Conductors, sidelined during pandemic, forge new identities and projects

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Photos, clockwise from top left: Conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Susanna Malkki, Roderick Cox, and Marin Alsop. Gardiner photo by James Estrin; Malkki photo by Michelle V. Agins; Cox photo by Courtney Perry; Alsop photo by Gabriella Demczuk.

“For conductors with steady work before the pandemic—globe-trotting and rarely home—the aftermath of cancellations has amounted to a surprise sabbatical,” writes Joshua Barone in Friday’s (6/26) New York Times. “ ‘We don’t make sound as conductors,’ said James Gaffigan, who had been set to lead the opening night of Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola’ at the Met on March 12. ‘So we can’t do our craft right now.’ They have learned new languages, picked up old instruments, and composed…. The first days weren’t so productive. Roderick Cox described ‘going in and out of hope and depression and purpose,’ and not wanting to study—or even listen to—music. …. Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s music director, said she felt ‘a strange kind of withdrawal.’ … Jaap van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s music director … has been working to expand the number of facilities his Papageno Foundation runs for autistic children and young adults. He has also taken up composing… Miguel Harth-Bedoya, in his final season with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, [has] been exploring the works of Bohuslav Martinu for the first time…. Joshua Weilerstein, the artistic director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland [is getting] back into shape as a violinist.”

June 29, 2020

East Texas Symphony postpones fall 2020 concerts to spring 2021

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“The East Texas Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Directors announced it has voted to reschedule its September and November subscription concerts” to 2021, reads an unsigned article in Wednesday’s (6/24) Tyler Morning Telegraph (Tyler, TX). “This rescheduling allows the entire five-concert subscription season for the coming year to remain virtually as originally designed…. ‘We are dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of our patrons, musicians, staff, and volunteers. That means doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,’ said ETSO Executive Director Vanessa Gardner. Effective June 3, 2020, the state’s reopening guidelines indicated that … social distancing measures at the UT Tyler Cowan Center would … reduce the capacity to only 32%. ‘Historically, ETSO subscribers alone exceed this capacity,’ Gardner said…. ETSO Board Chair Laura Hyde added, ‘We hope that rescheduling [will] ensure that the concert experience is safe and enjoyable for as many people who wish to attend as possible.’ Repositioning the entire 2020-2021 season … also keeps the programmatic offerings intact, something which ETSO Music Director Richard Lee views as important…. Rock the Classics II will move [from September 2020] to May 22, 2021…. The November [Beethoven] concert … will be moved to Feb. 20, 2021.”

June 29, 2020

Violin vigil in Aurora, Colorado to protest 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black amateur violinist

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“In Aurora, Colorado, an extensive protest against the death of Elijah McClain quickly jolted from peaceful to disorderly and back again Saturday when Aurora police deployed pepper spray and foam munitions against rowdy protesters,” reads an unsigned Sunday (6/28) article by the Associated Press and Sentinel Colorado. McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died after being detained by Aurora police in August 2019, was self-taught on guitar and violin. There have been no charges filed against the three officers who detained McClain. Georgia-based violinist Ashanti Floyd and New York City-based violinist Lee England Jr. organized the vigil, involving local artists and musicians from around the country. “Police and local sheriff’s deputies wearing riot gear and wielding shields called the protest an ‘unlawful assembly’ and began to disperse the crowd at about 8:30 p.m. June 27. The scene was surreal and chaotic as musicians slated to play in a violin vigil wandered among the tense scene of protesters and riot-gear-clad police, string music wafting with the sounds of havoc.… Police [later] allowed [protesters] to reconvene in an adjacent parking lot for the violin vigil. More than 1,000 people remained as police observed and apparently backed off their demands to end the protest.”

