Accessories 2021: Covid-19 Safety for Orchestras – Playing Safe

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Orchestras are among the musical ensembles to have suffered most during the pandemic. Pauline Harding finds out how some have been adapting their outlooks, products and processes in this new era of germ evasion and online streaming

Over the past year, to fit a symphony orchestra on stage and have a full audience in attendance has, for many, become an impossible dream. ‘You think about all of these challenges you might face in your life or career, and this was literally not even a hypothesis,’ says David Allen Moore, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music and a double bassist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil). ‘It’s not even in the realm of something people fantasised about, such as “When the big earthquake comes in California, we might have to relocate until things are repaired.” No one thought, “What would happen if we were suddenly not able to do anything at all, in any sort of performance context, anywhere in the world?”’

Those orchestras that have managed to play, and those who plan to do so in the near future, have been forced to have a large-scale rethink. Coronavirus tests and thermometers are just the beginning. ‘The majority of the efforts are to do with prevention, and that starts even before you walk in the building,’ says David Alberman, principal second violin and chair of the board of directors at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). ‘We quickly learnt that we couldn’t have discussions with people about whether or not to wear masks, to be distanced, to use hand sanitation. These had to be conditions of working, and they apply to everyone.’ LSO players must also fill in a health questionnaire each time they enter LSO St Luke’s – the Hawksmoor church turned music education centre – and have weekly PCR Covid tests, provided in on-site pop-up tents by Imperial College London spin-off DnaNudge. The players are also encouraged to get vaccinated. ‘It’s been a mammoth undertaking,’ says Sue Mallet, the orchestra’s planning director. ‘We are watching the R rate to assess each week if we are doing the right thing. No one is saying these measures alone are the answer. It is a combination of what you can put in place.’..

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