Lessons from virtual conferences

League of American Orchestras, OPERA America go online

By Peter Alexander June 24 at 3 p.m.

I recently “attended” two national conferences of classical music service organizations, the League of American Orchestras (LAO) and Opera America (OA). They were both informative about their fields in these difficult times, but also about the very nature of the conferences themselves. 

Here are a few of the things I learned.

First, we have the technology we need now to be holding meetings online rather than requiring everyone to get together in person. In the 1990s I held a minor post with a scholarly society and from my post of no significance I tried to nudge the powers that were toward making their conferences available online. 

It was (and is) expensive for students to travel across the country to make the contacts necessary to advance their careers. And I foresaw a future when air travel would become more expensive and more damaging to the environment, or when some largely unexpected event would render travel impractical. I thought then, and still do, that everyone would benefit from greater accessibility of the national meetings.

You will not be surprised that I had no influence at all.

But now, both the LAO and OA handled the details of online presentations and panel discussions smoothly. The only glitches came from individual users with compromised internet connections or unfamiliarity with Zoom. There is simply no reason going forward not to make most sessions of future conferences available online.

I understand the value of professional peers getting together for networking and sharing of ideas outside of formal sessions, and the building of relationships through social events. But both organizations reported the highest attendance in their history, with the LAO attendance growing from 2,000 in the first week to 3,700 for the closing session. This shows that there are many members and interested supporters who are unable to attend the national meeting, for financial reasons or conflicting obligations, who would benefit from being able to “attend” the sessions online. Now that LAO and OA have gotten their feet wet with the technology, there is no reason a national meeting cannot be offered in both formats—and in fact, as I understand it, OA has already been doing so. 

Professional and scholarly associations, are you paying attention?

Another lesson from both groups is that while they are attempting to be prepared for the fall, and an eventual re-opening of performances, nobody knows when or how that can be. Plans B, C and D are common, showing the multitude of unfamiliar challenges performers face.

Deborah Borda. Photo by NY Phil.

Deborah Borda, CEO of the New York Philharmonic, estimated that to put an audience in 2,700-seat David Geffen Hall with social distancing, they could admit 387 people. Obviously, no orchestra could pay the bills with such reduced ticket sales. And that doesn’t even get to the issue of how people get in and out of the hall or use the restrooms.

Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, sounded a similar note, observing that no more than 30 people could be onstage at one time, and most halls have very limited space backstage. There are suggestions of having “bubbles” of musicians, he said, groups that would be tested and associate together but stay removed from other “bubbles.” That’s a creative approach, but it will not solve the problem of 20% capacity in the hall—a number greater than what Borda estimated for Geffen Hall.

The LAO meetings featured discussion about the lack of scientific research into the diffusion of droplets, and therefore of the virus, by wind instruments. Mark Spede, director of bands at Clemson University and president of the College Band Directors National Association, described research sponsored by the CBDNA that is being conducted by CU prof. Shelley Miller. Results of her work will be helpful by the fall, when performing organizations face decisions on resuming rehearsals and performances.

A separate session addressed issues of musician-generated content—either individual performances, or the compilation performances that we all have seen with multiple musicians, each playing from their own space. The challenge of generating professional-level content is extreme. Someone who engineered one performance compared it to being dragged by a train and stuck by lightening at the same time, and another person—a composer—begged “Don’t do it, please! Your life will be much happier.”

Opera America panel discussion on diversity and inclusion (screen shot)

Both LAO and OA offered valuable sessions on the subjects of diversity and inclusion. The LAO session “Out of the Box,” featured minority musicians from around the country. One salient point from this discussion was who gets to define success. To a large extent, it is musicians’ training that determines what “success” will look like, and it is very difficult for individuals to redefine it for themselves. Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that reclaiming control of one’s own narrative is crucial for minority and other musicians working outside the orchestral mainstream.

