We name the musical heroes of this Covid summer

We name the musical heroes of this Covid summer


norman lebrecht

September 02, 2020

Let’s have a little shout-out for the ones who defied the odds and kept the music live and connected, the ones who justified their jobs with a display of creative ingenuity. Here goes:

1 Helga Rabl-Stadler and Markus Hinterhäuser at the Salzburg Festival
Managed two operas and full concert programme without casualties

2 Antonio Moral
Had the summer’s best piano festival in Granada, Spain

3 Roger Wright at Britten-Pears Arts
First off the UK mark with an audience-open festival

4 John Gilhooly at London’s Wigmore Hall
Kept up programming ‘with or without audience’

5 Tomer Zvulun at Atlanta Opera
Taking his shows around town in a Big Tent

6 Teatro Comunale of Bologna
Moved into a basketball drome

7 Stuart Murphy at English National Opera
Pioneered drive-in opera

8 Ostrava Philharmonic, Czech Rep.
First in Europe with an audience

9 Teatro Real, Madrid, for a genuinely reimagined La Traviata

10 Arena di Verona


Who have we forgotten?

11 Cameron Carpenter, who drove his organ around Berlin care homes

12  Festival della Valle d’Itria
In Martina Franca, Italy, opened mid-July with “Bürger als Edelmann”, followed by the original version of “Ariadne auf Naxos.

13 Paavo Järvi
Kept up his Festival in Pärnu, Estonia

14 The Fidelio Cafe Clerkenwell Road London, star recitals

15 Fabio Luisi
Made Opernhaus Zürich re-open for the last two weeks of July

16 Igor Levit
Streamed Beethoven sonatas from home

17 Schubertiada de Vilabertran,in Spain
Managed to present Matthias Goerne, Juliane Banse, Florian Boesch, Andrè Schuen, Wolfram Rieger and Cuarteto Casals

18 Finnish Radio
Among the first to give concerts with live audience

19 Deutsche Oper Berlin
Playing Das Rheingold on the roof


  • anonymous says:

    The BBC Proms – for not only providing two weeks of world class concerts but also promoting the largest discussion about diversity in music that the UK has seen in recent times.

    • Player says:

      Um, not sure they wanted all the negative publicity, nor to have to cave in. But apart from that, great, as the traditional elements in the LNOP are surely safe for years now!

      They have conspicuously failed to get anyone in to the vast Albert Hall to hear any of the concerts in person – a big failing, when set against the achievements that Norman lists here.

  • Ravenna says:

    Ravenna Festival – 1 month, started June 21 with Muti. Even Fischer with Budapest on July 1 and Gergiev came with Mariinski on July 27

    In Rome Gatti did Rigoletto on July 16

  • Lucy Maxwell-Stewart says:

    and the Ravenna Festival in Italy and Paavo Järvi’s Festival in Pärnu Estonia!

  • Giulia says:

    I would say that the Italian operatic system is the big winner of this summer. The only country there was a vast summer offer of opera and where the summer festivals were all confirmed, some with major changes, some with very little. In addition, the opera houses extended their season to July managing to add to the general offer. So my hero is Italy and specifically: Opera di Roma, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Festival della Valle d’Itria, Rossini Opera Festival, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, Teatro Massimo Palermo, Arena di Verona, Festival di Macertata. I’m sure I have forgotten someone. Shamefully missing from the heroes list – La Scala.

