Spring 2020 Reflections (Part 2): COVID19 Shutdown

After last year’s CSO strike in the spring, just around this time of year actually, I honestly didn’t think we’d have to worry about concert cancellations for a really long time. Little did I know that that reality would quickly be shattered, with the coming of the coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively shut down most of the modern world. All large gatherings have been banned, and as a result, there have been many casualties in the classical music world. While I’m sure it hurts everywhere else in the US and the rest of the world, it really hits home here in Chicago, especially since we had just come off last season where there were also a lot of concert casualties 😦

The first one I have to mention is Lyric Opera’s cancellation of the Ring Cycle. This was probably the most heartbreaking cancellation of them all, especially since this massive undertaking was in the works for practically a decade. When I first took Anthony Freud’s and Prof. Martha Nussbaum’s opera class in 2016, this was one of the main topics that was focused on during the entire quarter. We spent a lot of time going through each of the four operas and the philosophical underpinnings that form the foundation of the Ring, not to mention going through some of the key musical moments. Anthony also went through Lyric’s conceptual planning for the Ring, from the cast to the stage design to the costumes, and you could tell that there was just a lot going into this entire project, which is obvious considering that the entire Ring cycle is probably the summit of what any opera company would ever want to achieve. I’m not going to go into how this hurts Lyric from a financial perspective, but it definitely hurts on a personal level, considering that I know that there was a lot of heart put into this whole project and that Lyric was really looking forward to sharing this rare experience with not only the city of Chicago, but to people coming in from all over the world. I, myself, was planning on getting a student cycle ticket package, which would allow me to join some of my former UChicago professors for this unique journey through Wagner’s works, but alas, that is not to be. An Austrian friend remarked to me this past February that it wouldn’t be a waste of time to go ahead and read the entire text of the Ring Cycle, as it contains some insightful philosophical thoughts on how to reflect upon certain life situations, such as the one we all find ourselves in today, and if I manage to carve out some time during this whole shelter-in-place order, I might just go ahead and do that (although I’d have to find a good English translation!).

Maestro Muti’s next residency in Chicago was supposed to be scheduled for this week in April, but seeing as the stay-at-home order was extended to May (and will likely go beyond that), all of those rehearsals and concerts were axed as well (*sobs*). That was also a real bummer, considering that the next installment of the Beethoven symphony cycle, featuring the 4th and 7th symphonies was on the schedule, as well as a concert that was to have featured Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3. Speaking from his home in Ravenna (a city which I also really miss right now 😦 ), where he is doing well with his family, Maestro Muti did note that the concerts will definitely be rescheduled, so at least we’ll get to hear this music sometime in the future 🙂

So, what to make of all this? Look, I’m sure there is and will continue to be a lot of discussion with regards to the economic ramifications of this shutdown and the effects of the virus on the financial stability (both from a short-term and a long-term perspective) of classical music organizations/institutions worldwide, but that’s probably better left up to the experts and business leaders, instead of a student like me. Regardless, I do hope that these organizations will be able to find their way around the crisis and come back at least in the same position that they previously were in, if not stronger and better. But, from my perspective at least, there might actually be some silver linings to all of this! Now, at home, I actually have more time to more deeply study scores that have been sitting on the top of my piano. In fact, I’ve just gone through the entire Pathétique piano sonata of Beethoven’s (was especially motivated to do so after hearing Maria Joao Pires come out of retirement to perform for Deutsche Grammophon’s (virtual) World Piano Day celebration—you can check out that video here), so I’m glad that I at least get some time to play more piano 😀

Also, if you have some spare time at home and are looking for an interesting article to read, might I suggest this new Il Sole 24 article by Maestro Muti, featuring his thoughts on Mozart. (It’s written in Italian, so you might have to get Google Translate to work it all out in whatever your native language might be!) He goes over some of the most notable memories w/ Mozart’s music, ranging from Karajan asking him to do Cosi Fan Tutte in Salzburg to the legendary Strehler collaborations at La Scala, but for me at least, the really cool thing is that the article goes over some of the lessons he taught at his Opera Academy last summer in Ravenna! For example, consider the underlying/hidden physical meaning of the Countess’ famous Act III aria “Dove sono i bei momenti” or the other multitude of double-meanings/puns in Da Ponte’s libretti (particularly evident for Le Nozze di Figaro) and how they are reflected in Mozart’s music. Overall, the article is a nice reminder that we can really use this time to reflect upon some of the great musical memories that we’ve gotten to experience, and perhaps even discover more if we go back and analyze them at a much more robust level (which is basically what my PhD advisor is encouraging us to do with all the data we’ve collected in our studies so far…)!

Anyways, hope everyone is staying safe and managing to keep music in their lives! If any updates happen to come about with regards to the Chicago concert scene, I’ll be sure to post here!

A photo of a deserted Chicago (taken last month before the stay-at-home order was put in place) 😦

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