The Notre-Dame cathedral will be the stage for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Paris – with a first-of- its-kind show put on by French electro musician Jean-Michel Jarre in the form of an avatar.
The virtual event, broadcast live around the world online and on local television and radio will replace the traditional fireworks, cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions and curfew.
As the year 2020 draws to a close, weighed down by the Covid-19 pandemic, the French award-winning electro pop musician Jean-Michel Jarre discussed the idea of ending the year on a positive note, with a virtual concert inside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
On Thursday evening from 11.25pm Paris time, the artist will perform for 50 minutes “virtually” from inside the church, with his own avatar, using 3D images taken before the fire of April 2019.
Nothing will actually be happening at the cathedral itself, which is still undergoing extensive construction work to restore the interior and spire which were badly damaged in the blaze.
“We wanted to celebrate the 31 December in an innovative way, despite the Covid restrictions in place,” Jarre told RFI, of the Notre-Dame show, which came about after a discussion with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
He adds that it is a unique way to pay homage to the cathedral which “had suffered a lot, like we all have.”
“We didn’t want to give in [to Covid]. This was a way to share French and European know-how and invite people to Paris. We want to send a message of hope to people all around the world and transform weakness into strength.”
There won't be the usual fireworks lighting up the sky at the foot of the Eiffel Tower nearby due to the curfew in place from 8pm to 6am. Instead, the 'iron lady' will be 'dressed' in a cloak of special lights.
The concert is therefore a way to dazzle spectators, unable to leave their sitting rooms to celebrate.
Jarre points out, that it is also a sign of economic hope in a year which has been catastrophic for the culture and entertainment industry.
The event was prepared by some 150 people working over the past three months, but the night itself will involve Jarre performing solo from a studio remotely in Paris.
When asked if how virtual reality has helped overcome difficulties during the Covid crisis, he is especially enthusiastic.
“It has a real social role,” he says, “virtual reality helps reduce social isolation. We mustn’t be scared of it, and instead encourage it. Of course it doesn’t replace the feeling of rubbing shoulders at a live concert. But these times are accelerating change and virtual reality will create new jobs and play an important role in the economy.”
Sponsored by the UN cultural body UNESCO, for which Jarre is a goodwill ambassador, the concert is called "Welcome to the other side", "Bienvenue Ailleurs" in French, and is based on a reorchestration of Jarre’s album Electronica.
He is particularly excited by the fact that doing a virtual concert means his avatar will be able to do things he couldn’t normally do in a concert venue.
“We have total freedom,” he says. “It’s like a dream, we can fly! There’s no limit to the imagination!”
“I guess I’m a kid at heart. I’m still looking for things that surprise me, I’m forever curious. This is not about beating a world record, it’s about renewing myself. I’m still doing the same thing, but with new tools.”
The concert will be broadcast on VRChat, Youtube, Facebook, Paris.fr and BFM TV in France from 22 GMT.