Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/9/2020 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Welcome to a brave new arts season being played out in the key of wild unpredictability this year.
It’s been nearly six months since Music Matters last appeared in these pages and I sincerely hope everyone is keeping well and safe. No doubt like me you’ve been partaking of a steady diet of digital concerts, up-close-and-personal artist interviews and the "at home" presentations that have risen like phoenixes out of the COVID-19 ashes since spring’s lockdown.
Despite all the uncertainties, the mind-numbing lists of cancelled live concerts, festivals and musical events — not to mention a virtual hijacking of "Beethoven250" this year — this use of technology to keep listeners engaged, and musicians doing what they love best has proven to be one of the silver linings during these transformative times.
But it also speaks to the mettle and fortitude of artists and all those who support them, including unwavering artistic and executive directors, administrators and most of all, music lovers and listeners who have remained steadfast. You all deserve a rousing standing ovation for your resilience and courage.
In what many now affectionately refer to as the "before times," we would be looking forward to the start of a shiny new arts season, and I’d be sharing highlights of what our wonderful arts groups have up their collective sleeve.
However, it’s anything but business as usual right now, and as the pandemic continues to ravage the world, organizations have been cobbling together newly reimagined seasons, no longer having the luxury of five-year plans but looking only mere months ahead. This is just one of the seismic paradigm shifts shaking up the arts world right now, and if there’s any solace in our "new normal," it’s that we’re in excellent company right around the globe.
Another tectonic shift will be how, where and even when we will listen to music, when attending live performances have become fraught with potential danger. Groups are wisely forgoing the time-honoured tradition of intermissions altogether, while offering streamlined concerts of shorter duration.
All health and safety protocols will naturally be rigorously adopted and adhered to, including mandated masks for many groups, electronic ticketing, ubiquitous hand-sanitizer stations and physical distancing measures, as well as in some cases, timed entries to prevent congestion in buzzing lobbies.
Still others will be playing it safe(r) by offering pre-recorded concerts, which will be uploaded to their respective websites for later listening, in addition to featuring livestreaming of individual shows with admission for these digital events either free, electronically ticketed, or by donation.
A third option for other groups has been simply pushing the "pause" button, postponing shows and events until next spring, or even into the 2021/22 season – or taking a "wait and see" stance about concerts already scheduled.
This column will be affected as well, in terms of a show that might be previewed and then suddenly pulled at the last minute; if there’s anything we’ve learned during this time, it’s to expect the unexpected. Choral groups have been particularly stricken due to potentially virus-carrying "droplets" produced during singing, and more information about these hapless canaries in our COVID-19 coalmines will be shared here at a later date.
These are all facts, figures and organizational strategies going forward — whether it’s Plan B, C or beyond, which are all necessary, well and good.
However, there’s another side to all this, which I know will resonate with many of you.
How many times during these past six months, following the initial shock and awe of those earliest lockdown days, including the steady drip — no, make that a tsunami — of jolting concert cancellations and unprecedented shutdowns, I’ve wistfully recalled the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s pair of "Back to Back Beethoven" concerts (personally, my last live performances) held March 6 and 7, marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. World-renowned Russian pianist Alexei Volodin performed all five Beethoven piano concertos that weekend, a staggering feat led by his lifelong friend, WSO maestro Daniel Raiskin. It rightfully earned the five stars awarded in my Free Press review the next day.
For those two magical nights, a combined total of 2,659 listeners were together as one, happily rubbing shoulders sans masks, with the roar of the crowd matched by palpable electricity in the air, and genuine standing ovations that seemed to last forever.
Who knew those memories would provide sustenance for the coming months and possibly much longer, as our formerly safe, more comfortable world flipped upside down?
However, the beauty of artists is their chameleonic ability to transcend adversity, and transform hard times into often brilliant new creations; just look what our birthday boy, Beethoven, accomplished during his lifetime. While concerts might look a little different right now, we’ll hold fast to the idea that we can still enjoy the power of live music in new ways, now even more critical as a balm for our pandemic-weary hearts, minds and souls.
So as we take a deep breath behind our life-saving masks and step gingerly, but with cautious optimism — separated by two metres — into the new season, let’s continue to support our musical warriors by attending concerts, either live or online, or with generous financial donations that’s the lifeblood of these groups.
I know we’ll get there again, as artists and those who love, appreciate, and support them have never let us down.
Until then, stay well, be safe and see you at the concert hall.