Lexington Symphony returns with vaccine and mask requirements
When the Lexington Symphony closed in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, it was in the middle of a record year. The 2019-2020 season marked the 25th anniversary of the symphony. Ticket sales have broken records and fundraising has exceeded expectations, said executive director Jeffrey Levenson. Sold-out shows were scheduled until the spring.
But, like most other facets of daily life, the organization slammed breaks when it became clear the pandemic would make live performances too dangerous.
Now, a year and a half later, the Lexington Symphony is gearing up for a concert return to Cary Memorial Hall. The new season begins on October 16 with a concert celebrating “the genius of Mozart”. A total of six shows are planned for the 2021-2022 season. The full program is available at lexingtonsymphony.org.
As live music returns to Lexington, things won’t be exactly the way they used to be. Earlier this month, the Symphony announced security protocols for upcoming concerts. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for all customers entering Cary Hall. Masks must be worn at all times in the building. The capacity will be reduced inside the hall, allowing additional space between the seats. Finally, the longest concerts will be played without an intermission, in order to end in 90 minutes.
Levenson said he was optimistic about the people who will support the Symphony this fall.
“Once they feel safe, I think people will come back to all kinds of performing arts en masse,” he said. “People’s values have realigned in some cases. They realized they didn’t need that new car or that great vacation. They need to go to concerts. The experiential things, the spiritual things are more important.
An almost silent year
Getting to this point has been a long journey. After it closed, the management of the Symphony knew that the first thing to do was to raise funds. The Lexington Symphony is professional, Levenson said, and it’s a rarity for a small town. For this reason, musicians had to be paid for their work. The Symphony implemented challenge grants for members in Spring 2020. The community responded and enough money was raised to pay the musicians.
When it became clear that there wouldn’t be a normal 2020-2021 season, Levenson and others got to work putting on virtual concerts for fans. Fortunately, the city opened Cary Hall to the Symphony for this purpose. The idea was to safely bring the musicians together on stage, record a concert, and then put it on together and stream it online, Levenson said.
However, the Symphony could not have the entire 44-person orchestra on stage at a time due to social distancing requirements. The solution was to divide the musicians into sections and record only one section at a time. For nine days last August, the different sections came to Cary Hall to record their parts individually.
It was a huge effort, said Levenson. Not only did all the logistics have to be coordinated, but safety was a top priority. The temperatures were taken, plexiglass was installed and the ventilation systems were turned on.
Fortunately, Jonathan McPhee, the maestro and musical director of the Symphony Orchestra, had experience in editing musical performances together in this manner. The virtual concerts were a huge success, Levenson said. They were streamed for free, but many who listened still donated. According to Levenson, people from across the country have logged in and the Symphony has obtained the email addresses of more than 1,000 new customers to these shows.
McPhee added to the experience for home viewers, interspersing interviews with guest artists and young local musicians between tracks.
“It showed that people not only love music, they love the Lexington Symphony. You can watch the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from home. The Met was doing things every night. But it was heartwarming to see how much they loved our orchestra. It got us through, ”Levenson said.
Despite the success of the pandemic season, sorting out the details of the 2021-2022 season has not been an easy task. The decision-making process has been going on for months, Levenson said, and it is a coordinated effort between himself and the other board members and staff.
Vaccination requirements and the use of the mask were central concerns. Ultimately, the executives of the Lexington Symphony drew inspiration from live performance organizations in New York City, Levenson said. To ensure everyone’s safety, these rules will be strictly enforced.
“These are the rules, and if people don’t like the rules, they don’t have to come,” he said. “We’re going to be strict about it. You can take a photo of your card or make a copy of it.
On August 18, Lexington began enforcing a new mask warrant due to the upsurge in COVID cases linked to the delta variant. Masks are now mandatory indoors in all publicly accessible spaces in Lexington. This, of course, includes Cary Hall. However, City Manager Jim Malloy recently released new compliance guidelines for houses of worship and indoor performance halls.
Those who want to occur unmasked must provide proof of a negative COVID test to the municipality. These must be taken within 24 hours of the unmasked performance. This will apply to musicians in the brass and wood sections, as they cannot play their instruments with a mask on.
Levenson also noted that all musicians and staff at the Lexington Symphony are fully immunized.
As the Lexington Symphony survived the heart of the pandemic through virtual innovation, Levenson said there is really nothing quite like a live concert.
“You could go back to the cavemen and see that the humans need to come together. This is how they find out what is normal, ”he said. “There is this huge need to experience things as a community. You just can’t replicate that with online stuff.