Sound Of Silence Banishes Music Across The Land

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The COVID-19 threat has led to performance cancellations at classical music venues in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

Update: In New York City, Carnegie Hall on March 16 became the country’s first major arts presenter to extend its shutdown to May 10, from March 31, in response to the CDC’s recommendation against public gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

By CVNA Contributors

March 12 was the day the music died – at least temporarily – as many musical organizations around North America responded with cancellations and postponements to help limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. MCANA members sent in these reports, which will be updated in the coming days.

Chicago

They went down – and dark – like dominoes in quick succession on March 12: Carnegie Hall announced a complete shutdown of events, then the Metropolitan Opera, then the New York Philharmonic, all immediate and all through March 31. In Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra reacted swiftly to a late-afternoon proclamation by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker prohibiting public gatherings of more than 1,000 people for the next 30 days. The CSO immediately canceled its concert scheduled for that night, then extended the blackout in compliance with the governor’s 30-day mandate.

Lyric Opera of Chicago, a month out from commencing three cycles of Wagner’s Ring tetralogy April 13, saw that entire vast project snuffed out in an instant, including two “warm-up” performances of Götterdämmerung, the last peg in the cycle, a new production scheduled to open April 4. On March 13, Lyric general director Anthony Freud made the inevitable but stunning announcement: The Ring, for which Lyric had sold tickets to Wagnerites in all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries, would not open. “It’s heartbreaking, as you can imagine,” Freud said in an interview later in the day. “There were a lot of tears onstage when I announced it to the company this afternoon. But it would have been contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the governor’s mandate. We want to be responsible citizens. There are more questions than answers right now. This is a very surreal moment.” – Lawrence B. Johnson. For more on Chicago developments, go to ChicagoOntheAisle.com

Among events canceled at New World Symphony: An outdoor Wallcast concert of ‘Scheherazade.’ (NWS Symphony photo)

Florida

Because of the COVID-19 virus, “event canceled” reads a note under each of 16 entries from March 13 through April 12 on the calendar of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. “This societal disruption is unique, even for those of us accustomed to hurricanes,” said Howard Herring, president of the orchestral academy. “Though it is disappointing to make this difficult decision, and there will be a financial stress on our organization, we believe it is the responsibility of each of us to do whatever is necessary to protect the safety and well-being of our community.” Among the cancellations are a program with harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and NWS musicians, a Wallcast concert in SoundScape Park of Scheherazade, and HK Gruber in a symphonic cabaret. Also canceled was the March 22 NWS performance at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. At this time, there have been no cases of the virus among NWS staff or musicians.

The Rotterdam Philharmonic canceled its U.S. tour because of restrictions on travel to the U.S. from Europe. The tour, led by chief conductor Lahav Shani with Emanuel Ax as soloist in the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, was scheduled to start March 15 at Lincoln Center and had performances at the Arsht Center in Miami and the Kravis Center and elsewhere in the country through March 26. Said the orchestra’s managing director George Wiegel: ‘This is a bitter pill for us to swallow, as this tour means a lot to our orchestra and our chief conductor.” Rotterdam will look into rebooking the tour.

On the Gulf Coast, the Sarasota Opera winter festival of four productions in repertory – including a rare staging of Catalani’s La Wally –suspended all performances of operas and other concerts and events as of March 13 in response to the coronavirus situation and following guidance of the City of Sarasota and state health officials. The Florida Orchestra in the Tampa Bay area canceled engagements through April 5, including three performances of Bach’s St. John’s Passion under music director Michael Francis. – John Fleming

All concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, are canceled until March 31.

California

The musical scene in California came crashing down on March 12 due to fears over the coronavirus COVID-19.  San Francisco’s Louise M. Davies Hall and War Memorial Opera House had already canceled their performances March. 6, with the infected Grand Princess cruise ship still hovering offshore. But many organizations were holding out until the California Department of Public Health issued a mandate late March 11 that all public gatherings with more than 250 people should be postponed or canceled from March 12 onward.

Then the deluge began. The San Francisco Symphony canceled its tour to New York for Carnegie Hall performances March 17 and 18 and its 14-concert European tour March 21-April 7, with outgoing music director Michael Tilson Thomas making his farewell. In Southern California, UCLA’s Herb Alpert School Of Music announced that all classes and student performances would be canceled, as did the Wallis Performing Arts Center in Beverly Hills and the Colburn School in downtown L.A. UCLA’s professional performing arts series at Royce Hall, where the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has a series of concerts, followed suit, wiping out events through April 10. A big one fell just before lunchtime – all concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and several satellite events, were canceled until March 31. Then came The Soraya at Cal State University Northridge; all events canceled through April 17. Further south, San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony, and the La Jolla Music Society joined the avalanche of cancellations through the end of March minutes thereafter. – Richard S. Ginell

The Greensboro Symphony had planned to open the new Tanger Center for the Performing Arts with Beethoven’s Ninth.

