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Home » Symphonic Services Division » Reinvention of Live Performance?

Reinvention of Live Performance?


by Bernard LeBlanc and Richard Sandals, Director and Associate Director, AFM Symphonic Services, Canada

When we were told in March to close concert halls and put everything on pause, we all understood the urgency of the situation, but few of us expected things to be as serious as what we have faced since then. Our careers have been put on hold, and we are told about the importance of “reinventing” live performance—or else!

Employee and self-employed musicians are facing the likelihood of having less revenue—or none at all—past the month of July, unless the Canadian government decides to extend emergency funding programs. Artists will be severely affected by not being able to resume activities as quickly as some other industries. Meanwhile, many orchestras are still waiting to see what will happen, and some have even taken the drastic step of canceling their seasons entirely without first consulting musicians. In regional per-service orchestras where musicians drive in from out of town and stay in hotels, there are even more questions due to physical distancing rules and travel restrictions.

Orchestra managements, locals, and players’ committees have been in contact with the Symphonic Services Division since the beginning of the pandemic to discuss options and explore different scenarios for their 2020-21 seasons. We are looking at all the options as orchestras consider new ways to get music out to their communities and ensure work for their musicians. Most Canadian orchestras have taken advantage of the AFM Special COVID-19 Media Agreement to help keep in touch with patrons, ticket buyers, and subscribers. This temporary agreement is designed to protect compensation and benefits for musicians. In return, individual musicians may create voluntary video clips and interviews, and orchestras can stream archival content.

In June, Québec was one of the first provinces to authorize the resumption of musical activities in recording studios, as well as in concert halls with no audience present. This work resumed conditional on compliance with the general workplace safety measures recommended by public health officials, including maintaining a distance of two metres (six feet) between people on stage or in the studio, and provided that the technical team is limited to five people. The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal was one of the first out of the gate in Québec as musicians were called in to record chamber music at La Maison Symphonique.

Many other orchestras across the country have developed online multimedia programming. The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra encourages its patrons to visit their All Access page to enjoy online music and special projects in order to keep the music playing during this extended intermission, including a fun and educational children’s series and featured live-streams. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s @Home Friday Matinee Recital Series features live mini-recital performances by WSO musicians—right in their homes and studios. The Windsor Symphony Orchestra has shared a variety of content through their social media channels. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has featured some of their musicians in interviews and other features and invited audience members to take part in post-stream Zoom conversations. Each weekday, the National Arts Centre Orchestra showcases one of their wonderful musicians at #NACOLunchBreak.

For a while at least, digital delivery may sometimes be the only way to share our music. But sitting in front of a computer will never replace sitting in a concert hall, surrounded by the sound of live music and the energy of the musicians and the audience. Digital media certainly provides an important supplementary market and a critical promotional tool. But in the long term, nobody has created a financial model that works for orchestras—or orchestral musicians—that relies solely on recorded content. Until we can return to our stages and pits, electronic media will be our only connection to our communities. We will use it, because we must use it. Our orchestras will learn new ways to connect to our existing audiences and to reach out to new ones. But we must be certain that the future we are imagining and creating is one where our virtual presence exists to enhance and support live music, not replace it.

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