The most impressive presentation was by Nina Simon of the non-profit organization OF/BY/FOR ALL. Her message is that it is not enough to provide arts FOR under-represented segments of the community; they must be BY and OF that community.

Nina Simon

Simon spoke to both LAO and OA; I saw the OA presentation, which was well crafted, professional, and very powerful. One of her most important messages was that for change to happen, power must be shared. This will make some supporters uncomfortable, she said, but in the end, “comfort is a byproduct of privilege.”

Aaron Flagg

It is no secret that minorities are under-represented in the performing arts. Aaron Flagg, a jazz studies faculty member at Juilliard, speaking on a panel on “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” pointed to one of the most crucial issues when he said that tokenism is not enough. In hiring or recruiting musicians of color, he said, you must “show your respect for their artistry, not just your need for their color.”

# # # # #

You may access some of the League of America Orchestras sessions at their Youtube Channel.

You may also access the OPERA America sessions at their YouTube channel.

NOTE: The session at which Aaron Flag spoke was corrected at 6 p.m. 6/24. It was “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” not “Outside the Box,” as originally stated. Other minor editing errors were corrected at the same time.

CU Eklund Opera production of “Marriage of Figaro” now available online

Spring performances were canceled due to Coronavirus

By Peter Alexander June 23 at 9 p.m.

The University of Colorado College of Music/Eklund Opera student production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was in the final week of dress rehearsals in March.

PR still for the Eklund Opera production of Le Nozze di Figaro (Photo by Glenn Asakawa—University of Colorado)

The production, under the musical direction of conductor Nick Carthy and stage directed by Eklund Opera director Leigh Holman, promised to be an outstanding realization of one of the greatest—or the greatest—operas in the repertoire. (Read my original preview story in Boulder Weekly.)

But at one of the very last dress rehearsals, Holman had to tell the cast that all performances on the CU campus had been canceled. They ran through the opera one last time, they cried, they hugged one another, and then they went home.

Now that final dress rehearsal has been made available through CU Presents. You can access the stream of the full dress rehearsal here. The stream is described as a “pay what you can performance,” in which viewers are asked to make whatever contribution they can afford after watching the stream.

The performance lasts 150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes), and has English titles throughout. The CU Presents Webpage does not say how long the stream will be available.

Eklund Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro,” production shot.

CMF announces six virtual summer concerts, June 25–July 30

Compilation orchestra performances and composers from marginalized communities

By Peter Alexander June 19 at 2 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced a series of six virtual, online concerts, featuring the Takács Quartet and other guest artists, members of the CMF orchestra, and music director Peter Oundjian.

The performances will be presented free of charge, on demand through the CMF Website.  The performances will be made available at 7:30 p.m. on six consecutive Thursday evenings, June 25 through July 30. Each performance will be available for some time after the time they are first posted.

CMF’s usual summer home, the Chautauqua Auditorium

A letter from CMF music director Peter Oundjian places the virtual festival in the current times, and particularly issues of racial justice in the United States. “It is no secret to any of us that the story of this country is riddled with the murder and mistreatment of non-white races,” Oundjian writes. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this festival an instrumental platform for musicians who come from marginalized communities.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

“This summer’s festival will include only a fraction of what our programming will look like next summer, and the summers that follow. We will be featuring the music of a number of composers, both living and deceased, who come from different marginalized communities all across the country and the world.

“This is just the beginning.”

For the abbreviated 2020 virtual festival, the inclusion of minority and marginalized musicians includes works by, among others, Florence Price, Agustin Barrios Mangoré, Keith Jarrett, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and George Walker. The festival will conclude with performances by the current quartet-in-residence at CU Boulder, the Ivalas Quartet, a multi-cultural group with members from Hispanic and Black communities.

Takács Quartet

The six performances and their full programs will be:

June 25: Festival Orchestra and the Takács Quartet, featuring the debut of the quartet’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. The program will feature a previous Festival Orchestra performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide; and the Takács Quartet on the Chautauqua stage playing Schobert’s Quartettsatz and movements from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2; Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3.