North Carolina

The state’s largest entertainment complex, the Nederlander-run Durham Performing Arts Center, closed March 13 and will remain dark through March 29. Meanwhile, virtually all the arts presenters in Central North Carolina have canceled or postponed pending events through early April and in many cases beyond that. The Greensboro Symphony and its newly-created Greensboro Symphony Master Chorale scheduled Beethoven’s Ninth in celebration of its new home, the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. That March 28 event has been postponed. Many other cancellations include the North Carolina Symphony (March 13-14, with later performances postponed), Carolina Performing Arts and other events at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (through semester’s end), Duke Performances and other events at Duke University (through semester’s end), various presenters’ events in Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (Carolina Ballet, Theatre Raleigh, NC Theatre, North Carolina Opera, etc.), and everything at North Carolina State University. For lots more info from smaller presenters, visit cvnc.org. — John Lambert (updated Marh 14)

The seventh NEOSonicFest won’t happen this year, and the Cleveland Orchestra is not performing in Abu Dhabi.

Cleveland

Arts organizations in Northeast Ohio have responded quickly to Gov. Mike DeWine’s order to shut down performances due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Cleveland Orchestra had already canceled a tour to Abu Dhabi and Europe with music director Franz Welser-Möst in March and early April when the governor’s message about closings compelled the orchestra to cancel concerts of Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony at Severance Hall March 12-14. Numerous other changes have been announced, including cancellation of CityMusic Cleveland‘s concerts and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony‘s NEOSonicFest. For more on cancellations and postponements in Northeast Ohio, go to ClevelandClassical.com. – Don Rosenberg

Cincinnati May Festival’s opening concert has been canceled. Subscribers have been implored to donate the ticket cost.

Cincinnati

Cincinnati has an extremely lively arts scene, including a major symphony, choral music, chamber music, recital series, dance, theater, opera (which has a summer festival), Broadway theater, and museums. Cancellations of smaller arts organizations began drifting in early on March 12. But the largest arts groups waited until that afternoon, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a ban of gatherings over 100 people. The messages showed signs of alarm, indicating the financial hit that each would suffer.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (the same personnel as the Pops) canceled multiple offerings through April 5, including three subscription concerts and the opening Cincinnati May Festival concert across the Ohio River in the Cathedral of the Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Ky. The orchestra implored its subscribers and supporters to donate the cost of their tickets.

The University of Cincinnati’s  College-Conservatory of Music, which puts on some 900 performances annually, canceled all public shows through May 31 – essentially the end of the school year. Required student recitals will not be open to the public.

The community arts fund ArtsWave is in the middle of its annual fundraising, and tweeted that it has only met half of its $12.4 million goal. The fund has emergency bridge funding available that arts groups can apply for, should the health crisis become a crisis in the arts sector.

And a large contingent of amateur choristers was to perform in Carnegie Hall on March 15. Sadly, they will just be turning around to come home. – Janelle Gelfand. For more on Cincinnati developments, go to janellesnotes.wordpress.com.

Lost to COVID-19, a Mahler Symphony No. 3 that music director Marin Alsop had planned. (Baltimore Symphony photo)

Baltimore

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has canceled all events from March 12 though March 21 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Programs affected include Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which music director Marin Alsop was to have conducted; and a program with guest conductor Jun Markl and violinist Ray Chen. As for the future, a statement from the orchestra said that “the BSO COVID-19 Task Force will continue to monitor the situation and BSO patrons will be kept informed.” – Tim Smith

The Washington premiere of the Ellen Reid/Roxie Perkins p r i s m, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is postponed.

Washington, D.C.

As in many cities, Washington classical music audiences skew older, but until today our companies were holding out hope, sending a flurry of media advisories that venues were getting an extra dose of bleach and scrubbing. Once a COVID-19 case was confirmed as having been associated with the Georgetown Episcopal Christ Church, however, the city’s department of health issued an advisory saying they strongly urged organizations not to gather crowds of 1,000 or more. Within another 24 hours, the flurry of media advisories became a blizzard of cancellations and postponements, and my contacts say to expect more.

