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Gustavo Gimeno returns to conduct Invictus, the TSO’s first audience performance after lockdown: “I told myself that if we ever come back to life as we remember it, I will remind myself how wonderful this is.”SUPPLIED

When Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor Gustavo Gimeno raises his baton this weekend, not only will it signal the opening notes of Invictus, by U.S. contemporary composer Anthony Barfield, it will also signal the symphony’s first live performance in front of an audience since COVID-19 indefinitely put in-person concerts on hold last spring.

“My instrument is the orchestra,” says Gimeno, music director of the TSO. “If I don’t have them in front of me, I have a serious problem.”

Having no one to conduct, Gimeno spent lockdown studying scores and catching up on reading. “For the first few months it was fine, but then I began having a hard time,” says Gimeno, who joined the company in early 2020. “I worried about musicians, orchestras, the arts in general. I told myself that if we ever come back to life as we remember it, I will remind myself how wonderful this is.”

Recently reunited with his orchestra musicians to prepare for the upcoming season, Gimeno says: “It’s like the months in between never happened. I could see the little smiles, the twinkles in their eyes. They were happy to be back on stage, and it was so uplifting to see.”

I told myself that if we ever come back to life as we remember it, I will remind myself how wonderful this is.

Gustavo Gemino, conductor, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

A lack of an audience has also affected artists who rely on public interaction, like ceramist Lindsay Montgomery, whose work is currently on display at The Gardiner Museum as part of its exhibition, Renaissance Venice: Life and Luxury at the Crossroads. “People don’t realize how much visual artists have to perform,” says Montgomery, who also teaches the craft. “I do a ton of visiting artist’s lectures and talks to go with different shows.”

Despite galleries being closed to in-person viewing for so long, Montgomery says she’s sold the most work ever, which may have something to do with the fact that her ceramics – which mines the imagery of early medieval pottery for parallels to today’s society, including our parallel experiences of plague – offered timely takes on a period we’re struggling to comprehend.

For Kate Hennig, a playwright and director at Shaw Festival, being engaged with people in a common endeavour again – either making or watching theatre – is a joy and a relief.

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The cast of Holiday Inn, which opens at the Shaw Festival this season, gets back in step after not performing for more than a year during the pandemic break.SUPPLIED

“No matter how many people are in a ‘Zoom room,’ you’re still sitting there alone with a computer,” says Hennig, who is back in rehearsals for the musical Holiday Inn.

While the Shaw Festival has performed other productions this summer as restrictions eased, Holiday Inn is its first big musical.

“I keep checking in with the performers – mostly to see how their bodies and voices are coping with the intensity of work they haven’t done in a year and a half – and they are so pleased to be bringing their joy and hope to this show about joy and hope,” says Hennig, nodding to the fact that this story was written during another dark and uncertain time, the Second World War.

“The performers are sore, but they wouldn’t want it any other way. This is what we do, and we have missed doing what we do.”

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