The string performers posted on stage at the cavernous Cordier Auditorium at Manchester University’s North Manchester campus on Monday evening looked as if they were about to perform for an empty house.
But, the rows and rows of empty seats they saw in front of them were not the audiences for which they were playing.
The real spectators were at their own homes, watching the live stream of the show.
The Manchester Symphony Orchestra was there to present their winter concert, “Winter Air.” This was the second performance of their season. The first took place Sunday, Oct. 4 and was titled “Strings – Set Apart.”
Before the latest show began, Robert Lynn, interim conductor and adjunct professor, said that the first show had “went pretty well all things considered.”
Only the orchestra’s string section was performing, with the other instruments which usually make up the orchestra not participating.
Robert Lynn said they usually have 50 or more performers at a time including, students, faculty members, professionals and more. He said with the social distancing requirements, they could fit between 30 to 33 performers on stage at once. Tonight they had just under two dozen.
“We just kind of switch gears and there’s a huge amount of string orchestra literature,” he said, of the changes. “So, we dive into that. The university … back in the ’60s had annual string festivals, so there’s quite a library of stuff that the orchestra has.”
The orchestra has two more performances scheduled for their 2020-2021 season. “Beethoven’s Belated Birthday Bash” is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 14 in the Honeywell Center, and “Around the World in 80 Minutes” is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, May 16 at the Cordier Auditorium.
Robert Lynn said they were hoping to bring some of the wind and percussion back for the spring concerts.
“Everything is sort of tentative,” he said.
Debra J. Lynn is professor of music and director of choral organizations and voice study. She will also take over as conductor once her current sabbatical is over.
Debra J. Lynn said last month they were one of six local organizations that had received funds through the Arts, Cultural and Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) grant program. She said they would be using part of that grant to purchase partitions so they could include singers and wind instruments again. These activities are considered particularly dangerous due to the aerosolized nature of COVID-19.
“The trumpet and flute are the main culprits,” said Debra J. Lynn. “We’ll be ready for March to have some wind and percussion.”
“The flute especially is problematic,” said Robert Lynn.
Robert Lynn said that with the temperatures dropping, they wouldn’t be able to perform outside in the meantime.
“A week ago Sunday would have been a beautiful day to perform outside, but right now it’s too cold," he said.
During the pre-show talk, Robert Lynn said the evening’s concert would include two programmatic works, “Winter” from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, and “The Don Quixote Suite” by Georg Philipp Telemann.
“Program music has an extra-musical connection that usually serves as the inspiration for the work, and often the compositions contain musical imagery derived from the extra-musical connection,” he said. “Sometimes the musical imagery is so specific and detailed that it might be described as ‘Mickey-mousing,’ which is a technique used by film music composers when the music is paralleling, aurally – through musical devices – exactly what is being seen on the screen. The term ‘Mickey-mousing’ comes from the frequent use of the technique in early cartoons, particularly from Walt Disney. Film composers developed this technique from 19th-century opera and orchestral music.”
He then demonstrated several examples of this technique, as Elizabeth Smith soloed on violin after each spoken phrase.