New York’s Metropolitan Opera orchestra will perform its first concert since the lockdown here in Dallas, not their home town. They’ll join the Dallas symphony orchestra for a combined benefit concert and a rare sight in this pandemic — 100 musicians on stage.
More than a year ago, concert venues the world over closed because of COVID-19. Many, including the home of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, remain closed.
“The last time that we played together in the pit, I believe it was March 15 of 2020,” said Barbara Currie, 4th horn with Metropolitan Opera orchestra.
Since then, she said, they were all laid off, one died of COVID-19, others retired or moved to save money. Currie said fellow Met musicians still played, but online only. Then, almost out of nowhere, they got an invitation from the Dallas Symphony for 50 of their musicians to join 50 Dallas players for a joint fundraising concert onstage. With an audience.
“The Dallas Symphony is doing it Texas style,” said Currie. “Go big or go home. Like I said, we have not performed together in 13, 14 months? It’s just it’s going to be an amazing, probably bittersweet moment as well, because this is what we should be doing.”
And that’s making music, Currie said, because for musicians, it’s life.
Breathing life back into Currie’s dormant orchestra was an idea hatched by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Almost alone in the country, the DSO has maintained its regular concert schedule. It’s had guests since last fall. It’s kept physical distance onstage with a downsized audience.
These concerts, for example, fill 400 seats in a hall that holds 1,800. But even Dallas hasn’t had this many musicians onstage. To accommodate them, the stage has been extended — again. Rows and rows of ground floor seats were eliminated to fit more musicians safely on the extended stage.
The real key to playing safely in a pandemic? Daily coronavirus tests. For months, Dallas CEO Kim Noltemy insisted “if you were on stage, you were tested.” But musicians around the world were still languishing. She and the orchestra wanted to help.
“I said maybe if Fabio is interested in doing some kind of collaboration with the Met opera musicians, that could potentially make sense, because he had the 11-year history, performing with them,” Noltemy said.
Fabio Luisi, the Dallas Symphony’s Music Director and conductor, liked the idea.
“It was a part of my, of my life,” Luisi said. “It was my life there at the Metropolitan Opera. And I know all these musicians by name, and we had so many rehearsals together, and so many performances, we spent a lot of time together making music. … it was my orchestra, for a certain amount of years.”
To show off the big combined orchestra, Luisi’s going big with music too: Mahler’s First Symphony.
Mahler may be the perfect choice, says DSO principal percussionist George Nickson. It’s especially welcomed after this year of playing chamber works for small live or online audiences.
“Mahler is incredible for his sheer joy of large sounds,” Nickson said, “kind of the end of the Romantic period, this unabashed idea of, there’s great sorrow, but at the end, there’s this incredible triumph, that exaltation.”
Like everyone. Nickson can’t wait to hear that big sound on stage again with an eager audience. In darker times, he had doubts.
“We, none of us knew,” Nickson said. “Was this art form going to continue? It was in free fall. So for us, 13 months later, to be on the cusp of playing a Mahler Symphony, again, with full forces is…I mean, it’s amazing.”
Nickson expects to be shocked when he hears that big sound again.
For Currie, it’ll be like another world.
“To go to another place like this,” Currie said, “and to perform something like Mahler One — which is beautiful and amazing — with half of our colleagues and half of the wonderful colleagues in the Dallas Symphony is — is just — it’s like winning the lottery.”
And it kind of is. The New York musicians are earning salaries and they’ll share funds raised with Dallas colleagues for musicians affected by the pandemic. Visiting players will also keep performing around town over the next few days. For audience, it’s their first big orchestral experience in more than a year.
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