Play safe? Pictures from a Covid-free orchestra

Play safe? Pictures from a Covid-free orchestra


norman lebrecht

July 19, 2020

It’s the Hong Kong Sinfonietta back at work.


These pictures were taken before last Wednesday, when all Hong Kong halls were closed on renewed Covid fears.


  • Amos says:

    Would appreciate comments from wind and brass players on how the shields affect projection and to what extent rehearsals can ameliorate issues.

    • Anon says:

      My experience so far is that it depends where you place the shields. I am seeing different variations on shield placement. Some orchs are placing shields in front of wind players to protect strings from their air output. I tried this & it dampens the sound too much. I am keeping the shields on either side of me only – similar to this pic. No shield in front.

      I like how this group does it with open space – no shields – in front of the winds. This would probably allow pretty good projection. It’s working OK for me this way.

      What I don’t get is why they have the shields BEHIND the players. This is going to affect how they sound to themselves. There is no one behind the bassoons, for example, so why do they have screens behind the section? That doesn’t make sense to me.

      Basically, a set up like this is going to muffle the sound of the winds. It’s like playing in an isolation booth. We can hear, but it’s slightly muffled and dampened. A little like playing with earplugs, but not so extreme. You have to get used to playing like this, and it helps to have a good conductor who can moderate volume & balance from the podium.

      The alternative is correct social distancing, which would put the winds far apart from each other and limit how many can be onstage, for spacing reasons. Some orchs are going into larger venues – like sports arenas – to allow for more distancing.

      I prefer this set up, with shields, and playing closer to my colleagues, than the alternative – playing really far apart with no screens. It also feels very safe this way. It’s important to feel comfortable when you’re playing. I feel the shields provide protection and comfort.

      • Amos says:

        Thanks. No shields in front is unfortunately dangerous and similar to having shields behind is in part a function of the HVAC system. Depending on the intensity and directionality of the system it can be a nightmare predicting how an airborne virus might circulate. In some shops, the use of fans has been curtailed for this reason.

        • Anon says:

          OK, but with all respect, it sounds to me like you’re overthinking this. If you want 100% security, you’d have to have the musicians play in airtight plexiglass capsules. I’ve actually seen something similar to that in the US. It was a one shot concert & it was ridiculous. They had to mike the musicians in every cubicle to hear them. That’s not really live orchestral playing, is it? And it sure doesn’t work for any orch. working full time.

          If you’re concerned about a HVAC system, just turn it off during concerts & rehearsals. We do that anyway for the noise factor. Why would an HVAC be blowing air back INTO the stage anyway? And why would the last row need shields behind them if there’s no one there?

          I saw one European study where they monitored the hall’s inside ventilation system & it demonstrated how the air generated by wind players was all blown upwards & forward into the hall itself. Following your theory, you’d have to hermetically seal off every musician to prevent that from happening. If you’re concerned about that, just turn the system off.

          Look, there’s no perfect solution. Those of us who are out there working in orchs. right now are finding solutions that may not be perfect but they are workable. We are not sitting at home figuring out all the ways we could get possibly get infected if we come to work. We are finding reasonable solutions which offer us some protection and allow us to do our jobs.

          You asked wind players how the shields affect projection & I told you. A shield right in front of me hampers my projection, according to the conductor, shields to the side not so much. I see no need for a shield behind me because there is no one there.

          In another pro orch. nearby, the winds ARE using large moveable shields at a distance of about a meter in front of them. They seem to be concertizing fine with that arrangement. If you must go with shields in front, I think leaving a certain distance between the player & the shield is important for projection. If you have a shield immediately in front of you it’s going to muffle you.

          I should add that I am not working in the US where the infection rate is high. COVID is fairly well contained where I am, so we are probably not as meticulous as US players might be. A topic which comes up a lot here, though, is the fact that musicians would like the security of everyone in the orch. having COVID testing regularly so that we know the people around us are not infected. We’d like to see that implemented in my orch. Many orchs are doing it.

          • Amos says:

            HVAC systems are different in every building and as such, there is no apriori way to predict how it would affect airflow around any group.

          • Anon says:

            Ok, then. It sounds to me that if that’s your concern, you should probably just wait until there’s a vaccine to be playing together.

      • rugbyfiddler says:

        The effect of distancing depends on the hall’s acoustics too. In some (very modern) halls the sound is very ‘clinical’ and in others it seems like you are playing all on your own.

    • Craig P says:

      It would be OK for all except the horns with respect to sound. I can’t see the horn set up, but you’d be better off putting them on the back edge with the shields rotated to open behind the bell.

      I can’t figure how these really help that much. It appears, for example, the flutes are projecting “ballistic saliva” straight into the strings?

  • Peter says:

    Meanwhile Hong Kong is reaching a new peak of confirmed COVID-19 cases today… and all the concert venues closed again days before.
    Regarding wind and brass sections, there is another video available for reference:

    • Salvart says:

      That’s just sad. But where there’s a will there’s a way. I can’t see how face shields stop the spread or would offer any confidence to those musicians playing.
      We just have to ride this out.

  • Nick says:

    Good luck with all that!