Coping with crisisIn my last article, I highlighted two Greensboro arts organizations (ArtsGreensboro and CreativeGreensboro) and their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus was on their on-going work to support the arts and the arts economy in the area. This article takes a look at two Greensboro arts entities that had to cancel events at the end of their season because of the pandemic: the Greensboro Youth Symphony Orchestra and its umbrella organization, the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.

Lisa Crawford, president and CEO of the GSO, stated that, “It’s been really disappointing, as you can imagine.” Evan Feldman, music director of the GSYO added, “What we have done has evolved week to week based on the projections about what we’re going to be able to do.”

Feldman was going to conduct the first two classical concerts scheduled in Greensboro’s newly completed Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. The first was to have been an educational concert with the GSO, which Feldman routinely conducts, and the second, a Side-by-Side concert, in which all three GSYO ensembles would have performed with members of the Greensboro Symphony. He explains, “In fact, we had the rehearsal for that [the educational concert]. That was kind of a surreal experience, not only because we were in this brand-new arts center that they were still doing work on – tuning the acoustics – but also because it was right on the cusp of everything shutting down. There was a little bit of an ominous quality to the rehearsal. It was March 14th.”

Crawford was at the rehearsal as well. She explained, “We had a sound check with the Meyer Sound Constellation tech people. I had Dima (GSO Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky) on WhatsApp, and I was walking around and sat in a lot of different seats to check the acoustics of the hall. It’s going to be great!”

But then everything was shut down. Feldman continued, “So we had to cancel the educational concerts and the Side-by-Side concert, which was supposed to be in mid-May…; then we might have been able to move it back [to a June date]. So, for a couple of weeks we were rehearsing on-line as if we were planning for those concerts.”

The GSO had to cancel and move the scheduled concerts into the 2020-21 Masterworks series. Crawford stated, “The same soloists are re-scheduled. The guest artists have been very easy to work with. Obviously, they’re in pretty bad shape. You can imagine losing all that work.”

Then comes the issue of tickets already sold. “We’ll be able to move all the people who bought single tickets – their seats will automatically move into the new date. It’s a bit more complicated for the Masterworks ticket holders. They can either get a credit on their account or maybe they’d like to donate that to us,” said Crawford.

Has cancelling the concerts affected the budget? “Obviously, a lot. Those were the big concerts at the Tanger Center. We’re trying to maintain those ticket sales into next year. Of course, our costs have gone down dramatically. We applied for federal grants, and we intend to pay our musicians for any services there were contracted for.”

Anything positive? “(Chuckle) It’s made Evan and the GSYO very creative. [More about that below.]  I will say that one good thing that has come out of this is that my staff now really loves to come to the office! They can’t wait to come to work.” (In case the reader is unaware, the Cultural Arts Center houses many arts offices including the GSO and was closed down for weeks.)

“We’re still really excited about next season, and we believe we’re going to be able to start on time. We’re moving our chamber concerts from Well-Spring Retirement Community to UNC-G on Sunday afternoon at 4:00, since our orchestral concerts are on Saturday,” Crawford explained.

Feldman, about positive aspects: “We (the GSYO) are still rehearsing. Dima zoomed in from London and we screen-shared some of his recordings and a brief documentary on him. He would walk us through what was going on. Students would ask questions in the chat box.”

“The GSYO orchestras – a full orchestra and two string orchestras for younger students – are all doing virtual orchestra projects. [The GSYO is recording their parts to Astor Piazolla’s Libertango, the Youth Philharmonic Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock, and the Youth Strings Luminescence by Alan Lee Silva]. Everyone uses some sort of click track that was created by Enrique Barrachina [a friend/colleague of Feldman’s who teaches in Valencia, Spain], coupled with a MIDI version of the piece. The students listen to the music through headphones and simultaneously record themselves. They’ll submit that, he’ll extract the audio, mix them down as individual tracks and then line them up and then do the very tedious work of making lots of little video boxes on the screen and editing all that. And he’s going to do that for all three orchestras!”*

Final thoughts? Crawford: “We have a great season next year – I just hope people will buy tickets!” Feldman: “We know that the Zoom rehearsals, the on-line virtual orchestra project…, none of that can really substitute for a real ensemble experience.” The entire music community – players and audience alike – certainly yearns for the time when music will be a live experience once again.

My next article will take a look at a couple of other organizations in Greensboro and see how they are responding to the current situation.

*Edited/corrected 6/1/20