Sharon Isbin. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

July 2: A celebration of women in music. Guitarist Sharon Isbin will play works by Enrique Granados, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brouwer, Nanomi Shemer and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Percussionist Jisu Jung will play works by Howard Stevens and Keith Jarrett. Framing their performances, CMF musicians will play virtual compilation performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and two marches by John Philip Sousa. 

July 9: Violinist Augustin Hadelich will join Oundjian in his home to perform music by J.S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe and Francisco Tarrega.

July 16: Pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform cadenzas from the Beethoven piano concertos nos. 1 through 4,  and join Oundjian in a discussion of those pieces.

July 23: Brooklyn Rider string quartet will share a performance from their “Healing Modes” repertoire, which features works by Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank and Kinan Azmeh. The program will open with a virtual compilation of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, performed by members of the CMF Orchestra brass section.

Ivalas Quartet

July 30: CU’s Ivalas Quartet will perform movements from quartets by Joseph Haydn and Jessie Montgomery, and the piano duo of twin sisters Michelle and Christina Naughton will perform music by Ravel, Debussy, George Walker, Rachmaninoff, and Conlon Nancarrow. CMF orchestra members will open the program with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and close the virtual festival with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Except for the Overture from Candide, all the performances by CMF orchestra musicians will be virtual compilation performances, assembled from separate videos submitted by the players. These individual video will be compiled by the festival’s recording and sound engineer Michael Quam and CMF staff.

Other performances will be recorded in advance for broadcast at the stated program times.

You may register for the virtual festival performances here

More music to fill the hours of isolation

The composer is familiar, the music is not

By Peter Alexander June 16 at 7:40 p.m.

Now is a great time to explore music you don’t know.

The last time I wrote on this topic, I suggested several unfamiliar composers whose music had been recorded by Boulder musicians. This time, the composer is very familiar—Leonard Bernstein—but the music is not—recordings of his solo piano and chamber music, including pieces written when he was an undergraduate student at Harvard. Contained in two albums and three discs, they all have been recorded by Andrew Cooperstock, professor of piano at CU, either alone or as part of the Opus Two duo with violinist William Terwilliger.

Leonard Bernstein: Violin Sonata • Piano Trio • New Transcriptions. Opus Two violin-piano duo ( William Terwilliger, violin and Andrew Cooperstock, piano) with Charles Bernard, cello, and Marin Mazzie, soprano. Naxos American Classics 8.559643

The chamber music disc features three large-scale works, all early: the Trio for violin, cello and piano of 1937; the Sonata for violin and piano of 1939; and the Sonata for Clarinet and piano of 1941–42, Bernstein’s first published piece, arranged for violin and piano by Terwilliger. The Trio and Violin Sonata were both written when Bernstein was a Harvard undergraduate. Both are student works, of historical interest but limited accomplishment.

The Clarinet Sonata is another matter. Written after Bernstein had left Harvard and begun studies at the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood summer institute, it was written for clarinetist David Oppenheim who was later director of Columbia Records’ Masterworks Division. This is an accomplished piece, marked by Bernstein’s ability to write attractive melodies without descending into triviality or cliché, and jazzy touches that anticipate Bernstein’s later style.

“I love that Sonata,” Cooperstock says. “I’ve played it a lot with clarinet, and we were looking for another piece to fill out the CD, and I thought this would be perfect. [The arrangement] was my idea, and I like it just as well on the violin as the clarinet.”

All three works are played with polish and expression. In the Clarinet Sonata particularly, Terwilliger displays a sweetness of tone that almost (disclosure here) allows clarinetists like myself to enjoy a borrowing from our limited repertoire. Violinists don’t have enough great music to play?