    • laura says:

      But many Opera Companies in Italy have taken advantage of this pandemic to clean house and put the books in order… at the expense of their chorus members, musical staff, and technicians. 🙁 It is actually cheaper to stay closed than make the effort to open…

  • nathalie says:

    Festival de piano de la Roque d’Anthéron (France)
    31 000 spectateurs, 51 concerts

  • JC says:

    The big Italian summer festivals: Pesaro, Martina Franca, Rome Opera (not at the Caracalla baths but at the Circus Maximus), Ravello (possibile the most impressive line-up of this summer), Naples (operas in Piazza Plebiscito), Florence (operas in the rooftop cavea)…

  • AQ says:

    Madrid, Teatro Real.
    La traviata. 27 performances from July 1st to July 29. 22.000 people

  • Keith says:

    Tulsa Symphony opens their season outdoors in a baseball stadium this weekend with full orchestra celebrating Beethoven with Yefim Bronfman playing Beethoven 3rd piano concerto and ending with Beethoven Symphony 7 followed by fireworks. Will have a socially distant audience of 1500-1600. Masks will be required. https://tulsaworld.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/tulsa-symphony-sets-season-opener-its-first-concert-at-oneok-field/article_b0d68dd8-e711-11ea-9e80-af5a81c507e5.html

  • Florestan says:

    The Fidelio in Graz on the open-air stage on the top of the city’s central hill – spontaneously made by „Junge Konzerte Graz“ and „Grazer Spielstätten“!

  • Anon says:

    The BBC music department as a whole – they kept musicians and arts presenters gainfully employed, organised lockdown recordings, commissioned new works, and managed to get two weeks of live Proms out despite everything. They’ve reached a far wider audience with live music-making than any of the top 9. And John Gilhooly couldn’t have done number 4 without the support of the live broadcaster.

    (No personal interest other than profound gratitude that we still have a national non-commercial broadcaster which invests in decent music.)

  • Suzanne says:

    Krzyzowa Festival – organised covid-19 testing for both musicians AND audience, allowing a full festival of chamber music concerts to take place with no social distancing required. https://en.krzyzowa-music.eu

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    Orvieto Teatro Mancinelli Spaziomusica’s wotkshop with Il Barbiere di Siviglia (August 6 and 7) and Madama Butterfly (August 28 and 29)

  • Dirk P says:

    Klavierfestival Ruhr; viele Konzerte seit 4. Juni

  • Inchiquin says:

    In Memoriam Garech de Brún co-founder of Claddagh Records and supporter of Irish music.

    Mo Ghile Mear or the White Cockade was a lament composed for the exiled Prince Charles Edward Stuart by Seán Clárach Mac Donaill (1691-1754) to the air An Cnota Bán. In MacDonaill’s time all the bards and rhymers were ‘without the law’, but in spite of this the Gaelic poets assembled at his farm in Cill Tuathaigh, county Cork, under his leadership.

    The parallel between MacDonaill’s work for Gaelic poetry and his own work for Gaelic music must have been very clear to the late Seán Ó Riada. Before he died, he asked that this should be played at his funeral.


    Bímse buan ar buairt gach ló
    Ag caoi go crua’s ag tuar na ndeor
    Mar scaoileadh uainn an buachaill, no bhron!
    ‘Sé mo laoch, mo ghile mear,
    ‘Sé mo shaesar, gile mear!
    Ni fhuaras féin aon tsuan ar séan
    O chuaigh i gcéin mo ghile mear

  • Eric says:

    The Met Opera, for providing FREE DAILY streams of past productions, plus new live recital concerts every two weeks. It’s been really wonderful!

  • Alain Louy says:

    Spoleto !

  • Well – if I dare say so – we are exactly half way through a live Beethoven Quartet Cycle right now. In a Cathedral in Kansas City – which is the only place that will allow such a thing to happen. All the performances are being recorded for radio to be broadcast from October, and we perform 3 Quartets each Saturday. Every Friday, Kansas Public Radio broadcast a movement from the previous week’s performance. It’s the only live in person Classical music going on here indoors, the only tribute to Beethoven here this year, and perhaps the only in person Beethoven Quartet cycle in the country this season. We’re doing our best!

