Zhou Ping looks unusually calm for a conductor whose musical director and conductor for the grand opening show is stuck in another city due to the pandemic.
“Imagine a student facing a big test. You feel like you’re about to break down every day before the test. And finally, when that day comes, you’re so overwhelmed. It’s the ultimate tranquility,” the head of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra told the Shanghai Daily on Wednesday. .
It was five hours before the 13th Music in the Summer Air (MISA) festival opened – in an empty concert hall – while thousands of live viewers waited on various social media platforms.
It was the full orchestra’s first performance since the sporadic resurgence of the pandemic earlier this year led to concert hiatuses and then a surprisingly long lockdown in Shanghai.
The orchestra was hailed by music fans in early July when it announced the live return of MISA, to be held as usual in 2020 and 2021. But the city’s recent resurgence has brought new uncertainties, and the two-week festival has gone live.
“It’s been twists upon twists on tops of corners,” Zhou said, adding that she hadn’t given up hope of a pleasant surprise.
The orchestra had a rehearsal of its COVID contingency plan the day before MISA opened – in anticipation of the slim chance that live audiences would be allowed back into concert halls in the middle of the festival.
That luck grew brighter on Thursday afternoon as the festival confirmed it would gradually admit live audiences, pending the latest pandemic measures.
Paris-based Vivienne Qiao was one of those fans waiting on Wednesday night. Originally from Shanghai and a staunch supporter of MISA, she used to go to the festival every summer, even flying once while studying in London.
“Livestream is always different from live. The visual gets blurry here and there and the sound certainly can’t compare to the audiovisual in a concert hall, but I can’t help but be so touched and excited “, she told the Shanghai Daily. shortly after watching it online from thousands of miles away.
“Especially when the brass joins in at the end of the first movement after a brief darkened mood, ending it with a sense of youthful vitality – and on this special occasion, a sense of festive reunion. Far away, in front of the screen, I don’t can’t help but share this joy of the full orchestra, of every instrument, hitting the notes together again on stage.”
It refers to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan” during the opening concert. The program, featuring renowned mezzo-soprano Zhu Huiling, also includes “Wesendonck Lieder” and “Solveig’s Song” from the “Peer Gynt” suites.
It was planned to be under the direction of the orchestra’s music director, Yu Long, who started the festival 13 years ago. Unable to return from Beijing in time due to the pandemic, he misses MISA for the first time. Deputy conductor Zhang Lu was notified three days ago to replace the maestro.
“I can go home to sleep today,” Zhang said, just before running to the final rehearsal. “To avoid uncertainty on my side as much as possible, I have been sleeping at the hotel for two days. There are so many uncertainties that go beyond the usual domain of the train conductor’s job, you just have to be ready to everything.” .”
Something unexpected happens every half day, according to Zhou, which makes it impossible to even have backup plans. Foreign artists cannot return in time. Guest orchestras and performers from other cities must cancel or line up. It’s also uncertain which member of the orchestra might find themselves stuck in their neighborhood all of a sudden.
“Who knows,” Zhou said. “We have an A-to-D backup for every performer. We borrow performers from other orchestras. And we don’t even have backup plans anymore. Instead, we have the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario, and try to plan by fluctuating between the two.”
She added: “We had been planning and replanning since January – there were so many versions of the plan, but there was never one to undo.”
These challenges and many more have become familiar to musicians around the world who have been hit hard by COVID-related uncertainties over the past three years. Some call its impact on the music industry, and classical music in particular, turbulent, while others simply say disastrous.
Festivals and music seasons have been delayed or cancelled. Visits are almost impossible due to travel restrictions and uncertain quarantine rules in other places. Even rehearsals are difficult during closures.
All of this makes the return of summer music festivals this year all the more joyful. Major festivals like the BBC Proms have launched in full season offline for the first time since the pandemic. But the impact remains as orchestras and festival organizers around the world talk about diversification and more sustainable ways to reach wider audiences.
Part of the answer for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is to make online and offline events complementary rather than competitive, and to build closer ties with the next generation of musicians and audiences.
The orchestra and its musicians are no strangers to online or live concerts. He started uploading some of his live concerts in 2018, and it accelerated in 2020 due to the pandemic. He was among the first to try out a cloud concert series as early as March 2020, viewed over 5 million times on different social media platforms.
It has also provided more opportunities for young musicians like conductor Zhang, born in the 1980s. born in the 1990s. Another notable young chef is 22-year-old Jin Yukuang, who was the festival’s biggest surprise for many observers last year.
“These young conductors, born in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, perform throughout the festival, a sign of the vitality and legacy of our music industry,” Yu said from Beijing.
“Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, also known as ‘Titan’, is featured in our opening concert, and we sincerely hope that the city of Shanghai, our orchestra and all musicians will return to their greatness.”