Pacific Symphony filmed new performances in an empty concert hall. You can stream them for free

Pacific Symphony
Pacific Symphony musicians rehearse for the Symphony Thursdays online series.
(Courtesy of Doug Gifford)

The Pacific Symphony returned to the stage this year for a new online performance series.

The “Symphony Thursdays” series, filmed at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall during its COVID-19 closure, is available through an online service called Pacific Symphony+, and it’s available online for free.

The program kicked off with a 23-minute video of Richard Strauss’ “Serenade for 13 Winds” and the finale of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” on Feb. 25 in conjunction with the symphony’s new mobile app. While 300 live viewers tuned into the performance, viewership after the event grew. Compared to last year, the symphony’s YouTube page received six times additional viewership, and its Facebook page received eight times additional viewership.

Every Thursday at 7 p.m., a new video will stream and be available for 30 days on the symphony’s website, mobile app, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

The next performance on March 4, with a brass and percussion section, will feature Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Michael Daugherty’s “Asclepius.”

Other performances will include Mozart’s “Serenata Notturna,” the finale from Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie for Winds,” suites from Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” and “The Firebird” and a number of Bach concertos.

“The musicians and I are gratified to be creating and making music again after such a long period of being unable to play together. I planned the repertoire for these online concerts in such a way that each piece can be performed by a smaller ensemble rather than the full orchestra. This allows us to be properly socially distanced on stage and assures that everyone is safe,” Music Director Carl St.Clair said in the announcement.

Carl St.Clair rehearses in a nearly empty Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Carl St.Clair rehearses in a nearly empty Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
(Courtesy of Doug Gifford)

In the past, orchestra concerts filmed to document the performances for the symphony archives were not meant for wider distribution. However, the Pacific Symphony edited and released new and archival videos on KCET and PBS programs at the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. The orchestra produced concerts in living rooms and backyards in the “Quarantine Clips” series.

“We all felt strongly that there was a need to consolidate and create an identity for all the digital work that was emerging from the Pacific Symphony,” said John Forsyte, president and CEO. “We were doing quite a bit of video work before that, but nothing of this scale. As we began to return to the stage, it made sense to help the other digital assets that are sort of sitting in our archives to gain greater attention while we’re releasing all this new content.”

A recent donation from Orange County philanthropist Janet Curci went toward updating the symphony’s filming equipment (12 video cameras, microphones and high definition monitors) to provide more angles and close ups.

Cal State Fullerton’s Begovich Gallery is offering an online series of art lectures available to the public from Feb. 26 to April 6. Artists will discuss their studio process as well as practices responding to social issues.

Forsyte said organizers made the decision to have the performances range from 30 to 60 minutes to avoid digital fatigue. The average length of viewer duration for the first video in the series was almost nine minutes on YouTube.

“It’s kind of a controversial idea to have cameras on a classical orchestra,” Forsyte said. “Gradually, our patrons have gotten used to it and actually quite enjoy it because you really can see the concentration levels. You’re not always aware of what instruments are creating a specific sound because it’s very vertically stacked harmonically complex music, but the angles in the recordings make it clear.”

The safety protocols in the making of the series followed other California orchestras and were created in consultation with UC Irvine’s public health department. All participants were tested for COVID-19 prior to filming and stayed at least 6 feet apart onstage. The brass and wind musicians performed encased by plexiglass while St.Clair and the string players wore face masks.

The brass and wind musicians of the Pacific Symphony perform encased by plexiglass.
The brass and wind musicians of the Pacific Symphony perform encased by plexiglass.
(Courtesy of Doug Gifford)

The last in-person performance with an audience was on March 8, 2020, with the American Ballet Theatre. The symphony received a $2.1-million Paycheck Protection Program loan and entered into an agreement with the musicians to continue paying through September. The organization began to implement furloughs and staff salary cuts of about 25% on the administrative and production side of the company.

Musicians continue to be paid, and some furloughed staff were brought back full time while others returned at reduced hours. In the absence of earned revenue, the symphony is functioning through philanthropy.

Forsyte said one of the challenges is that California remains one of the only states that has not published reopening guidelines for arts organizations.

The goal is to expand the symphony’s philanthropic outreach and reach $12 million in capital resources and reserves while also focusing on helping Orange County.

“We have an economic role to play, but we also have a psychological music and wellness role. That’s something we’re anxious to do — play outside and in front of people. We think people are craving beauty, joy and congregation … [We also want to] support free events, lowering ticket prices, lowering barriers to assure that the broader community can participate.”

The Pacific Symphony's brass and wind section rehearse in preparation for the filming of Symphony Thursdays online series.
The Pacific Symphony’s brass and wind section rehearse in preparation for the filming of Symphony Thursdays online series.
(Courtesy of Doug Gifford)

If you watch

What: Symphony Thursdays
When: Every Thursday through April 8 at 7 p.m.
Where: Online

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