  • Gustavo says:

    The Boston Pops

    “Summon the Heroes” by John Williams


  • Gustavo says:

    Gustav Mahler Musik-Wochen – Toblach, Italy

    with Maurizio Pollini

    Mahler Revisited – The first festival dedicated to the original sound of Mahler


  • Dramaturg says:

    Vienna Phil under Barenboim: first orchestra in June to play without covid restrictions (every musician double-tested). Cappella Aquileia under Marcus Bosch (2nd orchestra: July 26th). Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz (3rd: July 31st).

  • Jim Monag says:

    The Fidelio Cafe Clerkenwell Road London

  • Gasparda says:

    Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik.

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    Re No. 4 in your list – I think what you mean is “the donor who made it possible for John Gilhooly to keep programmes running, audience or no audience”.

    Plenty of us would have done the same if a huge pile of money had been made available.

  • Covidomeneo says:

    Was the Swedish Radio Symphony the only orchestra I the world which never stopped playing? I think so.

  • Anon says:

    Hear hear to Spain’s Antonio Moral! Had no idea who he was before this year. His determination, foresight, adherence to health protocols & artistic vision produced a festival in Granada which was the envy of all the world. What a hero!

  • Natalia says:

    Vernon Proms Classical Music Festival – all July-long festival in a small Brirish Columbia town with 39 chamber events with small distnced audiences. The festival motto was:
    Physically Distant
    Socially Connected
    Musically Inspired.
    Commissioned and premiered new music as well. http://Www.vernonproms.ca

  • Jonathon says:

    The Philharmonie de Paris performed their first concert after lockdown at the Philharmonie to 1200 people on the 9th July in a programme featuring Beethoven’s 7th and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Astonishingly this went unnoticed on this site.

  • Garech de Brun says:

    The one good thing about Covid-19 is that folk will now have to learn to make their own entertainment at home. In Ireland we already have a world class folk tradition. Why not use your time to learn an instrument or sing.

    Here is Turlough O’Carolan’s Lord Inchiquin


  • Opernhaus Zürich Pianist says:

    Opernhaus Zürich, re-opening for the last two weeks of the season in July with three orchestra concerts, including an Operetta Gala and lots of recitals!

  • Alan says:

    I have to mention the Staatsoper Stuttart which was a flurry with activity in June and July:

    1. Two drive-in productions:

    Die Zauberflöte (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.zauberfloete-auf-dem-kulturwasen-iron-mozart.ecd323c0-0f3d-4447-8a22-9d03382f0e0c._amp.html)

    And L’histoire du soldat, which was premiered at the drive-in, but was put together in such a way so that the show and band was portable and traveled around the city on the bed of a truck giving many performances at various locations.

    2. Two productions at the harbor (open air but covered) on the Neckar:

    Die Blume von Hawaii by Abraham

    Trouble in Tahiti

    3. A “Parkour” through the Staatstheater that was written up in the NY Times:

    4. Hundreds of 1 on 1 concerts together with the SWR, also written up in the NY Times:

    5. A chamber music and Liederabend series in the Liederhalle, our city’s main venue for presenting the SWR and guest classical performances (orchestral, solo). Artists from the Staatsoper and the Staatsorchester gave somewhere around 40 performances of chamber music and song, effectively replacing all of the cancelled artists who would have performed there on their tours, but could not travel.

    6. Also in the Liederhalle, a Beethoven Symphony cycle led by our GMD, Cornelius Meister. Beginning on June 13 and ending on July 24 – comprising Symohonies 1-8. They also gave other family concerts with the whole orchestra in addition to this cycle.

    7. A series of 5 Liederabende and Conversations in the main Opera House with singers from the ensemble as well as invited singers, together with discussions between Victor Schoner (intendant of the Staatsoper) and invited politicians, doctors, etc.

    8. A choir production/demonstration that took place at different locations throughout the city in the open air staged by Valentin Schwarz, who should have been in Bayreuth staging a Ring Cycle.

    I think we are talking about somewhere between 150 and 170 performances in different formats and mediums roughly throughout June and July. All planned and executed according to Corona-friendly social distancing rules. All with an audience.

    No small feat.

