The month of December usually brings highly popular holiday programming from performing arts organizations across the country. From the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s long-standing Holiday Pops Series to Holiday Brass performances at the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, these performances often attract audiences young and old to concert halls across the country. With the traditional model of holiday performances not feasible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra have reimagined their holiday programming for the virtual performance space.
On Friday, December 18th, the New York Philharmonic released a virtual version of their annual Holiday Brass program, with this year’s virtual iteration marking the 25th anniversary of the program. The 38-minute program, featuring the brass section of the Philharmonic under the direction of former principal trumpet, Philip Smith, was recorded in an outdoor amphitheater on the campus of Montclair State University. The performance was posted on both Facebook and YouTube, with free viewing for the public. Since going live on Friday, the performance has been shared over 1200 times and been viewed more than the 140,000 times—the equivalent of over 51 sell-out performances at David Geffen Hall. In tandem with the release, members of the NY Philharmonic Brass Quintet also performed live on the TODAY show, the first live performance on the show since March 2020. In total the project included 19 performing artists and over 20 support and production staff.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s traditional Holiday Pops Season features over 40 live-performances in the orchestra’s famed Symphony Hall. For the 2020 season, the orchestra created the entirely virtual Boston Pops 2020 Holiday Celebration. The program is available for $30 through the organizations new BSO NOW virtual platform. The purchase grants viewers access to the program from December 10 – January 9 at a fraction of the price of what a typical family trip to the Symphony might cost. The program includes interactive and immersive elements including social media challenges, an interactive program with games, the option to purchase gift packages to accompany streaming the event, and at-home guidance for creating a virtual Holiday Pops experience. The move to the virtual setting also opened up new content and production possibilities, with a portion of the program being recorded in the historic Fenway Park.
The initiatives at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic represent drastic shifts in traditional performance models and financial structures for these organizations. The free or reduced pricing, while most-likely putting significant stress on each organizations’ bottom lines, increases access to content for community members. The digital productions, while still featuring in-person collaborative music making, enable the organizations to reach broader audiences. The impact of these new programming initiatives can be seen both externally and internally. While the complexities and limited short-term financial return of producing virtual content might place significant pressure on the organizations, the potential to develop new audiences while at the same time employing hundreds of artists and staff is significant. As the arts eagerly await the return to live-performances, the current slate of virtual holiday programs provides a point of reflection for how our arts ecosystem might change once the concert hall doors reopen.
Watch the New York Philharmonic’s Holiday Brass program: https://youtu.be/CLrjmONruSQ
Learn about the Boston Pops 2020 Holiday Celebration: https://www.bso.org/brands/pops/features/2020-holiday-pops.aspx