Seriously bad sign: Orchestra rules out playing in 20/21

Seriously bad sign: Orchestra rules out playing in 20/21


norman lebrecht

May 21, 2020

The Victoria Symphony, in British Columbia on the Pacific side of Canada, has dismissed the possibility of any return to performance in the next season, taking a vow of silence until September 2021 at the earliest.

Press release:

It is with sadness that today the Victoria Symphony is announcing the suspension of its programming for the 2020.21 Season.

While this is heartbreaking news, our highest priority is the health and welfare of the organization’s patrons, musicians, artists, staff and volunteers. The decision to suspend all performances is in compliance with the Province of British Columbia’s COVID-19 health regulations and Restart Plan. Performances will resume when it is deemed safe to do so by the Province and its top health officials.

What this tells us is that the orchestra has taken the best available political and scientific advice and decided on this basis that it will not be safe or sensible to give concerts for another year and a half.

This is unlikely to be a lone instance. We’re all in this together, for the long term.

PR: The Victoria Symphony would like to thank its patrons, volunteers and the community for their unstinting support of the organization during these past few months. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of our community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CEO Kathryn Laurin, “we hope that we will continue to be recipients of our patrons’ unwavering support as we weather these extraordinary times. Now more than ever it is critical to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for our wonderful symphony orchestra. We look forward to welcoming our audiences back to the concert hall to experience live symphonic music as soon as we are able to perform safely.”


  • Steven Mendler says:

    Who will pay stuff salaries?
    How can they survive?

  • Mike says:

    Isn’t this a bit premature? At times when German Orchestras are conducting studies on potential danger of the collaboration for the players, musicians around the world looking for ways to continue their work and scientists arguing whether there will be a second wave at all? One might get an impression that either someone succumbed to depression or is looking into ‘restructuring’ the operation.

    • Monsoon says:

      It removes a lot of uncertainty and makes it easier for everyone to plan for the next 18 months. Being told that you may return to work in 3 months and a decision won’t be made for another month leaves people in limbo for everything from pursuing other job opportunities to where to live/if to renew leases.

      And the plans to resume concerts this fall are so unrealistic. All it will take is one member of the orchestra testing positive for COVID-19 to shut down everything and put the whole orchestra into quarantine for two weeks. And it will eventually happen. Same deal with the audience. Get ready for emails from management to patrons that read: “We regret to inform you that a patron sitting in your section on the August 5, 2020 concert recently tested positive for COVID-19 and could have infected you. Please get tested ASAP and submit to a two-week quarantine at home. Please alert everyone you came into close contact with since the concert.”

      • Saxon Broken says:

        German football didn’t stop when one of the players got Covid-19. So why should something like that stop a concert?

        The virus really is not particularly dangerous to most healthy people.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    Last night I watched a live concert with Nina Stemme singing the Wesendonck Lieder – a superb one hour concert. I loved it.

    The orchestra were on the stage, socially distanced, I would guess one metre apart, Nina Stemme stood in the middle of them. No member of the orchestra wore a face mask. There was no audience, which given the circumstances there could have been: it would have been safe and possible.

    So what is going on? Is there more to the above story than the orchestra is letting on?

    • Miko says:

      It would have been safe and possible? How do you know? Are you an epidemiologist?

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        I don’t have to go to the North pole to know that it’s bloody cold.

        • Alex says:

          That’s not even remotely the same thing at all. Disease and weather cannot be comparable. Contagion is a threat to all who are exposed. Your statement is Trumpian.

          • Stephen Diviani says:

            In taking my comment so literally you have given me the best laugh of the day. So far anyway. Thanks.

        • Miko says:

          From what you posted, mate, it sounds like you’ll be off to Lapland in a t shirt

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Miko, feel free to stay at home for the next 10 years because you have terrified yourself senseless. The rest of us can start getting back to living life.