The arrangements mentioned in the disc title are from some of Bernstein’s musical theater works, as adapted by Eric Stern. In “Two House Songs,” Broadway veteran Marin Mazzie joins Cooperstock and Terwilliger. She brings a simple sincerity and clean diction to her gently affecting performances of songs from Peter Pan and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Four pieces from Candide have been arranged for violin and piano alone. This must be a great set for the performers, and all are fun to hear. In “I am Easily Assimilated,” one of the great show stoppers of Bernstein’s Broadway career, Cooperstock and Terwilliger enjoy themselves with the song’s raunchy sensuality, and they capture well the ironic tenderness of “You were Dead, you Know.”

The other two songs fare less well in the arrangement. “Glitter and be Gay,” another great showpiece, sounds too easy for violin for us to be dazzled as we are  by a coloratura soprano, and “Make Our Garden Grow” can’t build the way that the vocal version, taken up by one singer after another, is able to do.

Leonard Bernstein: Complete Solo Works for piano. Andrew Cooperstock, piano. Leonard Bernstein at 100, Bridge 9485A/B

The two-disc set of Bernstein’s piano music includes works both long and short, major concert works and occasional pieces. One disc is given over entirely to the latter, 29 “anniversaries” that Bernstein wrote for friends and family. These are extremely brief, ranging in length from 27 seconds (pianist William Kapell) to two minutes, 24 seconds (Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife).

The first of the two discs is devoted to the anniversaries, which Cooperstock compares to Romantic character pieces of the 19th century. “The anniversaries are my favorite pieces out of everything [Bernstein] wrote for piano solo,” he says. “They’re imaginative, they’re idiomatic, they’re well written.

“I like to compare them to Chopin Preludes.”

Each piece contains at least the germ of an individual idea and character, which Cooperstock’s performances capture well. I wish that some of them had developed the musical ideas further, since in their brevity some seem tossed off.

“Maybe there’s something to be said for less is more,” Cooperstock says. “I like that he’s composing them for friends and family, and that they have this extra meaning. They span most of his compositional output, so you see earlier pieces and later pieces.”

Some of the subjects are well known—composers, including Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss ad Stephen Sondheim—but others are not familiar to most of us—Elizabeth B. Ehrman, Craig Urquhart, and Helen Coates, Bernstein’s first piano teacher. The music has more depth and impact if you know something about the subject and their relationship with the composer—Cooperstock’s “extra meaning”—but they are all fun to hear in these eloquent performances.

The second disc is an eclectic collection of pieces. It includes another large piece from Bernstein’s college years, his Sonata for Piano, composed in 1938. The Sonata is taken seriously, befitting an undergraduate work, and is filled with both hints of the composer to come, and academic touches, including a fugue, to make the result as weighty as possible. There are also arid patches, where the young composer seems to run out of ideas.

Andrew Cooperstock

“If he weren’t Leonard Bernstein, I’m not sure we would play that piece very much,” Cooperstock confesses. “What’s interesting for me is that you can get a foreshadowing of what’s going to happen next. You can hear a little bit of West Side Story to come. And he’s experimenting with different sounds. It’s interesting putting context, knowing that it was hist first major piece for piano.”

The greatest point of interest on the second disc may be the “Bridal Suite” for piano, four hands, written for the wedding of two of Bernstein’s friends, Broadway lyricist/song writer Adolph Green and actress Phyllis Newman. “I love the Bridal Suite,” Cooperstock says.

In fact, he loves it enough to play both parts. “I just thought it would be fun to do both parts,” he says. “It’s not that there are not fabulous pianists in the area, but I thought, I want to do this by myself. I overdubbed myself for the recording, [which] I never did before.”

This is clearly one of Bernstein’s most clever pieces of work. It opens with a Prelude that is an adaptation of the famous Gounod Ave Maria—itself based on Bach’s Prelude to Book One of the Well Tempered Klavier—with Green’s “Just in Time” from Bells Are Ringing. There are wedding dances, including a cha-cha and a hora, and other delightful small character pieces. It ends with a tender “Magyar Lullaby,” too short for any baby to fall asleep and another piece that I wish were longer.

