Minnesota Orchestra

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year the Minnesota Orchestra played a concert to an empty hall. The concert was broadcast live on Classical MPR. (Joseph Scheller/Minnesota Orchestra)

We live in a world where hearing a full orchestra perform live in a concert hall full of people could be hazardous to our health. Citing current state guidelines for gathering safely, the Minnesota Orchestra is temporarily reinventing itself. For a while, it won’t gather in all of its majesty to knock our socks off in Orchestra Hall. Instead, it will perform a series of small ensemble chamber music concerts outdoors on Peavey Plaza.

Thank goodness Peavey Plaza reopened when it did – on July 18, 2019, just a little less than a year ago.

In mid-April, the orchestra announced an ambitious series of concerts that included three Symphony for the Cities outdoor performances, which typically draw big crowds, and five weeks of indoor concerts rescheduled from the 2019-20 season, which was interrupted in mid-March by COVID-19. Plans were to begin the 2020-21 concert season in late September.

Instead, 16 concerts have been canceled (through Sept. 5) and replaced by 24 smaller-scale concerts that will take place daily at 7 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays, from Aug. 4 through Aug. 30. Each will be about 70 minutes long, with no intermission. The total capacity per concert, including musicians (up to eight) and staff, will be 250 people, and seating for musicians and audience members will be physically spaced.

All of the concert programs are new, all were designed by Minnesota Orchestra musicians, and each will feature a work by a Black composer.

Tickets are not available for purchase. These concerts are being offered as a complimentary thank you to those who currently hold tickets to the canceled August and early September full-orchestra performances. A small number of complimentary tickets will be available to the public through an online lottery system.

A complete list of safety protocols will be available at the orchestra’s website. Masks will be required; woodwind and brass players will remove theirs on stage to perform. All concert attendees, musicians and staff will be required to complete a short online preconcert health screening.

“New safety measures will be part of concert-going now, but these will not diminish the music itself,” said Silver Ainomäe in a statement. (Ainomäe is associate principal cello and chair of the musicians’ artistic advisory committee.) “We can’t wait to offer live musical performances again as a gesture of our thanks.”

“While we aren’t able to offer the full-orchestra concerts in August that we originally envisioned, we are pleased to focus on what the Orchestra can responsibly and creatively do next month in alignment with the State’s ‘Stay Safe MN’ guidelines,” said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns. “This is the first step in the Orchestra’s gradual, phased approach to offering concerts again, and we are proceeding with great care to make it a safe and joyful experience.”

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