Leading the line in Covid: A music director writesmain
Fabio Luisi, music director at Zurich Opera and Dallas Symphony and principal conductor of the Danish National Symphony, responds to my criticisms of the multi-job maestro with this account of his activities in the Covid year:
At the end of June I had to convince the administration of Zurich Opera not to end the season silent since the government had given permission to hold indoor events with 200-400 people in the audience, I managed to organise two orchestra concerts, the first with string orchestra – Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” and Strauss’ “Metamorphosen”, which we also recorded – and the second with two singers, Piotr Beczala and Camilla Nylund, an operetta gala.
In September the Opera Zurich reopened with the orchestra playing in a remote venue and being broadcast live into the Opera House: Boris Godunov was the opening (I didn’t conduct, it was the brilliant Kirill Karabits). Instead of a Vespri Siciliani revival that we couldn’t do in the spring, I conducted some Verdi-Concerts. Slippedisc reported Boris with a nasty review – the only negative one – which didn’t understand the importance of this opening and the efforts everybody put in place in order to give music and opera to the audience and to the city.
In August I was in Copenhagen, we played Bruckner’s 4th Symphony with social distancing. I returned there weeks later for two performances of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (with orchestra and chorus distanced of course), which was the opening of the season.
In the US, Dallas Symphony Orchestra is one of the few orchestras, and the only one of the bigger ones, which started its season regularly albeit with changed programs. Because of the very strict, self-imposed protocols and rules (everybody, from the usher to the MD and CEO, has to be Covid-tested every day) we gave access to our first subscription concert to only 75 people in the audience, also reducing the size of the orchestra because of the social distancing. The orchestra accepted a salary reduction, so did the administration: CEO and myself also cut sensibly our salary (twice as much as the administration cuts). I was the only music director in the US to open the season with his or her own orchestra. Our CEO, Kim Noltemy, did a great job keeping the orchestra’s musicians busy during the summer, playing small concerts in a number of locations and for diverse audiences. I am very proud of her efforts and of my musicians’ sense of responsibility.
For all these institutions it was important not to stop, to do our best to keep offering music, first in streaming (during the European lockdowns) and as soon as possible live, so personally I can’t fully understand the decision of other orchestras or opera houses to shut down completely their activity without even trying to do anything.
I have to say, in order not to be dangerous to my colleagues, that I have been tested, mostly voluntarily, 21 times in the last 70 days. Thanks to the strict protocols in Switzerland, Denmark and in Dallas we had no positive cases in these orchestras to the best of my knowledge.