In summary, the music on both albums is uneven in quality, but the performances are not. And it is music that opens a door into one of the great figures of American music and culture of the 20th century. Bernstein had a profound influence on American musical life, and here you have the opportunity to see and hear more of his creativity. If you love West Side Story or any of his other works, or admire his work as conductor and educator to the American public, you should take the time to explore these works.

They are off the beaten path, but so are all the most rewarding adventures. 

Pro Musica Colorado looks to 2020–21 season

Messiah among “classics for small chamber orchestra” on the bill

By Peter Alexander June 10 at 9:10 p.m.

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra today addressed their plans for the 2020–21 season.

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

There is of course much that is not known about the conditions under which any performing arts organizations will be able or allowed to present performances in the coming year. The uncertainty is great enough that organizations local and world wide, from the Boulder Chorale to the New York Philharmonic, have announced that they do not plan to perform before January, 2021.

In that context, Pro Musica Colorado has said that they are planning a season that will be “flexible, resilient, and exercises good Colorado grit.” That statement comes from a letter sent out today over the signature of the group’s music director, Cynthia Katsarelis.

“We will observe the guidelines published by the CDC, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the Boulder County Health Department, and the Musician’s Union work rules,” the letter says. In that spirit, performances may or may not be open to a limited public audience, but in either case they will be live streamed.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

“We will work out ticketing, and perhaps offer a digital subscription. Some of this is still under construction, but Pro Musica Colorado will be present, making music and doing educational outreach in Boulder,” the letter promises.

Dates and details of repertoire will be announced at a later date. For now, the orchestra is planning to perform “classics for small chamber orchestra,” including Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Katsarelis concludes her letter with a statement of aspirations and hopes. “Our souls long for sharing live music,” she wrote. “And frankly, I believe we have a collective yearning for inclusivity and equity as well.

“In a time of broken hearts, there is music that can help heal some of our collective heartache.”

Boulder Chorale postpones concerts until 2021

Conductor Vicki Burrichter has advice for everyone stuck at home

By Peter Alexander June 9 at 11:20 p.m.

Vicki Burrichter has some advice for people sitting at home under Coronavirus quarantine: It’s OK to be unproductive.

Burrichter, artistic director of the Boulder Chorale, is speaking from her home in Colorado Springs, where she and her partner are sitting out the pandemic. She continues her job as a faculty member for the online Western Governors University, “so nothing has changed for me there,” she says. But even doing her usual work, she finds herself worn out more easily.

Vicki Burrichter

“I do have to do my faculty job, which is 40 hours a week,” she says. “But once I’m done with that, I don’t have much left. I want to sit and binge Netflix. You have to be OK with not being productive, because it is a difficult time.”

Not that she doesn’t continue to work for the Boulder Chorale. “The board has been talking about [next season],” she says. “We’ve been on it since day one, trying to understand the ramifications of everything, and make the decisions for the health of our singers and the health of our audience. That’s our number one priority.”

Reflecting that priority, the chorale has recently announced that they do not expect to “be able to hold in-person rehearsals or performances in the fall.” That decision was announced in a letter from Boulder Chorale board president Beth Zacharisen to members of the chorale, sent at the beginning of the month.

The decision was based partly on information from a Webinar presented by the American Choral Directors Association, National Association of Teachers of Singing, and Chorus America. There has been great concern in those groups, because of the special conditions of people getting together and singing with one another.

“[The Webinar] caused quite a stir in the choral world,” Burrichter says. “A laryngologist and virologist [spoke} about the fact that singers are superspreaders of the virus, because of how well we project our breath. The advice from one of them was that you’d need to stand 16 feet apart wearing a plastic thing over you and a mask, and that doesn’t make for good singing!

“The blend would be problematic,” she adds, laughing. “But of course you don’t want to make any of us sick: staff, parents, children, adults, and certainly not audience.” 

