JOURNAL ARCHIVE

Monthly Blog

ROAD TO RECOVERY SERIES

  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 1

    Nearly three months into the process of isolating ourselves physically from the rest of society, members of the arts world find themselves struggling to come up with solutions for how to return, if we really do, to a more regular pattern of life. This has given us a lot to think about, and this pondering has produced some interesting experiments.

    Performances are given with musicians all over the world participating, their images projected onto our devices as if they were an extended version of the Brady Bunch. I was involved in one webinar with eight other people and found myself in the middle of the three-across group. All of a sudden, I was Paul Lynde on the Hollywood Squares.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 2

    A little over a week ago, I wrote at length about what concert life might look like as we get to September and October, the start of the cultural season. I considered matters of orchestra size, social distancing among musicians and audience members, how to accommodate subscribers, and other pressing matters.

    In the short time between that article and this one, I have heard from a number of people in the profession, many of whom are trying to formulate similar thoughts and put a plan in place. My piece left out some factors that must be considered, each of them affecting the process of returning to the concert hall. Perhaps it might be easiest for me to address some of these issues by framing them in the form of questions:

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 3

    Perspective has a way of reshaping our priorities. For the past two weeks, we have witnessed events that either remind us of earlier times or, for the younger set, are unlike anything we have ever experienced. Now we can truly say “The Whole World Is Watching.”

    I remember 1968 very well. Although my heart and soul went into my studies, it was impossible to be immune to the scenes in Grant Park—and in major cities and college towns across the country—as Americans were reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as the continuing conflict in Vietnam. Here we find ourselves once again, grappling with social and political unrest and physical acts of violence that are changing on a daily basis. This time, however, our war is not against an enemy in a faraway country, and we know why we are fighting.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 4

    The sound you have been hearing of late is that of shoes dropping. More than three months into the isolation from normalized civilization, a few things are becoming clear.

    We are a nation divided in a world that is more insular. Equality seems to be just a word, devoid of meaning for many. The great experiment called democracy is seeing itself torn apart, and we are barely hanging on to our constitutional rights. Our diverse musical culture is trying its best to be relevant, but at the same time, there is no way for artists to do what they do best: communicate in person.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 5

    In the 1980s there was a popular television show called The A-Team. The leader of the group, Hannibal—not Dr. Lecter—had a motto, heard on each episode: “I love it when a plan comes together.” One has to wonder what he said when it did not.

    As we reach the four-month mark of the viral wars in America, several strategies have taken shape for easing restrictions, with some succeeding and others being met with a surge in cases. The separation anxieties are subsiding in Europe as arts organizations experiment with socially distanced performances but meanwhile increasing in the States as uncertainty looms. Amid the continuing protests, calls for parts of history to be dismantled, and a justice system careening ever more out of control, the United States of America might as well drop the first word of the country’s name.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 6

    Facing the facts is a rough business. Those of us in the arts are dreamers, always seeking to find what is next. But what if there is no next? We have come to an important crossroad during this pandemic that is forcing each of us to consider options that were at one time unthinkable.

    These actions will have consequences not only for us in the orchestra business, but also for musicians in every sector of the performing world. The possibility that our work, which has come to a standstill, might disappear altogether is slowly sinking in. Consequently, soul-searching and devising workable solutions are at the forefront of our thinking.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 7

    There is a lot of information. At the same time, too little information is available. We don’t know what to do with the information when we get it. Who is this information person anyway?

    During the continuing pandemic, I have found myself in very strange lands, navigating the etiquette of virtual meetings, chat rooms, and even phone conferences in which I sense this odd disconnect between those I am speaking with and me. The more of these events I do, familiarity breeds acquiescence to this new set of communication tools.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 8

    Change is not easy. It is built on a foundation of pre-existing ideas that people deconstruct, rearrange, or reshape. For the short time that we have been a nation, America has tried to find the path to the future by looking back at the lessons of history.

    It is human nature to seek out stability and security, and to hold on to traditions. With the tragic consequences of the COVID epidemic, we are forced to tread carefully as we plot our return to that safe spot. We are staying conscious of the need to get back with an eye to the future. Perhaps we have been a little too conservative.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 9

    As we move forward into July, it is becoming clear that we will pay a price for not listening. Right from the start of our isolation, my thoughts have been centered on what the musical world will be like when the time comes to start the regular orchestral season. I have been concerned about the ability of music directors and soloists to come to the States. Turns out that it is problematic the other way around as well.

