Earlier this month, the students of The Glenn Gould School (GGS) took to the stage of Koerner Hall for the first Royal Conservatory Orchestra (RCO) concert of the academic year.
But, to adhere to government indoor capacity limits, the usually packed hall was virtually empty, and the performance was recorded. As a result, the RCO’s season debut, which will be livestreamed via The Royal Conservatory website on Friday, October 30 at 8 p.m., will look very different than those of the past.
“RCO concerts are such an integral part of the training at GGS, that we simply had to find a way to perform,” says Dean James Anagnoson. “Every safety precaution was put in place, and the students are thrilled to be able to get back to performing.”
The GGS team developed a comprehensive COVID-19 safety protocol which included socially distanced stage seating, plexiglass dividers for winds and brass, and concert dress face masks for the remainder of the orchestra.
Additionally, as current travel restrictions meant that UK-based Trevor Pinnock was unable to guest conduct as originally scheduled, Dean Anagnoson recruited Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) concertmaster Jonathan Crow to conduct the RCO from the concertmaster’s chair, as well as principal cello Joseph Johnson, and bassoonists Samuel Banks and Fraser Jackson (all from the TSO as well) to lead various sections of the orchestra.
“We’ve been challenged to try new things,” explained Dean Anagnoson. “Having Jonathan here in the role of concertmaster offered a great learning opportunity for the students. They had to listen to each other and sometimes watch each other much more closely, just as one would in chamber music, rather than relying on following the person with the baton.”
The RCO’s season debut concert features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 (“Haffner”), and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 73 (“Emperor”), with Sae Yoon Chon, the latest recipient of the Ihnatowycz Prize in Piano, as the soloist.
Barry Shiffman, GGS’s Associate Dean & Director of Chamber Music, explained that even with a smaller version of the RCO – to adhere to social distance requirements – the repertoire remained close to what was originally planned.
“During the classical era, the size of the orchestra was smaller than what is often used today. It seems that our reduced RCO brings us a little closer to historical practice.”
And with the next performance of the RCO slated for the end of November, Dean Anagnoson said that the students will be following the safety protocols again.
“The entire process was an enriching and enlightening experience for all who were involved. The music was the engine that kept us going and helped us to power through all the nuances of organizing a concert during a pandemic. It really opened our eyes to what is possible while keeping safety as a number one priority.”
The first Royal Conservatory Orchestra concert of the 2020-21 season will premiere at rcmusic.com/livestream on October 30, 2020 at 8 p.m.