The truth is dawning that the spring season of concerts is unlikely to go ahead as planned. One by one, music venues are acknowledging that events will have to be cancelled, shutting their doors until April (Berlin’s Philharmonie and the Zurich Opera House) or June (Cleveland Orchestra).
As compensation, some are starting up new series of online concerts. Most are small-scale, involving chamber groups, allowing a limited number of players from an orchestra to perform with social distancing, or sometimes performances filmed before the latest lockdowns hit.
The San Francisco Symphony has just launched its new on-demand streaming service, SFSymphony+. The first fruits of this include an ongoing series of small-scale concerts called “Soundbox”. The first, “Nostalgia”, curated by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, focuses on music of the past decade and is available now. Half a dozen more will follow.
The filming is essentially of a live performance, but with added visual effects to provide atmosphere. A woodland casts its shadows over the three musicians in Freya Waley-Cohen’s Conjure. The work’s title suggests the summoning of a mystical spirit and the music seems to recall a half-forgotten encounter, holding the listener’s hand as it leads to a peaceful, light-filled clearing in the forest. Missy Mazzoli’s highly atmospheric Vespers for Violin is a solo piece, but with a pre-recorded soundtrack in the background as if reaching out to other worlds, far-off voices and players.
All the pieces in this half-hour programme are by women composers. The last, Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte, is the most rooted in traditional forms. Its original plan, as a string quartet, is evident throughout, but there are eight players now, conducted by Salonen, matching the music’s keen dialectic to the abstract images that are projected on to them.
Starting a week ago, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has inaugurated a new series of Friday concerts. Programmes are either live and small-scale, or full-orchestra events filmed last year. The single work in last Friday’s concert was Mozart’s joyous Gran Partita for wind ensemble, which can put a smile on one’s face at the worst of times. Filmed in the empty, main concert hall of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the performance breathes a grandly resonant air, as if some bright-eyed youth of Mozart’s day has stumbled into the ballroom of a palace. February 12’s concert will feature Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, recorded in June.
Wigmore Hall in London has been the most indomitable of venues during the pandemic. Fearing stricter regulations, it took the precaution of filming some recitals in advance and the new spring schedule was recently announced. The most recent of these, available on demand (donations are invited), features one of the hall’s most loyal groups, the Nash Ensemble, in Dvorak’s gloriously romantic Piano Quartet No.2 in E Flat and Schubert’s vernal Trout Quintet. The playing is fresh, the waters of the Trout flow limpidly clear. What is there not to love? The next concert, on February 15, features The Sixteen offering a Tudor choral evening.
All performances available on demand: sfsymphonyplus.org; concertgebouworkest.nl; wigmore-hall.org.uk