For much of the pandemic, the Vienna Philharmonic, which gathers its wealth and brand, has been one of the few orchestras that has succeeded in weathering the coronavirus. The band has been boosted with tours to Japan, South Korea, Egypt and Italy, even as the virus has crippled much of the classical music industry.
Then, just as the orchestra buzzed into 2022 with signature concerts filled with waltzes, the Omicron variant exploded. At the end of January, several dozen players tested positive for the virus, forcing cancellation of a tour of three cities in France and Germany. Earlier this month, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who had been preparing to tour with the ensemble, also gave positive results, putting the orchestra’s plans into disarray.
Daniel Froschauer, president of the Philharmonic, said in an interview: “Everything is very unpredictable. “We felt we had to fight for our music.”
The Philharmonic’s Experience, scheduled to return to Carnegie Hall this week for the first time in three years, underscores the challenges facing even the most agile, well-funded ensembles as they find their way back to the international concert ring, a very important part of the classical music ecosystem.
Coronavirus infections have essentially dropped around the world in recent weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that touring may soon recover. Several ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, are promoting engagements in Europe in the coming months, their first overseas trips since before the pandemic.
But significant challenges remain. Orchestras still face the possibility of disruption by future waves of the virus, making planning difficult. In some bustling international markets, including China, quarantine regulations are so strict that travel is almost impossible.
And the ongoing financial turmoil of the pandemic, which has ravaged cultural establishments, has raised new questions about the value of touring, at a time when many groups are grappling with selling. tedious tickets at home and uncertain budget outlook. The Minnesota Orchestra, which had planned tours of Vietnam and South Korea before the pandemic, said it has no plans for trips abroad in the near future. An orchestra spokeswoman called the decision “a strategic and philosophical choice to focus on our city and state in the post-pandemic era.”
Simon Woods, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of American Orchestras, said he believes the classical touring industry is resilient and will last. But he added that some groups are re-evaluating touring costs amid the pandemic, especially given that “the Covid situation could change their plans at any time and make their investment steep financials are at risk.”
“Many orchestras coming out of the pandemic have exhausted their reserves,” Woods said. “They’re asking, ‘Is this the right way to use money?'”
Orchestra tours have been a staple of classical music for decades back, as the biggest groups in the United States and Europe began leading whistle-stopping visits. to global capitals. Then the tours served not only artistic but also commercial purposes, giving the orchestra exposure to new markets and sometimes lucrative sponsorships.
Traveling is no longer a means of making money as it used to be, except for a few elites like Vienna. (According to public records, Carnegie paid the Philharmonic $1.4 million for four performances in 2019).
All of that stopped at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when classical touring was one of the first industries to close. The pandemic has again raised questions about the value of the traditional touring model. Some players and admins have raised concerns about the time, energy and money invested in the travel and fundraising leading up to them, with little seeming to be how the long-term impact will be. Others worry about the significant carbon emissions associated with large-scale tourism. Tours can involve groups of up to 100 musicians and staff, not to mention musical instruments.
Several groups, including the New York Philharmonic – which operates regularly globally, visiting more than 400 cities in more than 60 countries in its history – began experimenting with neighborhoods even before the pandemic. translation occurs. Instead of frantic tours of the continent, the Philharmonic has tried to forge more permanent partnerships in a number of smaller places, including Shanghai, where its musicians frequently travel. before the virus attacks.
Deborah Borda, president and chief executive officer of the Philharmonic, said the orchestra remains open for large-scale touring. However, citing climate change and other concerns, she thinks it’s time to rethink the status quo.
“I don’t believe we should go back to the old touring model,” she said. “I’m not sure you can really achieve profound artistic programs through it on a regular basis.”
The London Symphony Orchestra says Britain’s departure from the European Union’s regulatory orbit has created delays at borders and led to additional coronavirus screening procedures, undermining its ability to tour. this country. The band is lobbying the British government to reduce bureaucratic barriers associated with touring European countries. And because of continued audience size limits in some countries, the orchestra had to cancel some concerts because they would not generate enough revenue.
“We’re managing our way and the demand from promoters across Europe,” said Kathryn McDowell, the orchestra’s chief executive, which is planning a tour to California in March. stronger than ever,” said Kathryn McDowell, the orchestra’s chief executive officer.
For international groups seeking to tour the United States, there are also obstacles. (The Vienna Philharmonic, which begins three concerts at Carnegie on Friday, will be the second foreign group to perform at the hall since the start of the pandemic; London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra appeared at Carnegie late in the day. last month.) pandemic, dozens of artists have Visa cannot be guaranteed in the context of a long backlog of applications at US embassies and consulates, leading to a wave of cancellations. Although the backlog of work has decreased significantly in recent months, there are still delays.
Brian Goldstein, a lawyer representing artists, said some European bands have cut the number of musicians on tour, or canceled altogether, after difficulty getting interviews. inquiries for a visa.
“The situation has indeed improved, but there are still significant delays and backlogs at US consulates, especially for large groups like orchestras,” Goldstein said.
Asia used to be a popular market, especially for American and European groups. But more than two years after the pandemic, some Asian countries are almost completely closed to artists from abroad.
In China, the largest market, which hosts dozens of roving artists and groups each year, authorities have yet to relax Covid restrictions, which require at least two weeks of quarantine for travelers. guest. The time and money required to isolate makes it impossible to tour the country, even for those who can get a visa.
Analysts do not expect China to ease significantly.”0 Covid“The policy of until after the important Communist Party meeting this fall makes tours unlikely until at least 2023. While China’s concert halls and presenters are Quoc seems eager for international artists, regulators say, as quarantine rules have proven to be a roadblock.
Wray Armstrong, who runs a music company in Beijing, said: “They were all ready to take whatever we had to offer. “All we have to do is hold on and don’t give up hope.”
The Vienna Philharmonic says that Gergiev has recovered from his illness and will conduct the orchestra at Carnegie concerts. His arrival has raised another complication for the population: Gergiev is a friend of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who has been widely condemned in recent days for his moves against Ukraine. Gergiev has previously offered to support Putin’s policies, attracting voice objection in previous appearances in New York; Activists are holding protests at Carnegie concerts this week.
Gergiev did not respond to a request for comment through his representative. Froschauer, a violinist who serves as the orchestra’s president, defended the appearance, calling Gergiev a talented performer.
“He would be a performer, not a politician,” said Froschauer. “We are not politicians. We are trying to build bridges.”
About 100 of the orchestra’s touring musicians, who are tested for the virus every day, have worn masks at rehearsals and some performances. The band tapped into its vast player network to avoid cancellations, attracting last-minute substitutes for infected musicians. The orchestra travels on a private jet.
Froschauer said the orchestra will not let the virus get in the way of performing.
“These experiences are so much more intense than before; it is part of history,” he said. “Musicians will do whatever it takes to play in New York. They know that we are on a mission for music.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/arts/music/classical-music-orchestra-tour.html The global tour is key to the orchestra. Then there’s the Pandemic Attack.