An al fresco opera in Chisholm, Minn. Chamber recitals on Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Songs and arias outside a senior housing facility in Burnsville.
While small shoots of socially distanced recovery have sprouted locally in the past six months, the classical picture has been generally grim. No opera at the Ordway, no symphonies at Orchestra Hall, no vocal music swelling the rafters in choir-mad Minnesota.
Privately, musicians and administrators concede that it will probably take a vaccine before we get to anything like “normal” again. Publicly, they are doing what the rest of us have done — shifting activities to the internet.
Among the highlights this fall are digital concerts for the Schubert Club by American tenor Lawrence Brownlee (Oct. 4 and 6) and top violinist Midori (Nov. 10). Minnesota Opera’s 3-D stream of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” should be worth seeing (Nov. 14-28), and a scaled-down Minnesota Orchestra will perform a series of Friday-evening concerts on TPT MN, Minnesota Public Radio and its own website starting Oct. 2.
Beyond the mainstream, coronavirus has spawned fresh, innovative approaches, particularly among smaller companies. New music features in “How Many Breaths,” an audiovisual piece prompted by the death of George Floyd. Violinist Ariana Kim, composer Steve Heitzeg, and Penumbra Theatre’s Lou and Sarah Bellamy are the collaborators, and the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota hosts the online premiere (Sept. 27).
Virtual music making slakes the thirst of classical audiences, but makes little or no money for the organizations providing it. So how can classical companies find ways of continuing to pay their staff and performers?
One answer is to start charging — or charge more. Audiences may grasp the need to nurse performers through this severely cash-strapped period, and pay up happily.
Then again, they might not. A recent YouGov survey found that two-thirds of classical music fans had not watched a livestreamed event since COVID started, and more than half would be unwilling to pay for one.
It will take more than clicking a “Like” button on a Facebook stream or YouTube video to tide Minnesota’s rich ecosystem of classical musicians through to a better period.