The Winston-Salem Symphony will present its “London Calling” concert Oct. 24 as part of its 2020-21 Season Reimagined.
Music Director Timothy Redmond said “reimagined” is a word that many arts organizations around the world are using because it is what they are doing.
“We’re taking the ideas of what we would have been performing and we’re reimagining them with the limitations of music-making in these coronavirus times,” Redmond said.
The symphony kicked off its season on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 with two outdoor in-person concerts for audiences of 50.
“They went really well,” Redmond said. “As you can imagine, our audiences, who have been missing the performance as much as we musicians have, really enjoyed the opportunity of hearing the symphony live.”
When Redmond and symphony musicians take the stage at the Stevens Center of UNCSA for “London Calling” — the Winston-Salem Symphony’s first Classics concert of the season — the orchestra will be smaller than usual to accommodate socially distanced musicians onstage. And the performance will be live streamed.
“London Calling” features Joseph Haydn’s final symphony, Symphony No. 104.
Originally, Redmond had planned to open the 2020-21 season with Haydn’s work featuring a full orchestra, but Haydn also wrote an arrangement for a smaller number of musicians that makes it ideal for a socially distanced ensemble.
“Instead of being the first piece in the concert, it’s going to be the final piece in the concert,” Redmond said. “Haydn’s symphonies work like that. They are a wonderful concert opener or a fabulous, exciting finale.”
The orchestra will also be performing a work by London-born composer Anna Clyne, who is based in New York. Clyne’s “Sound and Fury” draws inspiration from Haydn and William Shakespeare.
"Clyne lends a 21st-century color to an 18th-century instrumentation while quoting another of Haydn’s works,” the symphony stated. A soliloquy from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which gives the piece its title, will be read aloud during the performance by Bill Barclay, former music director for the Globe Theatre in London.
“It seems really pertinent for our time right now that there should be some sound and some fury mixed in together,” Redmond said.
The concert will open with Gioachino Rossini’s overture to “The Barber of Seville,” which was chosen to provide a lighthearted touch to the program.
Redmond said everybody knows “The Barber of Seville” because Bugs Bunny used to conduct it, referring to the animated Looney Tunes cartoon character.
“It’s also the best piece for a reimagined season because Rossini reimagined his music all the time,” Redmond said. “The Barber of Seville Overture” had already been used in three different operas before he settled on using it for “The Barber of Seville.”
Shifting in a pandemic
The last time Winston-Salem Symphony performed on the stage at the Stevens Center was March 10 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March, the symphony has increased its online programming, including Etherbound, a new series of collaborative performances that emphasize the possibilities of orchestral music in the digital space. It also started Symphony Serenades, which makes curated programs of small ensembles available to hire for performances throughout the community.
The Symphony has eight concerts planned between October and May. The next one is in November.
“One of the things that we’ve learned in these times is that we take small steps because so many things can change,” Redmond said.
He spoke of the success of Stage Pass, a membership program that started in August and provides members with private links to view all concerts that the Winston-Salem Symphony produces during its 2020–21 season.
Stage Pass will also provide members access to a “backstage” section of the Symphony’s website that includes musician interviews, behind-the-scenes extras, and past performances. All of the planned concerts are included with Stage Pass and are available for $75 at wssymphony.org/stagepass.
In addition to shifting from an in-person concert experience to a virtual one where performances are live streamed to its audiences’ living rooms, the symphony stated that it has shortened its programs to reduce the amount of time musicians are in an enclosed space together. The short programs are also aimed at eliminating intermissions on the off-chance that in-person attendance could be possible.
The orchestra size has been reduced by two-thirds, only having 26 musicians performing on the first program for social-distancing requirements for musicians.
The symphony has indefinitely furloughed 40% of its full-time staff, requiring the remaining administrative staff to wear multiple hats and assume expanded responsibilities. Also, only 40% of the orchestra musicians have the opportunity to play on the fall concerts symphony.
“We are providing interesting and exciting musical content for our audiences,” Redmond said. “We are also trying to use as many of our musicians as we can.”
He said every concert is going to have a different feel and lineup.
While overseas the past few months, Redmond has just started working with other orchestras in places such as Italy and Vienna.
He plans to talk to musicians in the Winston-Salem Symphony about his experiences and what they might experience this season.
“We’re very sociable creatures — musicians,” Redmond said. “We like sitting next to each other for good musical reasons as well as to be able to chat.”
He said they won’t be able to do that right now because they need to maintain a certain distance apart to be safe.
“It means that people have to listen and watch in a different way,” he said. “That’s just something that we’re going to get used to. It’s something that musicians the whole world over have gotten used to doing these past weeks and months.”
He and several musicians said they are excited to be starting again and are so grateful for the support they have received from the community.
Simon Ertz, principal viola of the Winston-Salem Symphony, lives in Chapel Hill and also plays for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and freelances a bit with the North Carolina Symphony.
He said not having the chance to play with other orchestra musicians since March has been hard for him and other musicians.
“We’ve all had to adapt an awful lot,” Ertz said.
He said the Winston-Salem Symphony’s Oct. 24 concert will be a slightly different circumstance than normal because they won’t have a live audience.
“We feel like we will still be able to reach our audiences, but they still won’t be within seating distance of us,” he said. “There won’t be that kind of immediate response, which is obviously what we miss as well.”
He hopes they will be able to get back to having live audiences sooner rather than later.
“But this is a very big step towards that,” he said of “London Calling.” “It’s an exciting time for us.”
Corine Brouwer, concertmaster for the Winston-Salem Symphony, said it has been a different year for musicians everywhere.
“Many musicians, myself included, normally play music festivals in the summer and all of those were canceled,” she said.
She said there is nothing like being onstage with the sound of an orchestra around you.
“That’s a very hard and difficult thing to replace in your life,” Brouwer said. “Even though this is a chamber orchestra — a smaller group — it’s still an amazing sound.”
She said all the musicians are looking forward to the day when the full orchestra can be onstage again, and she invited people to support the symphony by listening to the live-streamed concert.
“The community support has been so appreciated and valued by the musicians, and we look forward to being in concert with everyone as soon as possible,” Brouwer said.
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