  • Dave says:

    Angela Hewitt deserves a shout-out. While in isolation, she set a camera at the end of the keyboard and recorded short pieces by Bach and others, posting one daily on Twitter and Facebook. She certainly brightened my mornings!

    • christopher storey says:

      And Llyr Williams, who recorded and streamed ( sound and vision ) all 32 Beethoven Sonatas from his music room at home

  • Tesse says:

    Tanglewood 2020 was a winner. Live virtual recitals from artists originally planned to appear. Replays of orchestra performances and master classes from prior years. Learning institute lectures on Beethoven and other topics. Some free, some ticketed or a basic membership covered the entire series. Good value for an enjoyable two months

  • David Drasin says:

    I was very impressed with the imaginative recitals and offerings of the Komische Oper Belin, Barrie Kosky.

  • John Rook says:

    In a world population of 7,500,000,000, the virus has, in any case, claimed few casualties.

  • Alexander Kolotursky at Sverdlovsk Philharmonic in Yekaterinburg, Russia for 30-day open-air programme (Aug 1-30) conducted in three local parks. The ‘Open-air season’ involved 202 orchestra musicians, 60 choral artists, 14 soloists, 5 conductors and 2 ensembles. It also included the launch of the first-ever open-air piano festival in Russia – the Green Royal Fest, featuring some finest Russian pianists: Denis Matsuev, Boris Berezovsky, Daniel Kramer, Andrey Gugnin, Andrei Korobeinikov and Ivan Bessonov. This first edition of the GRF was held in a public garden which, along with the Philharmonic’s historic building, is to become a part of the New Philharmonic Complex, as designed by the London-based Zaha Hadid Architects bureau. The open-air season overall attendance was 8,000 people, all safety measures (distance, face masks, hand sanitisers, etc.) were in place. #openairphilharmonic #greenroyalfest https://www.facebook.com/UralPhilharmonicOrchestra/videos/300208554406768/

  • Jackyt says:

    Salzburg Festival has just ended. The final night recital by Juan Diego Florez and Vincenzo Scalera can still be viewed on Arte for free. They had quite a big, and very enthusiastic, audience.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    I would like to nominate Rafael Todes and his family playing string quartets in front of his house in London.

  • Kate Bertaut says:

    Wd love to add … loads of pro musicians and dancers who entertained neighbours every thursday evening…

  • Gustavo says:

    Gergiev’s Mariinsky?

    For keeping up business until the bitter end.

  • Manu says:

    Schubertiada Vilabertran in Spain. Fifteen concerts this summer including Matthias Goerne, Juliane Banse, Florian Boesch, Andrè Schuen, Imogen Cooper, Cuarteto Casals, Cosmos Quartet et altri. Small but very refined festival: http://www.schubertiada.cat

  • Hans Winkler says:

    I have a favorite of my own: ROF 2020, the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro whose artistic director, Ernesto Palacio, managed to stage one opera in the Teatro Rossini and a number of high class recitals (among them tenor Juan Diego Florez) in the Piazza di Populo

  • Bart Jansen says:

    Deutsche Oper Berlin – Das Rheingold. Played during coronatimes far before the Salzburger festspiele began.
    Also mentioned in the New York Times and tons of other newspapers worldwide. Deserves a place on the list i believe..

  • Nancy Jaynes Gruett says:

    In mid-June, the Deutsche Oper Berlin performed a thoroughly delightful, shortened version of Rheingold on the park deck. Not to be compared to the full score, but the entire distanced audience was thrilled to be watching and hearing live opera. BRAVI TUTTI!!!

  • Andreas Richter says:

    Igor Levit for streaming Daily concerts on Twitter

  • Edgar Self says:

    Are Gergiev and Barenboim not mentioned for the same reasons others are, or because of topical unpopularity?

  • R. Brite says:

    Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo for organizing the NY Phil Bandwagon’s pop-up concerts, including a new work by Carlos Simon.