COVID-19 shuts down Orchestras and Choruses (and concert artists).

Hola a todos. One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that most, if not all, major Symphony Orchestras and Choruses have shut down. They’re not able to rehearse because of “shelter-in-place” orders and social distancing guidelines, which means that for an unforeseen period of time Orchestras and Choruses will not be performing.

One of my favourite orchestras — hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt — will likely not be performing for some time even to an empty hall. They did record an outstanding performance to an empty hall before the shutdown, which you can watch below:

Brahms: Violinkonzert ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Sergey Khachatryan ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada:

But they can’t even assemble to perform via video without an audience. And any symphonic choral performances planned for these Orchestras will be cancelled, so the Chorus preparing that choral work or choral pieces have had their rehearsals cancelled.

Often Orchestra Choruses — in order to give the Chorus time to prepare repertoire — don’t perform with their Orchestra (or the Orchestra that guest Choruses are usually invited to perform with) until late Fall or Winter-early Spring and beyond, so in some cases some Choruses will have no performances with their Orchestra during the 2019-2020 season. And with those Choruses who only had 2-3 engagements scheduled with the Orchestra — because orchestral management takes the approach that “nobody wants to hear symphonic choral music anymore, except for The Big Three” — Orchestra Choruses have nothing to do for the season, unless they do their own thing and have their own concert subscription series and give performances on their own independently of the Orchestra.

I’m of the opinion that an Orchestra’s Chorus should appear with the Orchestra for all opening Gala performances. This shows that the Chorus is on par/equal to the Orchestra, rather than unfortunately seen as Second Class Musicians, when the Chorus shows up late(r) in the season.

I think the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sometimes (or always?) appear with the BSO for the Boston Symphony Orchestra Opening Gala in Boston’s Symphony Hall, but I’m not sure about that. If they don’t, they should.

The finest Orchestra Choruses consist of choristers who could easily sight-read through a (tonal) piece and make it sound (nearly) performance-ready. I know from experience. Oh you might have to go over some final consonants and where to put those and that sort of thing, or any particular interpretation preferences of the conductor. The National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center does not have its own Orchestra Chorus (by choice), but I remember that we (the Choral Arts Society of Washington) had an “early call” one season with the NSO. I forget what we performed but I remember Norman Scribner (the Chorus Director) when he announced during our rehearsal the repertoire for the upcoming season. Norman said, “We have an early call with the NSO…” It might have been Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten/The Seasons. That’s what comes to mind for that, and that was a fun piece to do. It has some wonderful choruses in it.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has already cancelled some of their performances for March 2020 including a performance with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), the Official Chorus of the BSO. I’ve been highly critical of the TFC in the past and rightfully so (even though I only criticise other musicians when I feel it’s absolutely necessary), but I heard a short clip of the TFC awhile back and they had improved as I thought they would under James Burton. They were singing with perfect intonation (for a change!). Perfect intonation — the perfect blending of voices in each SATB section — is one of the foundations of choral excellence and the choristers who shouldn’t have been there to begin with were gone. Good! As I wrote in this article, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus had the best symphonic choral season for 2020 that I saw anywhere in the US — was that because of James Burton’s influence on orchestral management? — so it’s a shame that they won’t be able to perform some of that repertoire this season. One piece having been cancelled was Stravinsky’s Perséphone which presumably the TFC were already preparing for, and now won’t get to perform, or at least this season. Performances have been cancelled in Boston’s Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood.

Leaving Boston and going down to the District of Columbia where I used to live: As I recall, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, The Washington Chorus (TWC) and the University of Maryland Concert Choir were scheduled to perform in 2020 with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. I think Choral Arts and TWC had one engagement each with the NSO and the University of Maryland Concert Choir had two engagements, if I’m remembering correctly. With what sparse symphonic choral works the NSO management programmed, some of those performances will be likely be cancelled if they were scheduled during this time of year which I think they were. The latter part of the NSO’s season.

All concert artists will have their performances cancelled. The performances of piano concerti around the world will be cancelled which has a major bearing on the piano concert artist scheduled to appear with orchestras and their income. Artist management companies will have no income either.

Some orchestras may cease to exist — I hope hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt is not one of them; that would be a major lose to el mundo/the world — because of a lack of dinero/money, which means those orchestral musicians are out of a job or at least that job. Someone might flippantly say, “Oh they’ll just find another one…another Orchestra to perform with.” No they won’t when all performances around the world are cancelled because of a prohibition on 10 or up to 100 people gathering.

I saw a headline about this over NHK from Nihon/Japan regarding this that said, “The Show Must Go Online.” The promotion for this showed a full Orchestra on stage seated, playing to an empty hall. The musicians were not social distancing. They were sharing desks. Maybe that promotion was recorded before Japan Prime Minister Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures in Nihon.

Even online, you’d have to show previous performances, because, again, there are restrictions on how many people/musicians can gather in any one place. And with distancing guidelines it would be difficult for musicians to keep a distance and still hear each other well. Nor is there the space on a stage for that, depending upon the size of the ensemble. With an Orchestra, that would also require twice as many desks rather than the standard practise of two musicians (the strings) sharing a desk. The string and percussion musicians could wear masks, but the winds and brass musicians couldn’t obviously. And how does one know who is or is not infected with COVID-19 within one’s musical ensemble, even without an audience present?

Or would some performances be delayed until next year or the following year? Maybe. Chau.—el barrio rosa