    The EU has cracked down on its citizens entering the U.S.A. for fear of the virus being transmitted back to its own shores. Not surprisingly, given the aggressive reopening plans in some parts of the country and the lack of adherence to public health guidelines, we have experienced the highest spike in new cases of any country in the world. Some states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are now imposing a two-week quarantine on visitors from other states with large outbreaks.

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  • JULY 2020: National Pastime Edition

    With the start of the baseball season only moments away, I thought it might be amusing to imagine what the play-by-play commentary might sound like:

    Welcome to beautiful Busch Stadium. It has been a long time coming, but here we are, on July 24, finally getting the Major League season started. The groundskeepers have done a great job getting the field ready, even with the hot and humid weather St. Louis has experienced these past few weeks.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 10

    The cancel culture is out in full force. Almost every day brings news of yet another arts institution delaying the start of its season until the new year. When I began writing this series of articles, my greatest fear was that we were not going to be prepared for this eventuality. Now that it is here, what can be done to fill in the time?

    Although parts of Europe have opened up, most of the organizations across the pond have taken a conservative approach. They are presenting concerts, but for the most part, caution is being exercised. Here in America, we cannot get into a concert hall, and there is a lack of product available in the video market.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 11

    It has been two months since I began writing about the impact of the coronavirus on the world of classical music. Sometimes, I have been prompted by developments in the news, and other times I have shared general ideas for potential future use as the industry recovers.

    Until now, I have not really addressed an important group: the staff. These are the people who mostly work behind the scenes. You don’t know their names or even what their jobs entail. However, without them, an orchestra cannot function. As opposed to the musicians, many of these workers need to continue doing their jobs while the crisis continues. That presents a real problem, one that every organization faces.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 12

    New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Baltimore. Those are just a few of the orchestras that have announced they will not commence the fall season and do not plan to start up again until the holidays. The next seven days will certainly see more organizations do something similar.

    All of us want to return. The spring and summer vacation has lasted long enough. But now we add autumn to the list. All we need is winter and we will have completed the Vivaldi cycle, not to mention Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and Glazunov, to name a few. Perhaps those should be among the works we consider upon getting back to work.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 13

    There are some things that we are all supposed to do, certainly those of us in certain age brackets. The government demands some, our family and friends ask for others, and the medical community advises on several as well. It was time for what might be my final colonoscopy. When you reach eighty, and if you are in decent health, this procedure is considered unnecessary. I will be seventy-six next month. Don’t worry. I am not going to write anything about the invasion.

    Because we live in a different time, there is a new wrinkle in preparing for the operation. You have to get a COVID-19 test. All of us have watched and read about what it entails, but I thought that it might be useful for you to know how it actually works. This would apply equally to anyone who has to undergo surgery of any kind these days.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 14

     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.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 15 (10:20 a.m., Aug. 18)

    “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
    —Harlan Ellison

    In 1998, the author of the quote above was given a task from the creator of the television series The X-Files.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 16

    It is a late afternoon on a Thursday, sometime in mid-September. Sam and Janet are contemplating what to do that night.

    Sam: “I’m beat. Those kids at the office are driving me crazy.”

    Janet: “Why don’t you take a little nap? Oh, remember, tonight is the opening of the symphony season. Where did I put the tickets?”

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 17

    Our strange journey to a destination still unknown has been a bumpy ride so far. Musicians and orchestra staff have hit a stumbling block completely unlike the shutdowns that occur with strikes and lockdowns. Somehow, most have remained optimistic, even though a few ensembles have had to close up shop for the entire season.

    But on August 29, many of us received the following news, which sent shock waves to all sectors of the classical music world: “It is with a heavy heart that, having endured a prolonged pandemic environment, we must announce that effective August 31, 2020, Columbia Artists Management, Inc. will close its doors.” 

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 18

    Do you remember radio? Fifty-one years ago I was driving from St. Louis to Oberlin on July 19th. It was a cloudless evening when I heard the voice of Neil Armstrong as he descended the ladder and then stepped foot on the moon. All those sci-fi serials, films, and audio dramas of my childhood flashed in front of me. Good thing there were not too many people on the road that night.

