who donated their time and talents, this project is a reminder that it is music that helps to keep hope alive in a world where understanding is often so difficult.
“Music is the most universal language,” Levi pointed out. “It unifies people regardless of their culture and their beliefs in difficult times. We must not let the music die.”