AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 14

AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 14
August 13, 2020 leonard slatkin

“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”
 —Woody Allen

 It is now the middle of August. If ever there was a confluence of important decisions to be made, this is the time. Schools are supposed to reopen, but conflicting directives and information are making that choice difficult. The political conventions are approaching, and we don’t have any idea of how they will look or sound. Protests continue to grow, and the enmity between sectors of the public and law enforcement seems greater than ever. Sports are experiencing the consequences, in some cases, of seemingly reckless behavior, thereby jeopardizing all participants.

And then there is our small world of classical music. Most orchestras were expecting to start their seasons either in September or very early October. Some have cancelled all concerts until the new year, and a few have taken the entire 2020-21 season off the books. Others are holding out until the last possible moment, with the hope that some miracle will allow them to proceed in some form.

I have been in touch with a few of my conductor colleagues who have dates scheduled soon. There are those who are fortunate to have two passports, allowing them a bit more flexibility in getting from one city to another. This seems a little strange, as it is possible to contract the virus no matter which document allows you to fly from country to county. Still, I wish them all the best in terms of safety and health.

What size orchestra and audience they face is another matter. A few European orchestras are maintaining social distancing for rehearsals and performances. There will be concerts with around 80% of the audience seats empty, if not all of them. The attempts to bring concerts back to life are noble but also fraught with peril.

Some American ensembles are going to give it a go with smaller forces as well. Even in states that are reporting increases in the number of cases and deaths, orchestras want to get their musicians back to work. Others are choosing to wait it out. My own schedule remains partially unknown.

At the end of September, I am supposed to go to Detroit and lead a set of subscription concerts. As of this writing, it is scheduled to occur in six weeks. But the actual season-opening programs occur the week before. The orchestra is fortunate in that it has the ability to stream all its concerts in high-definition video and audio. Making the concert a media-driven project is certainly a possibility, but they will have to determine if the full-orchestra programs are even feasible, much less know if Orchestra Hall is actually open.

Following that week, the next three are also to be in the States. Two of those have been cancelled, and I suspect that the third will also go away. The remainder of the year has me in Europe. Two of the orchestras have asked for reduced-orchestra repertoire. The four others have not yet weighed in. We know that they are up and running in some form, so that is good news.

Getting into the European Union is another matter. At the moment, Americans cannot travel, unless they have dual citizenship in a European country. If restrictions are lifted, travelers might still be required to undergo a two-week quarantine before engaging in an activity like a rehearsal. My first scheduled dates are in Lyon, and I can certainly think of worse places to be holed up. This particular tour is quite nice, with a couple of weeks off along the way.

But how will I feel about travelling? This is a question that many people are asking. Is it worth the risk to be milling about in airports, worrying about social distancing at every turn, or trying to get used to conducting with musicians scattered about on all parts of the stage? The only trips I have taken out of the house have been to see a few doctors for regular check-ups. Gladly, all looks good. I want to keep it that way.

There are plans to be made, flights to purchase, and accommodations to arrange. Since any number of different scenarios might come into play, everything has to be set up with the knowledge that there might be last-minute changes. Stress becomes a factor, and that is never healthy for musicians.

It is easy to imagine so many of my friends and colleagues having to deal with these very same matters. Add to that the anxiety about what members of their families might be feeling, and the uncharted waters seem cloudier than ever. We have to do our best to keep an optimistic outlook, but there comes a time when reality makes that impossible. The next time I write to all of you, it is most likely that many of these issues will be settled.

Just not those in the first paragraph.