By Michael Levin
It’s a new world these days, with plenty of unanswered questions, so naturally, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has just recorded and released new versions of Dvořák’s New World Symphony and Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, launching its new series of online performances and interviews, Music In Changing Times, also known as BSO Now.
Since we can’t go to the BSO, the BSO’s coming to us, via its new online programming, which launched Thursday, November 19 and will run through April 29.
Former assistant BSO conductor Ken-David Masur conducted the first BSO NOW! production, an hour-long video performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recorded in a pandemic-sensitive, socially distanced manner.
“The stage was extended over the front rows of the audience,” Masur says. “All of the musicians were six feet apart, or stationed up in the balcony. It made for a ton of work for the recording crew, but the players were just so happy to be making music together after all this time.”
The second BSO NOW! performance features Thomas Wilkins leading the BSO in Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst, William Grant Still’s Out of the Silence, and Duke Ellington’s New World A-Comin’ and come Sunday, featuring piano soloist Aaron Diehl and narrator Charlotte Blake Alston.
December 3rd’s offering will feature conductor Giancarlo Guerrero leading the BSO through Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Appalachian Spring, an expression of hope for 2021, along with Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, andBSO musicians in chamber music performances.
In addition, a Holiday Pops for 2020 concert, recorded at Symphony Hall and Fenway Park, is now available online.
The BSO has high hopes for BSO NOW!, based on the world-wide response to the online version of its summer Tanglewood music series earlier this year, as the pandemic took hold and cancelled live events worldwide.
“We had viewers from 88 countries on six continents this summer,” says Mark Volpe, CEO of the BSO. “Normally, Tanglewood is most easily accessible to those who can drive in from Boston or New York. This year, we had visitors from Sub-Saharan Africa and many other places around the globe.”
The challenge the BSO faces, along with pretty much every cultural institution in the world, is the degree to which ticket buyers will feel safe returning to halls with large crowds and close contact once the pandemic passes.
“That’s the real unanswered question today,” Volpe notes. “For example, our Friday afternoon Boston Symphony Orchestra attracts an older audience, some of whom come in vans and busses from senior care facilities. At what point will they feel comfortable returning to concerts? No one knows.”
BSO NOW is the Boston Symphony’s method of staying connected to its audience, while building a growing world-wide audience, even as the world waits for the vaccines to stem the tide of COVID.
“Our musicians have to keep up their individual skills,” says Masur. “They need to play together and keep their ensemble skills up as well. BSO NOW! is a perfect way to keep our orchestra members connected with one another and with audiences they love and serve.”
For further information, visit www.bso.org/now.