V.com weekend vote: How will COVID-19 affect the future of large-scale orchestral performances?

October 17, 2020, 9:02 PM · The Violinist.com discussion board came alive last week when the following question was posed: Do you think COVID will wipe out large-scale orchestral performances? Responses reflected the true geographic diversity of the community. Dimitri Musafia let us know what’s happening in Cremona, a place that was once the epicenter of the outbreak. Jean Dubuisson gave a glimpse at concerts in Belgium. Paul Deck weighed in on the U.S. regional orchestral situation, while Karen Allendoerfer and others talked about the community orchestra scene. And while many commenters disagreed about the outcome, all were hopeful that orchestras can return to their former large-scale glory.

big orchestra

Earlier this week, I wrote about some interim performance trends we’re seeing here in California, as well as in other parts of the U.S. Clearly, these are designed to be transitional stop-gap measures, not meant beyond this season. But as the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony officially cancelled their entire 20/21 seasons this week, on the heels of many other orchestras who have already done so, I can’t help but wonder about the future of our orchestras. And I want to hear from you.

Please choose the answer that best fits your thinking right now, and then share your thoughts in the comments.

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October 18, 2020 at 01:07 PM · As I noted on the discussion board, musical performance has survived epidemics, pandemics, plagues, wars, natural disasters,... performance will survive.

Of course how they survive will depend on the ability to adapt to the post-covid-19 normal.

A Local chamber series (Lyrica) is moving with YouTube based performances and the subscribers are still paying for the service. Other orchestras and groups are looking at alternate venues (generally outdoor) - we humans will not live without music and the creative performers are already moving forward.

Of course, a lot hinges on the successful development and distribution of a vaccine with the likelihood of annual immunizations as SARS-CoV2 evolves over time.

The music will also evolve. Being an introvert I actually like both seeing and hearing a "live" performance via the electronic system I have in my home. Very nice in the time of Covid-19 and also in the future when the weather is iffy-to-rotten, when the performance is far-far-away, the idea of paying to see it in my home on the large screen TV and listen through my rather nice sound system means that I might be paying for more concerts from more orchestras and chamber ensembles than I used to. Also, the musicians will have the opportunity to play more and travel less.

Of course, community orchestras that don't have those kind of resources are going to suffer and I'm sad about that because those musicians are my-kind-of-people - the ones who play simply for the love of playing. Hopefully vaccinations will come soon enough for the community orchestras to revive.

October 18, 2020 at 04:27 PM · I voted that I believe large orchestras will survive, but regional and community orchestras will most likely, and very unfortunately, struggle. I agree with George that there is a definite positive that streaming technology has offered us. I've seen live performances/master classes by the Miro Quartet, Gil Shaham, Stefan Jackiw, and more. I would never have had those opportunities pre-COVID. I also produced a socially-distanced concert, and while we couldn't seat an audience of any great magnitude, it was very touching that the family members of our players in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Bulgaria were able to see their sons perform live via the stream.

October 19, 2020 at 01:49 AM · In the discussion thread I said that I thought our regional orchestra, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, would bounce back. Part of that comes from knowing their music director (David Wiley) fairly well. He has so much energy and creativity that there is no way he lets RSO go under.

I don't really know RSO finances, but I believe its musicians are almost entirely fee-for-service except for maybe the concertmaster and a couple of other key principals. Right now, the fee-for-service model is good news for the orchestra because their payroll is minimal (but of course, not zero because there is the music director, the development staff, etc.). Of course it's bad news for the musicians, but I think all of them have some other kind of gig, mostly teaching would be my guess. Even the CM has a regular teaching gig, at Shenandoah.

I personally think people are very eager to get back to seeing their local orchestras live. Well, anyway, I hope so.

October 19, 2020 at 02:09 AM · It was hard to choose between well-run orchestras will return to large-scale orchestral concerts, but some orchestras will not recover and large-scale orchestral concerts will return to pre-COVID levels after a few years as I am hoping that both are true. I know that well-run orchestras will return but it will take a few years (hence the fist voting choice combined with the second voting choice) . But large scale has little to do with whether or not they'll recover. It's how they're able to manage their finances and it's about the agreements made between management and the orchestra members.

Once it's safe, audiences will want to return to their seats in the concert halls to hear what they love to hear. So things will return to "normal". The only question is when that will be and which orchestras will survive.

October 19, 2020 at 09:32 AM · I'm more optimistic than George. I think community orchestras are likely to recover, because most have very low fixed expenses. Most of their expenses are not being incurred while they are not performing, so they can cut their budgets to almost nothing for the duration. The ones that have some fixed expenses are also the ones that have the resources to switch to outdoor and online performing options, and can still reduce their budgets to a fraction of their usual expenses.

Regional orchestras are more in danger, especially if they were not well run prior to the pandemic, but the better-run ones should survive.

October 19, 2020 at 12:47 PM · The future of large scale orchestra concerts is almost entirely dependent on funding. In the short term, the funding from ticket sales has been impacted by covid. Long term ticket sales may also be negatively effected by covid, as the pandemic has resulted in many people losing jobs and money. The percentage of the population that support concerts may be smaller. Covid may also effect long term donations, as philanthropists may donate to other causes. Other sources of funding for musicians have also been hit, such as the motion picture industry (although they have been moving away from orchestral music for quite some time.)

Online performances are of course possible, but performers must compete with other such performances and the prevailing fees for such performances which are quite low. Advertising rates, and rebroadcast fees are very very low, and cannot be set by the performer.

All in all, I see the future heavily dependent on funding from donors with deep pockets.

October 20, 2020 at 01:54 PM · Everything about this virus is unpredictable, and I don’t have a crystal ball to foretell the future of orchestras. But there are a few facts that are, unfortunately, true: just about everything we do (singing, blowing through tubes, getting as close as possible to each other, gathering in groups in confined spaces) is now considered dangerous, risky behavior. Most experts say that the last thing to come back will be mass gatherings and live concerts. I agree with the other comments that funding will be a big issue going forward. I suspect that smaller chamber groups will have a better time of it than large-budget orchestras. But who knows?? So many wonderful things have happened online since all this started, and my faith in human ingenuity and the need to create and experience art Is undiminished.

October 23, 2020 at 08:20 PM · The strong will survive but who knows, if we can lick Covid then maybe there will be a bounce-back of interest leading to the formation of new orchestras.

And I'm flattered that you based this weeks poll on my topic :)

October 24, 2020 at 09:04 PM · I am certainly hoping that all orchestras will be able to return post-pandemic. But as the pandemic progresses month after month, this becomes increasingly challenging. So much rests on the way our country responds to the pandemic over the next few months. I cannot imagine a world without concerts! So I am trying to be optimistic that we will do better in the upcoming months to decrease the spread of the virus than we have in the preceding months.

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