It's been nearly a year since the last live performance of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) when COVID-19 hit like a freight train, and brought live entertainment to a screeching halt. That is, until now.
After months and months of research across the entertainment industry, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts has implemented state-of-the-art safety protocols that will begin allowing limited audiences back into their venue this Spring. Thanks to their on-going partnership with the CSO, these safety protocols also mean that our hometown symphony is headed back to the stage.
We sat down with Kristen Hudson, CSO's Director of Marketing, to better understand their plan to bring the symphony safely back to our community once again.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
Q: First of all, let's talk about how you all arrived at the decision to bring the orchestra back to the stage. I know this was not been a decision that's been taken lightly. Can you walk us through the process?
A: Absolutely. Our team at the CSO has been working diligently since last March to put together plans for a way to safely perform live for our audience again. We worked through the fall researching what other orchestras and arts venues around the country have been doing to ensure they can keep their musicians and audience members safe.
The team at RiverCenter for the Performing Arts has worked very hard to put together the safety protocols we will be following for the season. Every decision they have made has been based on months of research. All protocols will uphold the latest recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) at all times.
Q: Are the protocols for the audience members only? Or do the musicians have additional protocols on stage as well?
The musicians will certainly have additional protocols on stage. It's taken months of very careful research and planning, but we've finally been able to put together a season that we can perform while keeping our musicians and our audience safe.
That's why we waited until now. We wanted to make sure we knew we could provide a safe experience for everyone. It's also why we've been so excited to unveil our season. We know we are truly ready!
Q: Wonderful! I'm so excited to hear this. Can you tell us more about what the instrumentalists will be doing? Can you give us an idea of what to expect on stage?
A: Yes. There were there were a lot of tricky spots when planning for the season. You have so many instrumentals on stage when you're dealing with an orchestra. So first and foremost, it was figuring out how many instrumentalists we can fit while playing socially-distanced on stage in Bill Heard Theatre.
You will see an orchestra of no more than about 45 instrumentalists. This is to ensure we have room for everyone to have enough space around them to play safely. Our repertoire has been programmed so wonderfully by George del Gobbo to accommodate our numbers. He has chosen pieces where we can highlight and utilize the correct number of musicians we can safely and effectively handle on stage.
Q: Will we see any additional measures in place other than social distancing?
A: Definitely. All instrumentalists will be seated at a safe distance from one another at all times. All of our string instrumentalists will be masked for the duration of the performance. Wind instrumentalists will wear masks when they are not playing. Additionally, wind instrumentalists will be seated at a distance that is farther apart than our string players.
We also have put various cleaning protocols into place such as having sheets under their chairs to collect any moisture coming through the instruments. This is to ensure the moisture they produce while playing their instruments will not touch the stage.
Additionally, we will have shields in place to protect the instrumentalists from one another. Having shields not only protects our wind players. It will also protect our string players from being hit with the air from anyone who happens to be sitting behind them.
So yes, you'll see a lot of new things happening on stage. Both to protect our musicians, and our audience as well. No matter what, safety will come first.
Q: I cannot imagine performing in an ensemble with shields between myself and the other musicians. I know it's essential to bring live music back safely, but what will this be like for the musicians?
A: It's certainly going to be a very interesting experience for them because they're so socially distanced from one another. Audibly, it's going to be a big change because no one is used to playing music so far away from everyone else. Playing this way is going to make each of them feel a bit more like a soloist.
For George [del Gobbo], conducting the ensemble will also be quite different. With each musician in their own little space, he's got quite the task of keeping everyone together and in tune. There's not going to be the usual intimacy of playing near someone and feeding off of the other players' energy. It's really going to be a unique experience for everyone, but I'm confident they'll perform beautifully.
Q: This all sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for giving our audience such detailed information about the safety protocols you'll be following this season. My next question is what to expect as an audience member? If things are different for the musicians, I'm assuming there are new things for audience members to know as well.
A: Oh, yes. Certainly. Again, our main focus is keeping everyone safe, and that means following RiverCenter's exceptional protocols to a tee. If it's okay, I'll actually start talking abou