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Live Music Resuming Unevenly

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Recent prospectuses from Boston Baroque [HERE] and the Celebrity Series [HERE] carry both direct salutary messages and implied depressing news for the resumption of in-person concert life next season. Yes, Anne Sofie von Otter, Brooklyn Rider, Danish String Quartet, Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma and like celebrities will be making welcome reappearances. And yes, Boston Baroque will bring back Handel’s Royal Fireworks and Messiah — but, in the latter case, to a recording studio rather than Jordan Hall. Covid protocols and/or covid angst remain potent; the double whammy forces some presenters to engage alternative venues.

How depressing that Jordan Hall, Sanders Theater, and Kresge Auditorium, upon orders from their parent institutions, have absented themselves from outside presenters’ concerts for another season. NEC, Harvard, and MIT apparently have concluded that their students’ health requires this. As of yesterday, MIT, for instance, continues to restrict access to campus buildings to members of their community who are “authorized to access campus using Covid Pass, with regular testing and attestation required.”  And even though these restrictions may lift before the fall, booking logistics mean many favorite halls will remain out of reach to presenters.

Beyond the various churches in which concerts sometimes take place, only Symphony Hall, Berklee Performance Center, and Longy’s Pickman Hall have chosen to welcome concerts by outside presenters.

President Karen Zorn told BMInt: “Longy has upheld its agreement for space with the Celebrity Series. They have their usual access to Pickman for the upcoming year. In fact, we even offered them additional space during the pandemic. We think that presenting organizations are an important part of the artistic ecosystem and we have worked hard to be a good partner throughout this whole pandemic ordeal.

“Everyone at Longy has to be vaccinated — staff, faculty and students. So that’s where we start. We haven’t yet sorted how we will monitor the public but it’s undoubtedly doable and we will have a plan in place before we open our doors to the public. One differentiator for Longy is that we are a commuter campus. We don’t have dorms, so our students are living in the real world, not in a campus world. We are actually determined to have the public attend our concerts. They are such an important part of live music.”

Boston Baroque will perform its entire in-person-plus-streaming season at the WGBH Fraser / Calderwood Studio. With judicious additions of artificial reverb, the space works beautifully for recording and broadcast, but those same dry qualities that make clean recordings possible make for a disappointing environment for studio auditors. Nevertheless, this is probably sensible bet-hedging.

The Celebrity Series expects to mount its big-ticket items at Symphony Hall and much chamber music at Longy, but they will also be inviting subscribers to Nubian Square, Arlington Street Church, Berklee Performance Center, Calderwood / Fraser Studio, the Salvation Army Kroc Center, and First Church Cambridge.

The Gardner Museum has reopened to outside presenters (last week we attended a violin recital there, unmasked [review HERE], and a piano recital just before, but has been mum about next season’s concert series.

NEC expresses hope that “ensembles and performances so integral to our work will center around in-person experiences, while integrating preparation for the online stages that are now part of every professional musician’s life. We expect that audiences will return to our concert halls, and we will continue to broadcast all of our concerts through live and premiered streaming and video that has brought new, larger, and more diverse audiences to NEC than ever before.”

Boston Chamber Music Society takes a different tact, advising its subscribers [HERE] of players and repertoire for 10 dates—8 planned to admit audiences and two inked as virtual from the get-go—without indicating venues. That way they can quickly adapt to changing protocols and perhaps even return to their beloved Sanders Theater

Dear Jordan, Sanders, and Kresge: How much longer must we wait? What level of risk is acceptable? Your students are out in the world with us all the time. From whom are you now protecting them?

NB: This article was edited in response to a comment.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer

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