A New Kind of Classical Music Review: Live Music Returns!

September 28, 2020

FWSO returned to live performance at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium.

This month the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra began its Classical Subscription Series just two weeks after Bass Hall abruptly announced that its doors would be closed through December. The FWSO quickly pivoted by moving its series into the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium, where the company had already scheduled its Pops Concerts, and performed its opening  to just under 300 people. Similarly, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra opened its season with Music Director Fabio Luisi to a performance of less than 80 in the Meyerson Symphony Center on September 11, and inaugurated a new digital digital subscription series for those not fortunate enough to attend in person. Given the restrictions and monumental difficulties put upon the live music industry created by the COVID-19 Pandemic, these performances represent a success beyond the already proven artistic achievements of the musicians on stage. Within the barren landscape forced upon musicians and other industry professionals, these performances represent a feat of mighty perseverance and a refusal to be silenced.

Complete with masks, social distancing, regulated traffic flow in venues, health questionnaire documentation, regular temperature taking, and with a regimen of COVID-19 testing established for both ensembles, these orchestras are leading the industry as they now resume live performances. The DSO staged 36 musicians and the FWSO staged 39 so to properly distance the musicians as part of collaboratively developed safety plans with the Union – months in the creation.

To maintain safety for audiences, concerts are performed without intermission to reduce gatherings and keep the patrons’ social distance. Masks are required, temperature is taken at the door, and ticket taking is contactless. With the larger audience in Fort Worth, the logistics of Will Rogers Auditorium may have been a benefit, as entry and exit to the hall is simpler as fewer corridors are necessary for patrons to reach assigned seats in the auditorium. As expected, the acoustics at Will Rogers created a challenge – which is not a surprise coming from Bass Hall – but certainly not an insurmountable one. Between the distancing of musicians, plexiglass shielding for wind players, lack of an acoustic shell (the audience had full view of the brick wall and large loading door on the rear wall of the stage), instrument bell coverings, etc., the musicians were clearly challenged to make music in adversarial conditions. And yet somehow the dryness of the theater brought an unexpected clarity to the performance, bringing out performance detail and a further poignancy of the larger effort. Indeed there was an undeniable sense of appreciation and affection from audience to musicians, seeing their city’s orchestra back on the stage after so many months. Guest Conductor Patrick Summers addressed the audience, expressing his own pleasure at being able to make and share music again with this great orchestra. He was speaking for everyone.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra performing the opening of its Next Stage Digital Concert Series

In Dallas, the musicians were also performing under difficult conditions – under similar protocols – and to an even smaller audience, but in the familiar and celebrated acoustics of their home in the Meyerson Center. With this resumption of regular music making came a pride to be the first major American orchestra to be reunited with its Music Director in its own hall with a live audience since the COVID-19 Crisis began. The Dallas Symphony Association hopes to add audience numbers in the hall as performances of the season progress. Additionally, these concerts will be available through the Next Stage Digital Concert Series to subscribers and on a pay-per-view basis. The opening concert can still be viewed free of charge at www.mydso.com.

Such are the circumstances of the return of live music as the world continues to face the COVID-19 Pandemic. In addition to the efforts of DSO and FWSO, performance organizations across DFW are working to make a return and have already began to do so. Orchestras in Lewisville and Lawton, OK have begun seasons to empty venues, reaching audiences through broadcasts and streaming specially arranged through AFM media agreements. Plans, negotiations, collaborations are underway to build and add to the restart of our industry. The work continues as our Union, our groups, and every single musician finds a way.