Twelve orchestras made presentations at the 2020 conference about ways they are adapting to the COVID-19 environment. Here are more details on two of those.
By Javier Gándara and Stephanie Mortimore
On March 12, in response to the public health emergency, the Met canceled all performances and rehearsals through March 31. Soon after, they announced the cancellation of our entire season as well as the furlough of most employees, including the orchestra, the chorus, and all stage workers.
Like most of our colleagues in NY and around the country, we started thinking of ways we could maintain contact with our audience and the communities we serve. The major difference between us and almost everyone else is that most other administrations worked with their musicians to maintain this presence as an institution while we were left alone in our efforts. The extent to which the Met has washed its hands of us became crystal clear after several of our attempts to collaborate with management were rejected. Among other things, these attempts included a proposed season of chamber music that our Artistic Advisory Committee put together with the help of our music director and presented to our general manager. It was rejected with complete disinterest bordering on hostility, making it clear that it was the Met’s priority to avoid any activity that could lead to the orchestra being put back on the payroll.
Almost immediately after we stopped working, a small group of musicians, headed by violinist Miran Kim, came up with a beautiful campaign, appropriately named #MusicConnectsUs. Moving videos of our musicians, some performing with family members, were shared on social media. As weeks passed, more musicians joined these efforts and a larger social media subcommittee was formed. We were extremely fortunate to have had fundraising and public relations professionals offer and donate their services. Deborah Crocker of Grounded Consulting, who is also the sister of one of our first violinists, and Elizabeth Bowman of Bowman Media, who is also the wife of one of our concertmasters, were instrumental in shaping our current fundraising campaign and social media presence, called #WeWillMetAgain. We believe it perfectly represents our efforts to keep our orchestra together and maintain our audience’s hope and optimism for a return to the Met when it becomes possible.
When, in the wake of George Floyd’s horrific murder, national attention turned to the systematic marginalization and abuse directed at the black community, our communications team, with important assistance from trombonist Weston Sprott, crafted a statement to express our outrage. Weston, who is also head of the Pre-college division at Juilliard, has been instrumental in helping that institution implement meaningful efforts toward equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Similarly, the goal of our statement was to force the Met to adopt a series of measures, at all levels of the institution. We believe our statement was directly responsible for pushing the Met into action because the day after we released our statement, they announced, for the first time, a series of specific measures they are taking to achieve that goal.
The orchestra has also decided that we need to begin to take matters into our own hands rather than to simply wait for the Met as an institution to make change. We have started an ongoing partnership with a school in East Harlem, The Renaissance School of the Arts. Six of our musicians recently gave masterclasses there and we are in discussions with the school about helping them create a strings program.
We also have many other exciting educational projects in the works:
• We have formed a partnership with the online music lessons company, LessonFace. Beginning in August, our musicians will donate two masterclasses a month for which the orchestra will receive compensation. We are also partnering with LessonFace to produce classes that will be available in public libraries throughout the country. A variety of classes will be geared to both children and adults.
• We have organized a series of brass masterclasses for a Brazilian music school founded by the instrument case maker, Marcus Bonna. One of our bass players will even serve as Portuguese translator.
• We are in the middle of a ten-part masterclass series with Festival Napa Valley in memory of Joel Revzen, a beloved Met assistant conductor and founding music director for the Festival who tragically passed away from COVID-19 at the end of May.
• We are exploring the usage of a digital music platform that will allow us to present chamber music concerts for which we intend to sell tickets, as well as to charge a small fee for the playback of our masterclasses.
Note: Javier Gándara is the ICSOM delegate for the MET Orchestra, and Stephanie Mortimore is a member of that orchestra.
San Francisco Ballet: From Our Hearts and Homes
By Joe Brown
The San Francisco Ballet’s last public performance was March 6, as we were the first major city to have restrictions placed on public gatherings. Immediately after learning this, we started an orchestra sub-committee for outreach and media and hit the ground running. We knew we wanted to stay connected with our audience, so with this in mind, we started our first video series: “From Our Hearts and Homes.” These were short videos, about a minute long, profiling each member of the orchestra. They were shot on cell phones and produced by the musicians. Each participant shared something personal about how the pandemic was affecting them and played a short excerpt on their instruments. We released these videos each morning and I think they achieved their intended goal of connecting with our audience in a personal way.
I have to say, we are very lucky at San Francisco Ballet to have a collaborative working relationship throughout the whole company, including dancers, management, and staff. This has been the case in the past, but I believe the pandemic has brought us closer together as an organization.
At the beginning of our closure, we held three content meetings per week with musicians, dancers, and staff, some of which included our Executive Director, Artistic Director, and Music Director. We feel fortunate that our leaders demonstrate a willingness to be creative and think outside the box during this time. This collaborative partnership resulted in a number of interesting projects.
One of these projects of which we are particularly proud is titled A Little Beauty. Fifty-seven orchestra musicians and twenty-seven dancers recorded videos of themselves playing or dancing the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty from their homes. Our music director, Martin West, edited and mixed the audio, and two musicians, José González Granero and Craig Reiss, edited the video. The end result, featuring both the musicians and the dancers, represents a very creative and endearing portrayal of this work. This project has currently received over seventy thousand views on our social media platforms and has helped raise awareness for SF Ballet’s Critical Relief Fund, a targeted support effort for the workforce of the company.
We plan to put out new video content throughout the year. Please visit our Facebook (@sanfranciscoballetorchestra), Instagram (@sfballetorch), and Twitter (@SFBalletOrch) pages as well as our website for more upcoming projects!
Note: Joe Brown is ICSOM delegate for the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.