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        No I’m not epidemiologist, but neither is a single member of the UK government but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t stop them making policy decisions based on their reading of the scientific advice. The problem with your question, apart from its being used to shut down public debate, is that it implies a false premise: that the science is unitary. It is not. The most famous scientist in the UK is Prof Neil Ferguson, a government scientific advisor, who generated the epidemiological modelling on Covid-19 mortality rates, modelling which changed the UK government’s policy on partial herd immunity vs lockdown. Yet his methodology was controversial to put it mildly – do an online search using his name and Prof Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University. In my own case, I’ve adhered strictly to the UK’s two metre distancing rule because I neither want to contract nor to pass on Covid-19. Yet the WHO states that one metre is sufficient, and other scientists (cf. the Nobel Prize winning Director of the Francis Crick Institute, Sir Paul Nurse, talking on this morning’s ‘Today Programme’ – BBC R4) acknowledge that the wearing of face masks could mitigate the need for social distancing. My point re. Wednesday evening’s superb concert was that if it was all right for the orchestra to perform together on a stage with around one metre distancing, with none of them wearing face masks, it would have been both safe and possible to have an audience where the same distancing was applied & they wore face masks. To reach that conclusion you don’t have to be a scientist.

    • Dan Moses says:

      Classically-trained singers are known to “sing moistly” most of the time, so I wouldn’t want to be in the vicinity of an operatic soloist at this time.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    “What this tells us is that the orchestra has taken the best available political and scientific advice and decided on this basis that it will not be safe or sensible to give concerts for another year and a half.”

    Well, no, it tells us that they’re currently not expecting to do any concerts at the start of the season, or until they’re advised that it’s safe to do so. If they (or any orchestra) gets the all-clear in October, they’re hardly going to sit on their hands for another 12 months.

    The only particularly valid response to the current situation is that no-on knows anything.

  • Tone row says:

    If entire societies, including economic, educational and cultural activities all shut down whenever a communicable disease arose that struck down 1:10000 under 50 year olds, there would be no Bach, no Beethoven, no Mozart, no Tchaikovsky, no Verdi operas, no Mahler, no Wagner operas, no Brahms, no Stravinsky… Yet here we are. Our lives are materially poorer for lack of shared musical experiences and lives semi-permanently bereft of communal activity and expression.

    Streaming is crap.

    The only fleeting benefit, and I’m not the only one I’m sure, is individuals finding greater depth and meaning in their own solitary playing, but that’s poor consolation.

    For one, I’m failing to make up for lack of live music with recorded music. Musical recordings compliment the experience of live performance, and without the latter, I will largely do without the former as they are little substitute.

    • Monsoon says:

      Given that the mortality rate for people 70-79 has been as high as 12 percent in some western countries, and that the average of classical music concertgoers is 50+, reopening concert halls could be a bloodbath.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Monsoon: “mortality rate for people 70-79 …. is 12 percent in some western countries”

        No it is not. That is just plain wrong. There are a large number of people that have had the virus but have not been diagnosed (something that all experts acknowledge). We don’t know for sure how many have gone undiagnosed. But the fact that some many have not been diagnosed means the virus is much less dangerous than your statement.

  • Clinton says:

    British Columbia has a very detailed Restart Program. We just started Phase 2 this week; when we are in Phase 3 gatherings of 50 and under are allowed. Phase 4 is conditional on a vaccine or public immunity. Performing arts organizations cannot really see “business as usual” until Phase 4.

    Both Pacific Opera Victoria and Dance Victoria have also suspended their seasons.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It is likely that a vaccine will take many years to be developed. So some other way of getting back to normal will have to be found.

      • Dan Moses says:

        I’m replying from one year and one day in the future. Vaccines are being injected as we speak, mostly all over the world. At least 60% of British Columbia has had its first dose of two. Case counts are down, after three waves. It’s been a heck of a ride.

  • Larry says:

    They’ve been advertising for a new CEO for at least the past month or two. Who is going to want to take the job under these circumstances? Not to make light of a very serious subject but one would think that being an island, it might be easier to control the virus, as compared to the mainland. Why the rush to suspend everything at this time?

  • Suicidal Decisions says:

    This is suicidal. This organization has absolutely no creativity and is obviously a non-entity in its community. Don’t look for leadership from an organization like this. They are basically done with and require no attention.