    Having written a few speculative fiction stories, visions of what the lunar surface might contain were coming to me, fast and furious. Perhaps the astronaut would encounter a previously unknown civilization of celestial beings that lay dormant until our heroic space cadet accidentally crushed them under his boot. Perhaps the Russians did beat us in the moon race and were secretly planning to obliterate the United States from their nuclear moon base, which had gone undetected by our satellites. They never forgave us when Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky competition.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 19

    There was a catchphrase used by a company that manufactured recording products. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” That firm must be in a total state of confusion these days.

    We have come to the time when orchestras are starting up their reconstituted seasons. After a summer of remote chamber music and virtual ensembles, many groups are going to reemerge this week. Most will consist of forty musicians or less, and others will keep the forces down to four or five. A few will have a small contingent in the audience, but most will be playing to empty halls.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 20

    On March 11, 2020, I stepped off the podium at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The strains of “Oh, Fortuna,” as interpreted by Carl Orff in his Carmina Burana, were the last notes I would lead for … no one knew how long at the time. Earlier that evening, the governor of Michigan had urged communities to avoid gatherings of 100 or more people.

    For six months, I wrote, watched television, tried to cook in a healthy manner, and avoided pretty much any contact with anybody. Yes, there were the obligatory trips for medical check-ups, but for the most part, I got to know every nook and cranny of my abode. As several orchestras attempted to put on highly scaled-back seasons and others shut down until January and beyond, I was beginning to think that my next trip to the stage might not ever take place.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 21

    Each of us has a misgiving or two about social networking. Although as a society our daily lives have included this form of communication, very rarely are thoughts expressed that offer potential solutions to the dilemmas facing our world. Once in a while, however, a social media post can trigger a set of ideas that might lead to something concrete.

    While idly scrolling through the stream of criticism, advertisements, and messages, one post jumped out at me. A writer asked a question that went something like this: “If you had $100K to spend on programing during the pandemic, what would you do?” Since we are at the start of what will be at least a four-month delay in regular concert presentation as well as the commencement of the school year, I found myself pondering how the two might come together.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Potholes Edition

    We have a lot to discuss this time around. Arts, politics, society, and health have all intersected, at least for me. Let me begin with a decision that was agonizing but, ultimately, appropriate.

    Over the course of the pandemic, I have, despite some of my written observations, tried to keep an optimistic view. Somehow, without concrete evidence to the contrary, I believed that things would be under control enough to allow to me to fulfill at least one concert date that was on my calendar, namely my engagement in Detroit.

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  • OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 22

    The Lone Ranger. Batwoman. The Green Hornet. Iván Fischer. What do they all have in common? They wear a mask when they perform.

    Get used to the sight. Many musicians around the world have adopted the facial covering as ensembles try and come back to the concert hall. No longer confined to its traditional role as a disguise for either a bank robber or superhero, the mask is fast becoming as controversial in the music world as it is in so-called real life.

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  • OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 23

    One of the fingernail-biting experiences in life is watching the scoreboard as the last day of the regular baseball season approaches. Will your team get to the playoffs by winning or as a result of losses by the others?

    In the meantime, there is another, more dramatic game going on. Those of us who are supposed to be travelling keep a close eye on restrictions that each country is imposing on people as they enter foreign lands. I have a seven-week tour coming up near the end of the month involving five separate countries, and the situation in each of those places has an impact on the feasibility of the other dates.

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  • OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 24

    In recent weeks, there has been a lot of news about orchestras settling contracts, some for up to five years. This is a very encouraging sign, as security for the musicians has been hard to calculate during this shutdown. One must hope that contingency plans are in place should the virus continue well into the new year.

    The reason I am bringing this up has to do with the role of music directors as we move forward. Many of them cannot enter the States right now or are put into quarantine upon arrival. In several cases their services as conductors have not been required, as their orchestras are not working, even in reduced numbers. Perhaps some are assisting in repertoire choices for chamber music concerts.

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  • OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 25

    During the more than half a year of pandemic shutdowns, I have spent a lot of time dwelling on what others should or should not be doing. Whether addressing matters concerning performers, administrators, or audiences, my observations and suggestions have come from the standpoint of an outsider looking in. Other than a decision not to make the nine-hour drive to Detroit to lead rehearsals and a concert, I have mostly been shielded from heeding my own advice.

    Ever since it became clear that musical life was being turned inside out, I realized that a major verdict might need to be rendered as October arrived. When COVID-19 first reared its ugly head, I, like so many others, did not believe that it would affect me. Exercising every precaution, I believed that together, we could beat the virus into submission. It did not take very long to realize that this was not going to be the case.

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