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EMF brings scaled-back summer of live music
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Eastern Music Festival

EMF brings scaled-back summer of live music

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GREENSBORO — The Eastern Music Festival will return to Guilford College this summer, after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled its 2020 in-person season.

It won’t be a typical summer for the festival’s 60th anniversary season of classical music.

From June 26-July 31, EMF will host fewer students and faculty, smaller audiences and no guest artists who typically solo with the faculty orchestra.

They will perform in 1,000-seat Dana Auditorium to audiences limited to about 50% of capacity.

But there still will be more than 35 live performances by pre-professional and professional musicians, by one of the first Triad organizations to return to live indoor programming.

“I know that I am speaking for all of the superb musicians and students to say how grateful we all are to be together and making music again,” said Gerard Schwarz, EMF’s music director. He will return to lead the faculty orchestra in concert.

“The music making should be as always: committed, passionate and meaningful to us all, now more than ever,” Schwarz said.

Other EMF administrators express delight that, starting next week, they will see faculty, staff and some students that they haven’t seen in person in two years. The season will begin June 29 with a chamber concert.

“There’s that sense of excitement and anticipation that brings it alive,” said Kelly Swindell, EMF media and communications director.

For five weeks each summer through 2019, the locally-based nonprofit EMF had brought nearly 300 young music students from around the globe to Guilford College to study classical music with EMF’s acclaimed faculty and guest artists.

For the public, that typically meant more than 65 classical music concerts and events.

Then last summer, the pandemic prompted the cancellation of live entertainment to reduce the spread of the virus.

To help compensate, EMF created replacement online programming — concerts and conversations, plus virtual learning for nearly 100 young artists.

This year, with more people receiving vaccinations against COVID-19, the state had increased capacity allowances in late March. Mask requirements remained.

Then in mid-May, Gov. Roy Cooper lifted most mandatory mask requirements, and all mandatory capacity, gathering and social distancing requirements.

By that time, EMF already had planned to bring back live programming in a smaller way.

“Every single step of the way, we have had to think: How do we do what we have always done? How do we do it differently? How do we do it safely? How do we do it in a way that’s efficient, effective, flexible?” said Chris Williams, executive director.

Guilford College asked that EMF not go full throttle on its return.

EMF developed safety protocols with guidance from Guilford College, as well as in consultation with Guilford County Department of Health.

All students, faculty and staff will receive COVID-19 testing upon arrival. All have been vaccinated.

All performers onstage and audiences must wear face masks, regardless of vaccination status.

EMF originally had planned for 200 socially-distanced seats for audiences in its 1,000-seat Dana Auditorium.

With the governor’s order, it upped attendance to about 550 per show — 433 plus students and staff, Williams said. Seats still will be spaced, in groups of two, three and four.

“By doing this in small, incremental steps,” Williams said, “the students, the parents, the staff, the faculty, the audience have all been willing to move forward slowly with us.”

Ticket prices have remained the same, and sales are doing well, Williams added. “If our target is 500 people in the house on Saturday night, I think we are going to get very close to that 500,” he said.

All ticketed events will be in Dana Auditorium. Some free student recitals might be held in the Carnegie Room of Hege Library, bringing total performances to more than 35.

None will be held at typical off-campus venues, including the UNCG School of Music Recital Hall or First Presbyterian Church.

EMF has admitted 192 students, most ranging in age from 14 to 23. That’s 70% of a full enrollment year such as 2019, when it had 265 students.

Those 192 consist of orchestral and piano students, two-week euphonium-tuba students, as well as conducting scholars and orchestral fellows, Swindell said.

To avoid international pandemic-related travel issues, they include no international students, except those already enrolled in United States schools.

Nor do they include classical guitar students; that program is on hiatus for a year.

“We have some alumni coming back from 2019, and then some who were accepted in 2020 and did it virtually,” Swindell said. “Now they’re coming in for real.”

Tuition, room and board remain at $5,796; about 80% of students receive scholarship support.

Each year brings students from about 40 states; this year, it’s nearly that number. As usual, most come from Texas and Florida.

“We’re right on target in so many ways,” Williams said. “It’s just that everything is reduced by 25%-30%.”

The two young artist orchestras will be reduced to one.

No Encircling the City string quartet performances will be held in local public libraries, which have not returned to full operations.

The three fellowship string quartets will have a recital night of their own.

“Outreach has been really difficult to plan for,” Williams said, “simply because the places where we would normally perform in the community are the very places where large groups are not recommended (such as senior residences and day care centers).”

The number of faculty artists has been reduced to about 43, about 57% of a full complement of 75.

Faculty artists — not outside guest artists — will solo on Saturday nights with the faculty’s Eastern Festival Orchestra.

“We decided to feature our own and feature them really prominently,” Williams said. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the talent from within.”

The regular program book won’t be printed. But patrons can receive printed programs at the night’s performance.

When it comes to programming, the year also has brought more flexibility and adventure, Williams and Swindell say.

The faculty chamber concerts, for example, have more contemporary works and more by living composers such as Jessie Montgomery, along with traditional classical works.

“In a normal year when February rolls around, we are so locked in,” Williams said. “We know what’s going to happen every hour of every day.”

This year, Williams said, “Everyone seemed eager to try to freshen things up. There’s an acknowledgement that we’re all playing by a new set of rules.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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