Burrichter with the Boulder Chorale

The letter to chorale members cited the “current research on the potential risks of transmitting the disease through singing” that had been presented in the Webinar. It ended on a hopeful note, that “our staff and board are actively researching the creative ideas that national non-profits, such as Chorus America, and other choruses around the country are using to sustain community and singing connections,” and promised that “we will keep you up to date as this unfolds.”

For her part, Burrichter remains optimistic about the long-term future. “I have three close friends who are professors of history, and all of them have said that after pandemics there is always an enormous explosion of innovation,” she says. 

“I think we’re already starting to see that a little bit. People are working on the technology part of it, trying to innovate around how to have groups together. Right now the rehearsal technology is awful. Anybody who has tried to sing “Happy Birthday” on Zoom knows what I’m talking about!”

Like most of us, Burrichter is taking up or developing hobbies—in her caser, some related to music. “I just bought a Fender Stratocaster [electric guitar] and a tube amp!” she says. “I feel like a 50-year old guy having a mid-life crisis who bought a Ferrari. I’m going to learn to play some blues.”

But wait, there’s more! While she’s plucking strings, “I’ve been taking flamenco guitar lessons online,” she says. “And I need to get back to my banjo—I bought myself a banjo a few years ago, because I had played when I was a teenager, and I need to get back to that.”

Maybe she needs to heed her own advice “to be OK with not being productive!”

She does take some time to relax away from musical pursuits. “I’ve been catching up on reading, but also we have a beautiful yard, we’ve been spending a lot of time back there, and like everybody also Zooming with our friends all over the country, and family.”

When it’s time to listen to some music, Burrichter has broad tastes. Under her direction Boulder Chorale has performed many different styles and genres of music, which perfectly reflect her own tastes. “I listen to all kinds of things,” she says.

“The music that always soothes me the most in Brazilian music, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music. There’s something about that music that I find very soothing. I’m also listening to some choral music, Voces8. I think they’re one of the best vocal groups in the world right now.”

There’s only one thing that she is ruling out: “Not a lot of Punk. I actually really love punk, but there’s something about the anger of the punk that right now I can’t handle.”

If you have been part of the Boulder Chorale’s audience, she hopes you will stay connected to the group. “Arts organizations really need your support right now, if you’re financially able to do that,” she says. “All arts organizations have lost funding from the concerts that didn’t happen. 

“If you can get on Boulderchorale.org and make a donation, that’s always going to be welcome.”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble cancels 2020–21 season

Boulder’s latest COVID-19 casualty

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a choral performance group specializing in the music of the 17th century (“Seicento” in Italian) has announced that they will suspend all performances for the coming year.

The release from the organization states:

Because of the risk to our audience, singers, and guest artists, the Board has unanimously voted not to perform our normal fall concert this year, nor our normal spring concert in 2021. Members of the choir who are on the Board of Directors have expressed relief that they won’t be asked to rehearse and perform at a time that their health could be at risk, disappointment that they won’t be able to perform the music that they love, support for prudent planning, and hope for being able to resume singing when the pandemic passes.

Locally, Seicento is the first performing organization to definitely suspend all of next year’s concerts. Most other groups have delayed announcing their 20–21 season, anticipating the possibility of late starts in the fall. There is also widespread uncertainty about when and under what conditions groups will be allowed to bring audiences together, and to what extent audiences will be willing to gather.

Nationally, Broadway theaters in New York have suspended all performances until the start of 2021 at the earliest, and there is widespread uncertainty among performing groups about what will be possible.

Seicento Baroque ensemble

Coming later: a follow-up interview with Seicento artistic director Amanda Balestrieri about the group’s plan for restarting in the fall of 2021, and also life under quarantine.

Taking a summer festival apart: Central City Opera

“We will all work it out because that’s what we do.” —”Pat” Pearce

By Peter Alexander May 23 at 11:12 a.m.

