For nearly half a century, Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Rolex has supported the development of exceptional artists around the world. As part of its long-standing commitment to music, it launched an initiative in August to help struggling musicians and singers whose careers have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by presenting three Rolex Perpetual Music concerts.

Around 100 artists were involved in the concerts, each of which was hosted by a Rolex Testimonee (the name given to its ambassadors). The concerts will be available to stream for free on the platform until the end of October.

The first Perpetual Music concert took place at Teatro Rossini in Pesaro, Italy on August 21 with Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, a Rolex Testimonee since 2015, leading the event. The program featured excerpts from Rossini operas, with the singers accompanied by the Rossini Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Franklin.

Juan Diego Flórez and Cecilia Molinari at the Rolex Perpetual Music concert in Pesaro. Photograph © Rolex/Reto Albertalli

The second concert took place at the Berlin Staatsoper on September 1 with  Bulgarian-Swiss soprano Sonya Yoncheva, a Rolex Testimonee since 2011. The program ranged from all-time favourites to lesser-known gems with music by Schubert, Gounod, Wagner, Poulenc, Mozart, Handel and Bartók among others.

The final concert takes place tonight, September 3, at the Opéra National de Paris, Palais Garnier, and features Mexican lyric tenor Rolando Villazón, a Rolex Testimonee since 2005, as well as French violinist Renaud Capuçon, who worked with Rolex to help organise the initiative.

“It has been a pleasure to imagine, together with Rolex, this action for the artists. In such circumstances, it is essential to help the musicians to feel supported and be next to them. Together with my three eminent colleagues (Sonya Yoncheva, Juan Diego Flórez and Rolando Villazón) we will be playing with them and promoting their talents. I feel honoured to be part of this exceptional adventure,” Capuçon tells Limelight.

Announcing the Perpetual Music concerts, Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex Director of Communication & Image said: “During these difficult times, when musicians have suffered both the loss of audience and income, our aim is to provide them the opportunity to perform with renowned artists at prestigious venues with the finest acoustics. By broadcasting the concerts via, a Rolex partner for over a decade, we are able to give worldwide visibility to the artists supported by the initiative. Significantly, this gift of time and exposure is in keeping with the company’s pursuit of excellence and its long-term commitment to foster the work of those who aim to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Last but not least, within the context of these unprecedented circumstances, this project is also a way for us to help keep music as an essential element in our daily lives.”

Boetsch said that the company’s endorsement of the concerts is “a prime example of the brand’s broad support for music across the globe. Currently, Rolex is also helping to fund artists at the Metropolitan Opera in New York whose work is affected by the virus,” he said.

Rolando Villazón performing at the Salzburg Festival in 2013. Photograph ©Rolex/ Monika Ritterhaus

Speaking to Limelight, Villazón – who is a director, novelist, television and radio personality, and Artistic Director of the Mozartwoche Salzburg as well as an acclaimed tenor – explains how he has coped with COVID-19 and why he thinks the Rolex concerts are so valuable.

“In Paris, the lock-down was extremely strict. I did not leave the house for 60 days. Literally. We had a clear routine with the family, with set meal-times and working hours. We clearly distributed tasks and responsibilities, which did not always work as planned, but it helped to give a structure,” he says when asked how the coronavirus has affected him personally.

“Between mid-March and the end of June, all concerts and performances were cancelled: Beethoven IX Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a European tour of Monteverdi’s Orfeo with Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata, performances of Eugene Onegin in Dresden, concerts in Luxemburg and Paris… of course, it was very sad to miss out on all these wonderful projects. I was fortunate in many ways though: I got to spend time with my family, we were all healthy, I was able to work on new repertoire and the Mozartwoche, and I did get to celebrate the release of my third novel just as the lockdown ended in late June.”

His new novel, Amadeus auf dem Fahrrad (Amadeux on a Bicycle), published by Rowoholt, follows Vian Maurer, a young Mexican adolescent living in Salzburg who dreams of becoming an opera singer. It has been described as a love letter to Mozart.

Villazón was also able to record his latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, just before and after the lockdown. “It’s a beautiful project with [harpist] Xavier de Maistre called Serenata Latina,” he says.

Villazón is hugely concerned at the toll COVID-19 has taken on artists and the arts. “Clearly, the support of arts and culture has not been high on the list of anyone’s priorities which is extremely disappointing and dangerous, for two reasons: firstly, because so many artists and people working in the arts are having an incredibly difficult time coping. And secondly, because I consider arts and culture essential for the well-being of our human society. We cannot afford to lose our vibrant and diverse artistic life. If we can bail-out airlines, we must support the arts,” he says.

Villazón has been involved with Rolex for nearly 15 years, and says that they have developed “a wonderful relationship of mutual trust. When they approached me with the idea for the Perpetual Concert, it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to specifically support musicians from the baroque scene. Most of them are freelancers and receive little to no government support in this unprecedented crisis. They literally live from fee to fee, and the fees are not always huge at all. So, together with Christina Pluhar (who will be conducting), L’Arpegiatta and my colleagues, we devised a beautiful program with a focus on baroque. It is gorgeous.”

Villazón says that he will introduce the program but that “the focus is on the performers and the music. I will perform in excerpts from Monteverdi’s Orfeo as well as some other pieces by Monteverdi and a very special Latin American song. All this music is very close to my heart.”

Asked how important he thinks the concert will be for the musicians involved, he says: “I hope it will have a big impact: both directly, through the immediate financial assistance the musicians receive and because of the platform they are offered. It is not clear yet when and how we will get back to a normal ‘performing life’, it might take months, depending on where we are in the world. So I hope that the musicians will enjoy the performance itself, too.”

Villazón says he is proud to be a Rolex Testimonee. “Rolex stands for the highest possible quality, for elegance and superior performance. And, they are one of the strongest, most fervent supporters of the performing arts. I could not be more proud to have been associated with them for 15 years now. They are absolutely wonderful.”

The Rolex Perpetual Music concerts can be viewed for free at until the end of October: Italian concert with Juan Diego Flórez, German concert with Sonya Yoncheva, French concert with Rolando Villazón and Renaud Capuçon