First to cancel or postpone the rest of their performances for the month were many smaller venues with ensemble series; then came the Washington Performing Arts, which sponsors a high-profile series that often uses the Kennedy Center’s venues. Next were the Cathedral Choral Society, the City Choir of Washington, and Choral Arts Society, all canceling for now. Last in was the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and all other Kennedy Center-sponsored events, also dark until March 31. This means that the Washington premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s opera Blue has been postponed. Also lost at the Kennedy Center was the Washington premiere of the Ellen Reid/Roxie Perkins opera p r i s m, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and MCANA Award for Best New Opera. – Whitney M. Fishburn

Classes at Eastman School of Music will resume March 15 after spring break, but they will be conducted online.

Rochester, N.Y.

The Rochester Philharmonic, in conjunction with the Eastman School of Music, which owns the Eastman Theater, has canceled all performances through April 15.  The University of Rochester Eastman School has resorted to only online classes, once spring break is over as of March 15, though there is no word of cancellation yet at the school’s 444-seat Kilbourn Hall.  They have not confirmed press tickets yet for performances on March 20, 29, and April 7, but have confirmed tickets for April 19 (we’ll see if that concert takes place). – Gil French

Out of caution, Opera Birmingham canceled Massenet’s ‘Cinderella’ although COVID-19 has not yet invaded.

Birmingham, Ala.

As of March 12, Alabama is one of only four states yet to report a case of COVID-19. Still, Opera Birmingham has canceled its only mainstage production of 2019-20, Massenet’s Cinderella, because of the spread of the virus. Scheduled for March 20 and 22, the John de los Santos production was to have starred Alyssa Martin in the title role and John Riesen as Prince Charming. “We are evaluating what our future options are for this production and will communicate this as soon as a decision is made,” said Eleanor Walter, director of marketing. Alabama Ballet is thus far proceeding with its March 13-15 Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Roger Van Fleteren. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra was slated to accompany both the opera and ballet productions. – Michael Huebner

The Atlanta Opera decided to cancel its remaining performances of  ‘Porgy and Bess’ March 13 and 15.

Atlanta

As of March 12, at least six events have been canceled or postponed in Atlanta because of the pandemic, and presenters and musical organizations are monitoring the evolving situation. Itzhak Perlman canceled his March 11 performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Pinchas Zukerman stepped in to play the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. ASO performances at the Woodruff Arts Center through March 23 have been postponed or canceled. The Atlanta Chamber Players canceled their March 15 concert, and the Atlanta Women’s Chorus postponed its March 20-21 performances of “She Rises,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The Atlanta Opera decided to cancel remaining performances of Porgy and Bess March 13 and 15.
– Compiled by James Paulk from Scott Freeman’s report at Arts/ATL: full story here.  

Yannick Nézet-Séquin and the Philadelphians live-streamed their Beethoven to an audience that was told to stay home.

Philadelphia

As of the morning of March 13, only one confirmed case of coronavirus had been announced in Philadelphia. Confusion reigned because everyone knew this figure was too good to be true. (There are 63 schools closed because a neighboring county has several confirmed cases.)

The larger organizations were the first to announce cancellations. The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts of the University of Pennsylvania posted a notice as of March 10 that all events of 100 people or more were canceled until April 15. Orchestra 2001, a new music ensemble, canceled its March 18 performance because it was to be held at the University of Pennsylvania but gave no word on future concerts. The Curtis Institute extended the spring break but is still planning to hold student concerts without inviting the public. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society announced cancellation of concerts for the rest of March. The Academy of Vocal Arts emailed to cancel the March 14 and 15 Jubilate sacred music concerts and subsequently the March 28 BrAVA Philadelphia concert honoring the Academy’s 85th anniversary, which was to have been held at the recently renovated MET Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Orchestra had the most successful cancellation as it live-streamed its performance on March 12. The recording was to be rebroadcast March 13 at 2 pm and March 15 at 1 pm. Kudos to music director Yannick Nézet-Séquin and orchestra president and CEO Matias Tarnopolsky for a brilliant solution to our current predicament. – Margaret Darby

The Metropolitan Opera was the first arts organization in New York City to cancel performances through March 31.

New York

The Metropolitan Opera was the first to cancel performances through March 31, including the March 14 HD transmission of François Girard’s new production of The Flying Dutchman. Other organizations followed, including Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, and The Shed. Jazz at Lincoln Center (four spaces, including a concert hall) will be closed through April 15.

A State of Emergency was declared for New York City, effective 5 p.m. March 13. All gatherings of 500 people or more are banned, and Broadway theaters will be closed through April 12.

