Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra have found a way to maintain social distancing and still play together, performing an excerpt from Aaron Copland’s uplifting Appalachian Spring, which was originally commissioned in 1942 with a world deep at war.
Last week, home-bound TSO members recorded the calming melody of the excerpt inspired by the traditional Shaker song, Simple Gifts. Each of the 29 musicians played their parts individually and remotely from their various domiciles, united only by a metronome and a common cause. The resulting video was posted Sunday on YouTube.
“The intent was to offer something of solace,” said Jeffrey Beecher, TSO’s principal double bassist and the co-ordinator of the project, explaining the choice in music. “I have felt grief in the losing of connection with my colleagues, and the piece, which moves through so many emotions in a short time, speaks to the moment.”
As the COVID-19 outbreak has led to the cancellation of concerts and other performing arts shows across the globe, some cash-strapped symphony orchestras are temporarily disbanding in an attempt to weather the financial fallout from the pandemic.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra laid off musicians and staff last week. New York’s Metropolitan Opera has cancelled the rest of its 2019-20 season and will stop paying its orchestra, chorus and other unionized employees at the end of the month. The Oregon Symphony laid off 76 musicians, 19 staff and two conductors.
But orchestra musicians are finding new ways to continue to inspire their audiences, as well as to lift their own spirits.
On Friday, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra posted a video online of its members performing Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, playing individually from each of their homes.
“We’re adjusting to a new reality and we’ll have to find solutions in order to support each other,” the Rotterdam musicians said in the video, which has racked up close to 700,000 views as of Monday. “Creative forces help us. Let’s think outside of the box and use innovation to keep our connection and make it work together.”
Mr. Beecher of the TSO was halfway done with his four-minute video when the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s effort – titled From us, for you – hit the internet. “People are responding with great ingenuity and creativity to the difficulties of the times,” Mr. Beecher told The Globe and Mail on Monday, after catching up on a “serious sleep debt.”
“I wanted to do something for the greater good,” he said. “As musicians, pulling together is such an important part of what we do, as an orchestra especially.”
With the members of the TSO scattered and self-isolating, getting them all on the same page of sheet music took some, well, orchestration. Mr. Beecher sent each of them an audio file of the full orchestral score that he had synthesized, along with a “click-track” rhythm guide to synchronize the tempo. Using their cellphones, the musicians recorded their parts in their home rehearsal spaces and sent them digitally back to Mr. Beecher.
Unfamiliar editing software meant it took him 48 hours to sync all the individual video parts together for an attractive presentation that ends with all the players on screen, each in their own square like something out of the old Brady Bunch intro. That 10-second segment alone took him nearly four hours to create.
The video has been viewed more than 60,000 times as of Monday, with its attraction based less on entertainment and more on a sense of community that thrives paradoxically – unification by isolation.
“We need our culture,” Mr. Beecher said. “We miss it. And we miss each other.”