New Season, Same Challenges, Different Solutions
August 31, 2020 In: Sound Bits
September is typically the month when symphony orchestras across the country embark on a new season of performances. The ongoing threat and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to limit how orchestras can engage their audiences. Announcements by symphony orchestras in the the last week have highlighted the wide spectrum of ways that arts organizations are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19, from innovative performance models to the cancellation of seasons. New Season, Same Challenges, Different Solutions.
This past week, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra announced the postponement of its 2020-21 season, with the cancelation of all concerts scheduled in 2020. The cancellation means that the orchestra’s musicians and majority of administrative staff will be furloughed through January 2021. The cancellation and furloughs came just one-week prior to the first scheduled concert of the 2020-21 season and have led musicians to file a grievance against the KSO. The move by the Knoxville symphony orchestra follows similar decisions by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and others. While some orchestras have temporarily shuddered their doors, there is hope. On August 28th, the Baltimore Symphony announced a long-term contract with its musicians, guaranteeing performances through 2025.
A number of orchestras have announced unique performance initiatives in the past couple of weeks. The New York Philharmonic recently announced a “pull-up” concert series aimed at bringing live chamber music performance into he community. Supported by a modified pick-up truck featuring an amplification system, the “Band Wagon,” the concerts marked the first live performances for the orchestra since March 2020. Similarly, earlier this summer the Dallas Symphony Orchestra offered free ‘special delivery concerts’ to those in need of music. Along the same lines, the Detroit Symphony also recently announced a free, socially-distanced summer concert series in parks throughout the city.
The wide range of responses by symphony orchestras to the COVID-19 pandemic—temporary closures vs. long-term contract announcements—might actually serve to highlight how tenuous and challenging the situation is. On both ends of the spectrum however, one of the commonalities is community and the human element of a symphony orchestra. New programming initiatives by the New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and others, are all aimed at supporting the communities within which the orchestras perform. Similarly the suspension of seasons highlights the essential role these organizations play in supporting communities of artists. When traditional performance and financial models are no longer relevant, how can arts organizations continue to enrich the local community while supporting the community of staff and artists that they employ?