Sunday, April 18, 2021

how to hold a live music event in the pandemic era

A few days ago I got a hasty e-mail from the press agent for the Music@Menlo chamber music festival, inviting me the next day to the Zoom announcement of this summer's festival. A few of us press folk joined a clutch of Menlo donors and directors. The information was most illuminating, and I was able to employ some actual quotes from the talks in the writeup I produced for the Daily Journal.

When they canceled last year's planned festival, the original idea was that they'd transfer and reproduce it intact the next year, but since how open we're going to be this summer is still under question, they've gone for a cut-down and flexible program that can work with or without indoor concerts, or in-person ones at all.

Instead of making you click on my article, which doesn't always work anyway with the DJ's website, I'll just reproduce the whole thing here, because you can sign up for the livestreams no matter where you are.

The Music@Menlo chamber music festival has announced its 2021 summer season. Having had its 2020 season abruptly canceled by the COVID pandemic, the festival’s planners have realized the hazards of planning ahead while this is going on.

So they have “come up with a plan that is flexible and allows us to pivot, providing maximum safety” to musicians and audience alike, says Edward Sweeney, executive director of the festival.

The structure is quite different from previous seasons, while retaining many of the same elements. It will work like this.

The festival will take place between July 16 and Aug. 1, with main concerts occurring on the days of the three weekends: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On each of these nine days, a different concert will be presented at 4 p.m. in the festival’s new dedicated hall, the 384-seat Spieker Center for the Performing Arts on the Menlo School campus in Atherton. These concerts, like the online pandemic concerts that Menlo has been giving in the interim, will each be one hour long. Each concert will then be repeated outside, on the Menlo Middle School lawn, at 6 p.m. on the same day, with the possibility, if these prove popular enough, of a further outdoors repeat at 8 p.m.

The indoor 4 p.m. concerts will also be livestreamed to ticket purchasers who wish not to attend in person. Livestream tickets are available for purchase now. In-person tickets for both the indoor concerts and the outdoor repeats will be on sale in or about June, when the likelihood of this being feasible will be clearer. Holders of livestream tickets who wish to convert to in-person attendance will be able to do so.

This schedule gives the flexibility for change of plans that Sweeney spoke of. If California safety rules will not permit indoor concerts or in-person concerts at all, the music will still go on without the schedule needing to be torn up and replaced.

Because the concerts are each one hour long, without intermission, the programming will be simple. Each concert will consist of two works or one longer with one or two shorter ones. The first weekend, July 16-18, will feature favorite works such as Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and Brahms’s String Sextet in B-flat, together with more modern works by composers like Leos Janácek and György Ligeti. A special treat will occur at the opening of the first concert, the inaugural event in the Spieker Center. Menlo’s Audience Engagement Director and frequent pre-concert speaker Patrick Castillo is also a composer. Menlo has commissioned him for a new work, titled “Gather,” to be played by the festival’s Artistic Directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han. Castillo says the piece is to celebrate our gathering together “around our common love of music.”

The second weekend, July 23-25, will feature works in the romantic vein, from Beethoven’s early trio for piano and strings, Op. 1 No. 2, to Shostakovich’s quintet for piano and strings, Op. 57, with stops at Mendelssohn, Brahms and Dvorák along the way. The third weekend, July 30-Aug. 1, will feature the great 19th-century quintets for piano and strings by Schumann, Brahms and Dvorák, with other works by Beethoven, Bizet, Ysaÿe and Fauré.

The performers will be string players and pianists ranging from Menlo stalwarts like Hyeyeon Park, Arnaud Sussmann, Paul Neubauer and Dmitri Atapine to the young professionals of the festival’s International Program, who this year will be performing as colleagues with their seniors.

The young professionals will also be presenting two of the festival’s free Prelude concerts on Wednesdays. On July 21, the two other piano trios from Beethoven’s Op. 1. July 28, piano trios by Mendelssohn and Smetana.

The festival will also feature livestreamed and pre-recorded preconcert lectures and talks and demonstrations with musicians, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays.

Information and tickets are available at

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