Last night I attended, in a manner of speaking, the Detroit Symphony playing their opening concert of the new season. They played in Orchestra Hall, just like they have every season for years.
But it was very different this year.
This year I ran across an ad for the concert on Facebook. The concert was due to begin live streaming in four minutes. Tickets were $12. I spent three of those minutes finding my purse and credit card and entering all the data to get my virtual ticket.
At the last moment I tuned in to watch.
A lone violinist stood on a partially dark stage playing the National Anthem to a lit flag. Something about the lonliness of the performance had me feeling blue. No one was singing, so I softly did, off key, alone, with tears in my eyes. The last note was swallowed up by the empty seats, the silence deafening.
And then the opening piece, Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland began. Near the back of the otherwise empty stage were three percussionists, dressed in their concert blacks, with black masks, spaced at least 10 feet apart, playing a gong, the bass drum and a timpani. At the front of the stage was the conductor standing on a raised podium. And behind him, spread across the balconies, were the brass, high above the empty main floor.
The piece was electrifying. They played it, said the conductor later, to honor the Covid victims and because it is filled with hope. It certainly made me feel better, though it was so odd that when it was finished the conductor bowed to the empty house and exited, stage right just as he would if we were all there, wildly applauding.
They played several other pieces, all relatively short. My favorite was Gabriel’s Oboe by Morricone, which was played to “provide some peace to all of you during this time.” It’s just beautiful, if you have time, sit somewhere comfortable, close your eyes and listen.
The whole concert was a little less than an hour. Watching was a bit surreal, even the fully orchastrated pieces had at most 15 people on the stage. Those playing strings wore masks. The woodwinds had plexiglass sitting in front of them, and a cloth on the floor to capture any drips. At the end of each piece the solists were recognized; they stood and bowed slightly to the empty house.
I was grateful to watch a live concert but I wonder how the musicians felt playing it. Did it seem strange to have no applause? Could they feel us out here, our faces lit by the glow of a screen, leaning forward and letting the music fill us up? Could they sense the emotion we were feeling? Did they feel something similar?
I hope they did. I hope the music filled them up as well. And I hope someday we get to sit, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, in a packed hall. I hope we get to spontaneously and as one rise to our feet with applause at the end of a piece. I hope we get to grin at each other and shake our heads in wonder.
I hope we get to clap until our hands hurt.
Until then I’ll gladly spend $12 to watch them on my laptop. It’s money well spent.
September 11, 2020 at 9:28 pm
This sounds quite amazing in that weird dystopian fashion that is our world these days 😆
September 11, 2020 at 11:50 pm
Oh yes, well written! I had tears in my eyes, and joy, and wonder, at each of the times that you spoke/wrote about them. Thank you Dawn. I will go find those pieces and listen.
September 12, 2020 at 9:24 am
Money well spent is right! Sounds like a wonderful event. But your question about how the musicians felt is a good one. We are living in topsy-turvy times.
September 12, 2020 at 10:06 pm
It almost sounds morose, with some musicians wearing masks… like we can’t ever get away from covid. I wonder if it’s sad for them to perform without an audience, or if they can focus better?.. especially since no one in the audience can disturb them with a cough or the unwrapping of a candy wrapper.
September 13, 2020 at 9:52 am
I imagine this was a very different experience than the ones you are used to. We will probably go to our deaths (hopefully a long time from now) remembering this crazy sad year of 2020. I hope it helps us appreciate things we’ve taken for granted.
September 14, 2020 at 9:22 am
Another strange and surreal COVID-time experience, wonderful in its own way but also saturated with the sense of loss for all that’s missing. Thank you for letting me see and hear it secondhand, Dawn, with your evocative description.
September 14, 2020 at 4:54 pm
Dawn, thank you so much for supporting the arts!! As musicians, we know how important that is. I can’t imagine a concert like this, but I’m glad they were able to perform together. Things are just crazy, aren’t they? Our fall symphonic band has been cancelled (for community members, not for the college students), so this makes three ensembles I’ve had to forego because of COVID. Grrr! I’d not heard the oboe piece before — it’s gorgeous … and haunting. An oboe is lovely when it’s played right. Thanks for sharing with us how this was done. Pray this pandemic ends soon because the arts have suffered terribly through it.