Small ensembles face distinctive struggles in pandemic shutdown

Posted on: June 16, 2020

“When concert halls began shuttering in March, classical musicians were hit hard and quick,” writes Seth Colter Walls in Friday’s (6/12) New York Times. “Huge opera companies furloughed orchestras and choruses; tiny groups like string quartets were threatened with collapse. But what of the ensembles between big and small? Such groups have a modest core membership—half a dozen, 10 or 20 people—and play together often. While they may feel like family, they are generally made up of freelancers, without guarantees of employment or compensation. For the Harlem Chamber Players and its core of 25 to 30 instrumentalists, the coronavirus put a freeze on an ambitious plan to perform R. Nathaniel Dett’s 1932 oratorio ‘The Ordering of Moses’ this month. Liz Player, a clarinetist and the founder of the ensemble, described the cancellation … as ‘downright devastating, to be honest.’… As some midsize ensembles struggle to pay artists, others, with deeper pockets, have been finding ways to support their members,” among them International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Wet Ink Ensemble, and The Crossing vocal group. “For Ensemble Dal Niente, based in Chicago … the current policy is to pay musicians a third of their fees for concerts canceled during the pandemic.”