This week, on the year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra will return to the stage for their first live public performance. Maestro George Del Gobbo will take the podium once again on Saturday, March 13 in Bill Heard Theatre at RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
As the pandemic is still very much a reality, the CSO will be following all safety protocols of the RiverCenter, including requiring masks, mandatory temperature checks, reduced audience capacity, socially-distanced seating, and more.
The performance will mark Del Gobbo's 33rd season with the symphony, and one he told us he's eager to begin. Read on to discover what the last year has been like for the orchestra, what to expect when you see them again, and how our local beloved maestro is feeling leading up to this week's return to the podium.
Q: What has this year been like for you as a musician? Can you please walk us through your process over the last year?
Well, being a being a musician is a profession that requires 95% preparation for 5% performance. So anybody who is in is in performing in any way spends much of his time or her time alone preparing, and working. And so, you know, that former aspect hasn't changed at all. The thing that
has changed is the performing, which is the outlet that we all live for. It's the whole reason we are doing what we do.
There have been people playing Zoom concerts, and online performances of one kind or another, and that's fine is as far as it goes to maintain some connection with the community. To make sure that the community doesn't forget the organization or whatever. But there is absolutely nothing that replaces the audience-performer dynamic in a live performance.
Q: Of course. How do you expect it will feel when the orchestra is on stage together again?
A: Well, not being able to perform together has been the hardest thing. For most performing artists, there's also been a tremendous economic disaster. Many, many millions of people working in the performing arts haven't worked for a long time. Getting back together and seeing those people again, and doing what we feel we were born to do is going to be very special.
Q: Your programming for this season is a wonderful series of repertoire. Could you maybe let our audience, which is your audience, know why you have chosen the pieces you have?
A: Sure. The challenge obviously was to find things that would work with a socially-distanced, masked orchestra. Our first determination was to figure out how big the stage is and how many people we could fit onto it safely. It was very important to us that whatever number we arrived at would allow for a seating arrangement that wouldn't make anybody uncomfortable.
Musicians are very concerned about aerosols, and understandably. When you play a trumpet, for example, you broadcast aerosols. If you have the covid virus, you could be spreading it. Interestingly, most of the aerosols don't come through the bell of the trumpet they come from the embouchure at the mouthpiece.
Q: Interesting, so what does that mean for your seating? A: Well, so you can mask string players. They don't have a problem with that. But with wind players it's very difficult, and there's not really an effective way to do mask them.
Naturally, our first concern was to meet the health challenges of the orchestra and of the audience. The audience is a little easier because we can spread them out, and test them when they come in, and we can we can make sure they're socially-distant. So we won't have as many people may be as we'd like to have, but at least we know they'll be safe.
So considering how big the stage is, and how many people we can fit, we decided about 35 was about the maximum number of people.
Q: Wow. 35 total is a very different equation than before the pandemic.
A: Yes, it is. It also limits the repertoire that you can play tremendously. I mean, you can't play a big romantic symphony, because you can't fit the required number of wind players on the stage. So we what we ended up with are very much chamber orchestra works.
Once we realized we could only safely accommodate about 35 players, I just tried to present a season that I thought was kind of a comfort food of classical music.
Q: Yes! It is absolutely a season of musical comfort food. You said it perfectly.
It really is. Especially for people who have been with us fo so many seasons, you know? It's kind of a highlight reel. There's nothing radical on these concerts. They're a little bit shorter because we're not having intermissions to keep people from milling around in the lobby. But you know, as more and more people are vaccinated, I think the risk is going to be lowered as we go.
Q: I agree. Things should continue to get better and better.
I'm also curious to hear about your featured artists for the season. The concerts will feature a series of local soloists, right?
A: Yes. Since the concerts are shorter and full of music people will enjoy, we wanted to take the opportunity to invite several soloists our audience knows and loves. We're happy to have people like Henry Kramer and Wendy Warner, Boris Abramov, and Sarah Park Chastainplaying solos. We think that'll be remarkable.
Q: Wonderful. I'm really looking forward to seeing you all on the stage again.
A: We're thrilled to be getting back to business. I'm also really glad we can include the digital concerts that we're going to broadcast. It's for those people who can't join us in person yet. We feel like it's an important thing to offer our audience.
Q: Will this continue after the pandemic ends?
A: Yes. It might be something we want to continue into the future, because a lot of our audience is elderly and many do not drive at night. If they don't live in a place where they have a bus or something they can bring him to the concerts, they're really kind of limited. Our hope is that this will give them an opportunity to hear the symphony. Many of them have been patrons for years and years and years, and they just get to an age where they can't do it anymore physically, but they still want to have the experience. If streaming these concerts works out and people show an interest in it, I think we probably would continue to do this to some degree as time goes on.
A: That's excellent. It's so needed, and I know your patrons will be thankful to get to see live music again - even if on a screen.
Personally, what are you most looking forward to about this first concert?
A: Well, the first concert is a concert of Baroque music for strings. If you're a string player or if you're just an interested person, I guess, I've always found certain Baroque composers to be really refreshing and clean-feeling. I love it. I mean when I hear a piece by Corelli, I feel like I'm out in the open air and just it's pure and it's pristine. Even if it's 300 years old it's fresh.
Then, there are composers like Bach who are a little more intellectual and whose music is a little more demanding and then there are composers like Heinrich Biber who is a total individual in Baroque music.
Q: Really. How so?
A: Oh, he did some really, really crazy things. This piece is one of those. There are some really unusual things in this piece that you would never expect in a Baroque concert. Multi, poly-tonality and all kinds of things. It's really good.
He has written a lot of wonderful music, and he did a lot of things with the violin. He would change the tuning of the instrument, making one or two or even sometimes three of the strings up a step, down a half step, whatever. This allowed the violinist to play different chords more easily and also change the sound of the instrument somewhat. He's written a whole series of solo violin sonatas based on the Mysteries of the Rosary and they are amazing, amazing pieces. I kind of look at him as like the Charles Ives of the 17th century. He was an intellect, and he was a very original thinker for sure. I'm excited to share a bit of his music with our audience on this first concert.
Q: Maestro, thank you so much for your time. We can't wait to welcome you back to the stage this week.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to our audience before this first concert?
A: We're delighted to be coming back, and we hope we've made the right decision to do so.
I have to tell you, we did a recording last Friday of Carnival of the animals that were going to broadcast as an educational concert, and it was just so wonderful. Seeing the musicians again and making music together... it just lifted everybody's spirits - especially mine. It felt really, really like we were taking a giant step back to some kind of normal behavior.
So that's it for me. That's the thing. I mean just getting back to making music, and making music a part of the community again. That's what's most important to all of us. ◼︎
More to Know:
What: Breathtaking Baroque
When: Saturday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: RiverCenter for the Performing Arts Get Tickets!