Sarasota Orchestra musicians play safely in outdoor park programs


The coronavirus pandemic has created many obstacles for performing arts organizations, including limiting the way live performances can be presented. But it also gave them new opportunities.

“One of the good things about this pandemic is that we are bringing our music and beauty together in the open air,” said Elisabeth Spahn of the Sarasota Orchestra’s outdoor concert series presented this season as SO on. the Road: Parks & Partners.

Five of these concerts are scheduled until the end of the season at venues as diverse as GT Bray Park and Nathan Benderson Park in Manatee County and the Ringling and Bay Preserve Museum Courtyard in Osprey, Sarasota County.

Spahn said she was grateful to sit among the flowers and trees of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens at a recent concert by the brass quintet. “There were gentle breezes, dappled sun and views of the sparkling water while listening to world-class musicians. Staggering. Hope Heaven is as good as this.

The outdoor concerts were a happy outcome for all participants.

“These opportunities to play outdoors have been very important to me and my colleagues,” clarinetist Laura Stephenson Petty said. “When I am able to rehearse and present music to people who need it as much as I do, I feel like I bring a lightness and a break from mental stress to myself and to everyone. those who can spend an afternoon enjoying the great weather we have in Florida while listening to some fun music together.

Horn player Priscilla Rinehart said playing outdoors “has meant everything to me. I feel like we are making people younger, which in turn makes us younger. The element of human connection is precious, and that it is a great thing to be able to mutually benefit from these opportunities to connect with others in the safest way possible.

A socially distant audience listens to a brass ensemble from the Sarasota Orchestra performing outdoors at GT Bray Park in Bradenton.

After planning a season of indoor concerts at Holley Hall (also available to stream at home) featuring musicians able to perform while wearing masks, the Sarasota Orchestra then planned an alternate season for brass and musicians at wind, whose instruments pose a greater risk of spreading the coronavirus.

“We believe music is even more important during a health crisis to bring joy and inspiration. Our streaming concerts were one way to do that, ”said Gordon Greenfield, COO. “As it became clear that it was safer to perform outdoors, these concerts were a natural outgrowth. It also fits perfectly with our safety protocol to limit our indoor concerts to string players and others who may wear masks during their performances. This allowed our woodwind and brass players to focus on outdoor events which turned out to be the perfect balance for our organization and staff.

Outdoor concerts are a mainstay of summer festivals like Tanglewood in the Berkshires and Blossom in Cleveland, but without a dedicated protective or performance structure, such programs are more of a challenge in Sarasota. Musicians are subject to variations in weather, temperature, humidity and wind.

“Exposure to the elements can damage many of our instruments,” said musician Nicholas Arbolino. “Conditions that are too dry, too humid, too hot or too cold can affect instruments in different ways. As oboist, we make our reeds which must be adapted to our environment. Too much moisture can leave a reed too wet and too tough to function comfortably. Insufficient humidity will leave the reed too dry to vibrate. The reeds can be adjusted slightly to compensate, but I have found that having multiple reeds that meet the different requirements of a performance is key to providing the best concert experience possible.

Petty said people might assume instrument maintenance would be the main concern, but this season it was the wind.

“We use these big plexiglass music pins (like giant clothespins) that are clear so we can see the music through them… only you really can’t, especially when the light angles change. In order to flip the music page, you need to unpin, flip the page, re-pin and then arrange so you can see the music! All in sometimes a few measures.

The concerts were popular with the public, however, with free tickets often sold out within hours of being made available.

Musicians see nods, smiles and more.

“It’s nice to see how easily passing people can join our events anytime during performances,” Rinehart said of walkers and cyclists stopping to listen in some public parks.

Arbolino said the audience was excited and appreciated the opportunity to engage in a sense of normalcy.

Even outdoors, the orchestra has strict security measures in place for musicians and members of the public.

The capacity of the audience is limited to allow an appropriate physical distance between listeners and musicians, as well as between masked members of the audience.

Outdoor concerts of the Saraota Orchestra's brass and wind ensembles have sold out in area parks, including this performance at Nathan Benderson Park.

Flautist Betsy Traba said that although many assume the decision to keep wind and brass concerts outside was to protect the public and fellow string players, “those most at risk are string players. wind / brass themselves “.

“We are the ones inhaling unfiltered air. Everyone is masked, which gives them a certain level of protection, but we are directly exposed to anything that may be floating. A severe case of COVID can cause devastating and permanent damage to the lungs, and would be a career-ending injury for a wind or brass player. By forcing us to play away only this year, we are much safer and more protected, so that we can be our best when we return to indoor play next season. “

Full indoor orchestral concerts are what everyone is hoping for next season, but now that audiences have experienced the atmosphere of outdoor concerts, they want more.

“I hope we will build permanent structures similar to Boston’s Hatch Shell, Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow,” Spahn dreamed, “where we can enjoy classical music, ballet, art films and evening movies in family outdoors in winter. ”

The organization’s leaders are not discussing the possibilities of a new outdoor venue, especially as they continue their search for their own symphony center building in the area. But they took note of the popularity of outdoor concerts.

“We would like to continue some sort of outdoor experience in the future,” Greenfield added. “Of course our ‘normal’ seasons are already busy, so setting dates is a challenge. Our aspiration is to find a solution.

Parks & Partners Program

Upcoming concerts include: Sarasota Wind Quintet at 2:30 pm March 21 at Nathan Benderson Park and 2:30 pm April 25 at Bay Preserve in Osprey; and Sarasota Brass Quintet at 2:30 p.m. on March 21 at GT Bray Park, Bradenton. Entrance is free but registration is compulsory.


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