CCO House stageCentral City Opera (CCO) was in a better position than most summer festivals when the Coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We were in the unique position of being able to pick this year’s season up and drop it into next season,” CCO artistic director Pelham (“Pat”) Pearce says from his home office in Denver. “While we had lots of things on hold [for 2021], we had not issued the first contract.“

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 2.18.21 PM

Pelham (Pat) Pearce in his basement office at home in Denver

So rather than outright cancel the three-work season that they had announced—Verdi’s Rigoletto, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas—they simply postponed the entire season for a year. They could do that because of factors unique to an opera festival like Central City: They own their own facilities; they had planned only three works, rotated over the summer; and many of their employees apart from artists engaged for specific roles—the orchestra, stagehands, administrative staff and so on—are the same from year to year.

The singers engaged for the three works were offered the same roles next year. “Nobody out of any of the artists has wanted to pull out,” Pearce says. “Nobody has expressed a desire not to come and do this next year. And some of them did say that they’re excited that we didn’t cancel—especially the Carousel people, because they had invested a great deal of time learning dialog.”

In the past, Pearce noted, singers were often booked many years in advance, but since the economic crash of 2008–09, that has changed. “Because everyone had to deal with (having) so many contracts out when the bottom fell out in ‘09, that time span has shrunk for everybody,” he says. Not having future contracts to maneuver around was clearly an advantage.

As for the physical productions for the three works, the set and costume designs were done but nothing had been built yet. And since CCO owns their own opera house, there was no difficulty about dates or storage of supplies.

Like most summer festivals, Central City provides housing for the artists who come from out of state, but here again they were ahead of the game. “We own most of the housing we use,” Pearce says. “We were in the process of [arranging] for additional housing, which we ended up not having to do because we never signed the contracts.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 2.18.03 PMThe main question became the timing of the announcement. “We decided to wait until we could wait no longer, and see where we were at that point,” Pearce says. “We had to roll back probably 30 days from the first day that we would be working in Central City—in the time frame when people would have to make travel arrangements, giving people at least a month’s notice that they were not going to be employed with us this summer.

“We were in a spot where if we went a week or so longer, we would start incurring things that we couldn’t get out of. But the important thing was that we waited as long as we could, and we could not see that the situation was going to change for the better.”

Like literally everyone else in the performing arts, Pearce and Central City Opera don’t know when audiences will be able—or willing—to return. “Until there’s a vaccine, frankly, we don’t know that we will have the ability to gather in large numbers again without any risk,” Pearce says. “Audiences will have a reentry period, probably, where they have to get used to being around other people and not having to be fearful.

“People will be reticent at the beginning, but our desire to engage and to consume art collectively is a very strong impulse, and I think that impulse remains. I believe that for our experience—music and theater—live is the primary experience. That is the true and honest experience of humans exchanging information and telling stories.”

Another way that CCO differs from other festivals is that within their home community, they are only a very small part of a huge economic engine: tourism. “We drive between 15 and 20,000 people up there, over [the summer], but the casinos represent somewhere between 80 and 90%” of Central City’s economy, Pearce says. “That revenue is how the city’s budget is paid for. It’s going to be very difficult for them.”

Pearce acknowledges that much remains unknown about when and how Central City and other opera companies around the country will get back to what looks like “normal.” There are too many uncertainties to make solid predictions.

“There are so many things that normally are fixed that all of a sudden became very fluid,” he says. “We know that something will happen that will allow people to gather again. It always has been that way and it will go that way again. So we fully intend to be in business next summer.

“We will all work it out because that’s what we do. We’re creative people and we are creative problem solvers. We will work it out.”

CCO Night.2.Sewailam

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ahsraf Sewailam.

Taking a summer festival apart: Colorado Music Festival

Home hosts and more than 125 visiting artists add to the complications

By Peter Alexander May 10 at 1:40 p.m.

Putting together a six-week festival of concerts is complicated. So is taking one apart.