June 29, 2020

Indiana’s Terre Haute Symphony names Principal Clarinet Samantha Johnson-Helms as executive director

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“Samantha ‘Sammy’ Johnson-Helms is the new executive director of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra,” writes Sue Loughlin in Wednesday’s (6/24) Kokoma Tribune (Indiana). “Johnson-Helms, 31, has been the symphony’s principal clarinetist since 2013 and also has served as its personnel manager and, later, marketing manager.… Future goals include increased collaboration with other arts organizations and Terre Haute businesses and corporations; expanded music education programs; and plans for more virtual opportunities…. She’ll look into online chamber music performances … educational videos; and live-streaming at least part of next season’s THSO concerts, since many people may not feel comfortable attending concerts at this time, due to COVID…. A graduate of Butler University with a bachelor of music degree in clarinet performance, Johnson-Helms also holds a master’s in clarinet performance from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and will soon finish her doctorate, also at IU… David Bowden, who has served as interim executive director, will continue to serve as the THSO’s artistic director and conductor…. Johnson-Helms ‘is a musician who understands the business side of things,’ Bowden said…. While serving as executive director, she will continue to be the symphony’s principal clarinetist. ‘Music is my passion,’ she said.”

June 29, 2020

Mainly Mozart Festival’s drive-in-concert, with San Diego Symphony and LA Phil musicians

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“A pair of concerts produced by San Diego’s Mainly Mozart will welcome back live classical music for a large audience on July 11,” writes Jim Farber in Friday’s (6/26) San Francisco Classical Voice. “Combining elements of a drive-in theater and Woodstock, the concerts, at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., will take place outdoors on three acres of private field in Rancho Santa Fe. The audience will be required to stay in their cars, with up to 70 cars admitted to each concert. Presented free, with mandatory reservations, the intermission-less 75-minute concerts will feature eight musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Diego Symphony led by concertmasters Martin Chalifour and Jeff Thayer. The performances of music by Mozart and Mendelssohn will be amplified. The all-string ensemble will perform on a stage large enough to allow for social distancing, and all the performers will wear face coverings…. The two concerts, Chalifour explained, also represent the creative repackaging of a Mainly Mozart Festival program that was to have taken place in June featuring eight members of the LA Phil…. Mainly Mozart CEO Nancy Laturno explained, … ‘We hope these concerts will feel like a celebration for everyone.’ ”

June 29, 2020

New Zealand Symphony’s first full-orchestra concert, with audience, follows lifting of social distancing regulations

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“The sound of a full symphony orchestra playing to a full concert hall has returned, as New Zealand brings back live symphonic music after containing the spread of coronavirus,” writes Kyle Macdonald in Friday’s (6/26) Classic FM (U.K.). “On 8 June, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country had no active cases of COVID-19, meaning that all social distancing regulations could be lifted. For music, this allowed orchestras to resume playing in their normal formations and meant concert halls could be filled to capacity once again. The country’s national orchestra [New Zealand Symphony Orchestra] celebrated with a Friday night gala concert called ‘Ngū Kīoro… Harikoa Ake—celebrating togetherness,’ in the New Zealand capital, Wellington. The concert featured Kiwi tenor Simon O’Neill, soprano Eliza Boom, conductor Hamish McKeich, Horomona Horo, Taonga puoro and singers from Voices New Zealand. All ended with a rousing, audience-led performance of the traditional Māori song ‘Pokarekare Ana.’ … NZSO Chief Executive Peter Biggs said they were the first orchestra to perform in a concert hall without any COVID-19 restrictions. ‘This is a magnificent achievement for our national orchestra and testament to the sacrifices and hard work of all New Zealanders,’ Biggs said.”

June 29, 2020

Philadelphia Youth Orchestra rebrands as PYO Music Institute

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The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra (PYO) has rebranded itself as the PYO Music Institute. In addition to the new name, PYO Music Institute has introduced a new logo, website, and social media handles. The organization continues to offer six program divisions for nearly 600 students, ages six to 21. Three of these groups have also had name changes: Philadelphia Young Musicians Orchestra is now Young Musicians Debut Orchestra; PRSYM is now Prysm Strings; and Tune Up Philly is now Tune Up Philly–Orchestral Pathways Program. Originally a single orchestral ensemble, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra now has three orchestras, a brass ensemble, a large string ensemble, and the Tune Up Philly program, which serves under-resourced communities. Said President and Music Director Louis Scaglione, “We are excited about this change as we believe it is a much better description of the depth of our organization, with the potential of continued growth and expansion into the future.”

June 29, 2020