How the world of music will have to change in Covid times

Concert pianist, conductor, composer and festival curator Joanna MacGregor admits she has unwittingly picked a hugely challenging time to become music director of Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Thursday, 5th November 2020, 9:00 am
Joanna MacGregor

“It’s certainly complicated!”, she says. “I had put together this great season for 2020-21, and we were announcing it in March, and we were ready to go, something like two weeks before lockdown. And then it happened. All my solo concerts were cancelled overnight, and the Royal Academy of Music had to be shut. It was just all part of the bigger picture.”

So how did she cope?

“Well, you just grit your teeth. What else can you do? You just have to work out Plan B, and when I have run festivals in the past, I have always had Plan B, C, D, E and F. I just tend to think like that because when you are working in the arts, you never know what is around the corner. But the problems are usually money related. None of us has ever had any experience of working through a pandemic.”

But it was important to do something, and the orchestra is offering a series of at-home online events this autumn – after having to postpone its annual season at Brighton Dome. For full programme of online offerings, see https://brightonphil.org.uk/Joanna is also hoping to be able to offer A Christmas Carol in some form, perhaps online. Meanwhile, she is getting a feel for streaming, after doing something for Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead.

“I do think that things are going to be permanently changed. I think we are going to have to grapple with technology in ways that we don’t want to, both audiences and performers. I think it has been bubbling up a little bit in the background anyway. But we have got to try it now. I did this live-stream fundraiser, and I think it showed how easy it is to have a high-quality event. I did it as an experiment. I wanted to see what it was like as a performer. I lined up a lot of people to watch and to see how it felt for them, and it turned out to be completely successful in every way. You have got to be thinking to turn to the camera a bit, and you have got to have that nerve, and obviously you don’t get the applause. But I do think this is going to be part of our short-term future.”

Whether things will ever be able to go back to how they were, who knows: “Maybe it is not too far down the line. Venues will reopen and audiences will come back and who knows, maybe we will be vaccinated or this whole thing will go away. Who knows. But clearly the venues are having a very, very difficult time of it at the moment. I suspect some will have to close or will come back in a different form.

“But we have to hang on to the fact that the people who work in the arts are not doing it for money. If they were doing it because they wanted a decent living or stability in their lives, they would have started doing something else long ago. They are doing it because it is their passion, and so you have got to remember that there is a group of people that are very fierce about protecting the arts and keeping them going.

“And I do feel that the smaller venues will perhaps be the way through this. There are lot of them that have learnt to exist on sixpence because that is all they have got, places that are very lean, places that have never had any money.

“I do think that they will be the ones that manage to survive.