ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Orchestra announced Tuesday, Sept. 8, it will play its entire fall season in an empty hall, but will make the concerts available live on the radio, online and on TV.
The idea is to keep audiences and musicians safe during the pandemic, said music director Osmo Vanska.
"We would like to make music, but artistic decisions are secondary right now,” he said. “The first decision is how can we keep safe."
The larger season details are relatively simple: six concerts on Friday nights performed between Oct. 2 and Dec. 18. All will be broadcast live on Classical MPR and TPT's Minnesota Channel. They will also be streamed live on the websites of Classical MPR, TPT, and the orchestra.
The specifics of putting on a fall orchestral season during a pandemic get more complicated.
The empty hall is just the first of many clues these won't be standard Minnesota Orchestra concerts. For one thing, there will never be more than 25 musicians at a time on stage to maintain social distancing.
"We need to have distances, we need to use masks," Vanska said.
He says pandemic precautions bring musical challenges.
The emphasis will be on string pieces. Masks pose an obvious obstacle for wind players. And when they remove their masks to play the aerosols they produce as they blow into their instruments may pose risks for everyone else on stage. They will appear in smaller chamber ensembles.
Even practicing is a social distancing challenge, Vanska says, particularly as musicians move toward the stage.
"We have organized the rehearsals so too many people are not meeting each other on backstage," he said.
Musicians will walk on through one door, and leave through another. Each will have an assigned seat and stand for the entire season. The musicians playing in each concert will be tested the week before, and then asked to follow what's been called a soft quarantine to reduce the risk of possible exposures. It's going to be a struggle, but Vanska says everyone is committed.
"Our players (are) really really willing to make this happen," he said. "We miss our audience. We miss our audience a lot."
It's a first step back, he said. He looks forward to welcoming back a live audience in time, even if it's a socially distanced small percentage of Orchestra Hall's capacity.
Vanska sees the possibilities of a TV audience. There have been a few Minnesota Orchestra concerts broadcast live on television, back in the 1980s, but never an entire fall season.
"And we hope that it could send a nice message so that people can think, ‘Hmm that might be nice to go listen to them live whenever it's possible,’ " he said.
With rehearsals already starting Vanska is confident the concerts will be up to the standard Minnesota Orchestra audiences expect.
"It's going to be the highest quality,” he said. “That is a very important thing for us. We want to give (a) great musical experience. The music is going to be great."
The programs for each concert will be announced in the weeks before each show. The Minnesota Orchestra announcement comes as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra prepares to begin streaming its concert season later this month. It will stream its first live concert from the Ordway on Oct. 3.