The 92nd Street Y has a creative and constructive response: Instead of cancelling performances, they will live-stream all scheduled concerts without an audience present, adjusting repertoire as necessary. In the case of artists who are barred from traveling to New York, the Y will engage locally based musicians who may be affected by cancellations of their own. Culture is one of New York’s most important industries, so out-of-New-York artists will have a significant impact on the local economy.

It’s harder to generalize about the many smaller but important alternative venues like National Sawdust and Le Poisson Rouge, which to date have cancelled some but not all events. The Park Avenue Armory has cancelled next weekend’s major staged production of the Monteverdi Vespers by Raphaël Pichon and his Pygmalion Ensemble, who cannot enter the country. Baruch Performing Arts Center, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Morgan Library are among dozens more that have announced cancellations, some running as long as through May. On the whole, it’s safe to assume that most concerts through March 31 have been cancelled, unless the relevant performing organization confirms the date. The situation changes daily. For a list of cancellations, see the New York Times. – Susan Brodie

Ars Lyrica is rescheduling artistic director Matthew Dirst’s March 14 harpsichord recital.

Texas

Houston is used to event cancellations due to things you can see (Hurricane Harvey’s massive flooding in 2017) but not to things invisible to the naked eye (viruses such as COVID-19). Set to run through March 22, the huge Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shut down as of March 11, and the city’s arts organizations have followed suit. The Houston Symphony canceled or postponed four concerts, including the March 14 and 15 performances of John Adams’s El Niño. Ars Lyrica is rescheduling artistic director Matthew Dirst’s March 14 harpsichord recital, and Da Camera withdrew its free and paid March offerings (including pianist Richard Goode’s March 24 all-Beethoven program), while Chamber Music Houston had to cancel the Pavel Haas String Quartet’s March 17 appearance because the ensemble ended its American tour early to return home. Houston Grand Opera’s April offerings, Salome and Die Zauberflöte, have been canceled. Mercury chamber ensemble is canceling its March 26 and 28 Haydn/Beethoven concerts and its April 2-5 Bach/Marais program. San Antonio Symphony subscribers were informed that all concerts through April 25 are cancelled. Options for ticket holders include donating tickets to the Symphony or exchanging them for future dates or gift vouchers. – William Albright in Houston, Mike Greenberg in San Antonio.

The Vancouver Symphony was set to play music by Brett Dean, who contracted the coronavirus. (Photo by Bettina Stoess)

Vancouver

Vancouver’s classical scene was muddling through as best it could in the first weeks of March, given its immediate proximity to hard-hit Washington state. Visiting artists had begun to cancel individual events, and larger organizations were trying to develop short and medium strategies for dealing with difficult times.

All that changed in a matter of hours on March 12, when a mid-afternoon provincial government announcement advised cancellation of all public events with projected attendances of 250 people or more. The Vancouver Recital Society, in the midst of a celebratory 40th anniversary season that included two recitals by András Schiff, had, moments earlier, canceled its concerts until April. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra suspended its Beethoven Festival and other programs. The VSO had already made plans to find a sub for the composer/violist Brett Dean, who was one of the first international musicians to contract the virus. But by that afternoon, those contingency plans were moot. Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia’s Symphony Orchestra decided to go ahead with its March 13 program and live-stream it from an empty hall. – David Gordon Duke

The Portland Baroque Orchestra had intended to celebrate Monica Huggett’s 26-year tenure as artistic director.

Portland, Ore.

With Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s March 11 coronavirus-containment edict, the state’s music performances are silenced for several weeks. Brown ordered any venue with 250 or more seats dedicated to a performance to shut down for four weeks. That includes Portland Opera, the Oregon Symphony, PDX Jazz shows, and anything at Portland Center for the Arts, the primary Portland performance venue. Decision-makers of smaller productions and workshops have also decided to go dark or postpone. Refunds will be issued in most cases.

Some performances may be rescheduled, but others — such as Vivaldi’s 1735 Bajazet, Portland Opera’s March production with Portland Baroque Orchestra — are canceled. “This decision pulls deeply on the heartstrings for the artists, musicians, and production team of Bajazet — who have collaborated over the past weeks and months to create a truly beautiful and groundbreaking production,” a statement from the opera company said. “We are all saddened by this situation, though we understand the significance of prioritizing health and safety in our community.”

Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Four Seasons benefit concert March 21 has been canceled. It was scheduled to celebrate Monica Huggett’s 26-year tenure as artistic director. PBO hoped to raise $80,000 with the concert. It will likely be rescheduled, said executive director Abigail McKee. — Angela Allen, Oregon Arts Watch