    • V.Lind says:

      Cambridge University has moved ALL its classes online for the entire next academic year. Is it also a nonentity (correct spelling) in its community? All those students who will never meet, never see Cambridge, never have the university experience?

      Handout salaries, whether government-backed or from the organisations that employ people, will run out long before pandemic conditions are relaxed. The explanation above for letting people make plans is sensible.

      And don’t be so superior about the Orchestra. The nonentity attracts 40,000 people to its open concert every summer — one of the most spectacular fundraising events in music. Victoria is a very small (as well as a very beautiful) city, so I think that suggests that the Symphony is very much an entity in its community.

    • Carla says:

      Your strong opinion implies that you have leadership experience in arts nonprofits, and/or have some sort of inside knowledge that informs your opinion that the organization made a bad decision. Can you share your professional, relevant experience, or the insider knowledge?

  • Robert Fraser says:

    Full disclosure: I am one of the musicians in this orchestra.

    This announcement does not preclude ALL activity by the Victoria Symphony in the coming season, just the schedule as it was originally launched. We will continue to do what we can online, both as individual musicians and in small groups where possible. We are unionized, and in constant negotiation with our management over compensation, and how we can best (and safely) come out of this.

    Even if the BC Government gives the “all clear” before the end of next season, it would likely be impossible to just simply pick up where we left off in the schedule, due to travel restrictions for guest artists, or any number of factors, including loss of revenue up until the point of return.

    The Government of Canada has done a great deal to support workers in all sectors affected by covid-19, and we, being the workers who will likely be affected for the longest time period, will definitely be taking our case to them (most orchestras in Canada receive funding from three levels of government).

    I am a musician — not a scientist of any sort — so I refuse to engage in conjecture over when it’s safe to gather musicians and audience together, or how far apart the wind players need to be. As hard hit as I will be financially by this virus, I refuse to play at dice with the life of even audience member or colleague.

    Bob Fraser,
    Bass Trombonist, Victoria Symphony

    • tanya says:

      European musicians seems to be much more eager to return to live performances.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        There are a range of views among musicians in both places. Some want to return quickly, others want to wait much longer.

  • Judy says:

    ‘Hamilton’ is on the Covid show on Sunday nite.
    The Oscar s may not happen ???

  • Dan Moses says:

    I am also a member of the Victoria Symphony. What many in the public do not appreciate is how the planning for an orchestra works. Often, concerts are programmed 2 to 3 years in advance, and that requires booking the concert venue, booking rehearsal venues, booking the conductor, booking any soloists required, forecasting the rental of music, confirming the instrumentation of the concert pieces, and then confirming the individual orchestral musicians for the right number of rehearsals and performances, in accordance with the budget for the year! It is a challenging and thankless job. By cancelling our 2020-21 season, it means that most of the unknowns for the next 12 to 15 months are removed and staff can focus on planning a spectacular return in Sept 2021. It also means that the VS Society avoids entering into contracts with conductors, soloists and venues, etc, for “possible” concerts. If there’s one thing worse than not having any revenue, it is being obliged to pay out contractors, regardless, for concerts that didn’t happen. As Bob Fraser pointed out, our 20-21 season “as programmed” was cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that all of us will be completely silent for the whole season.

  • Paul Godfrey says:

    Depressing in part but also reassuring. I personally can’t see the arts thriving till social distancing is a memory. 18 months seems like a realistic time scale for control of COVID, return of public confidence, cash to buy tickets, aeroplanes flying economically for touring, to come together.
    The idea of sitting in an opera house in the ‘chessboard model’ with masked audience and performers will be tried, but it won’t be fun or economic and incredibly restrictive in repertoire. The trouble is keeping the band together in the meantime. Or better still, finding better ways of ensuring people are COVID free before entering public institutions.

    The technology most certainly exists with accurate five minute portable test machines and thermal temperature control barriers. It’s here and now unlike a vaccine.
    The question is whether to spend billions now saving world culture or trillions both on its imminent collapse and resurrection.

  • nomen nescio says:

    Health first, what a horrible, irresponsible decision. Let`s take a tour in China. Yes, we can, yes, we can.