In the case of the Colorado Music Festival, which recently joined summer festivals worldwide in announcing the cancellation of the 2020 season, that decision came down to an issue of safety.

Elizabeth-McGuire-Circle-Transparent

Elizabeth McGuire

“In terms of social distancing backstage at Chautauqua, it’s very tight,” says Elizabeth McGuire, the executive director of CMF. “That’s part of what’s charming about Chautauqua, it’s not a traditional concert hall. The musicians are standing outside, but when you’re inside you’re inches from each other.

“Even with our chamber orchestras, even with the smallest version of the orchestra that we could present, we couldn’t space people apart.”

The audience is an important consideration, too. “Our audience is typically over the age of 65,” McGuire says. “We thought [if we held concerts] we were putting them at risk.”

She also pointed out the difference between a resident orchestra and a festival orchestra. “You’re bringing in probably 125 artists—orchestra musicians and guest artists,” McGuire says. “They’re coming from all over north America, a couple form Europe. Guest artists, depending on their contract, are either housed with a local host, or they’re in a hotel. Orchestra musicians are mixed between host homes and one apartment complex that houses up to 75 musicians that come and go during the summer.

“The proximity of our housing hosts to people coming in from outside” was definitely a concern she says. “It got to the point that we realized that it just wouldn’t be possible to do [the festival] safely. Not with what we know today, and assuming that not much was going to change between now and the last week of June, so far as vaccines or treatments.”

The timing of the decision and announcement of the cancellation was based largely on one issue: tickets. “It was mostly administrative and how much time did we need to sell this number of tickets” if the festival went ahead, McGuire explained.

“A couple of our marketing contracts were going to come to fruition on May 1. We could have canceled them and then like re-upped them two weeks later if we wanted to have the festival. The contracts with the players didn’t have that kind of timeline.

“We considered all of that in our timing, but the health and safety piece was much more in the forefront. We didn’t think [going ahead with the season] was the right thing to do.”

This year’s cancellation will inevitably affect future programming, but it’s too soon to know how. “There are so many artists that we want to invite back,” McGuire says. “The first thing that’s happening is that we’re trying to re-engage people. It may not work out with everyone’s schedule, because the musicians that we’re bringing in are booked out years in advance. I think you’ll probably see them at some point in the coming years.

“What remains to be seen is what the repertoire will be. There may be some duplications, but not every artist is going to have the same repertoire ready to go next summer. A violinist might have the repertoire under his fingers this summer, because he’s playing it in a few other places in the world, and then next year is a different story.”

There was one way that McGuire and the CMF staff was ahead of the game when the Coronavirus struck: They were already moving to do more work from home. “We have our network set up to offer remote access to our shared files,” she says.

“Our office space is limited, and we have a couple of people who share desk space. A lot of people were able to focus on certain kinds of tasks at home, and so we had already adopted a modern philosophy on work hours. We think about productivity and result. We have a lot of conversations, so on the virtual work front we were prepared.”

online-piano-lessons-1The other side of the CMF organization is the Center for Musical Arts, the music school in Lafayette that merged with the festival several years ago. Coincidentally, they had already started offering online lessons.

“We had people who wanted makeup lessons—parents like me. My child was available for a lesson, but I couldn’t get him there physically. I wanted to be able to offer people the option to have an online makeup lesson We did not see [the pandemic] coming, of course, but we responded quickly.”

McGuire has one more thing she wants to say. Many of the CMF patrons who already bought tickets for the 2020 festival have willingly donated the value of their tickets back to the CMF musician fund. While not everyone can afford to make that donation, McGuire is grateful to those who can.

“Our festival musicians and some of our season staff have been hit very, very hard,” she says. “I appreciate that people are, to the extent that they are capable, willing to donate back their tickets for the musician fund.

“I would just say how much I appreciate their thoughtfulness.”

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Colorado Music Festival Orchestra on the crowded Chautauqua stage

COMING NEXT: Pelham (Pat) Pearce on the cancellation of the Central City Opera season.