The Paducah Symphony Orchestra — like many others around the world — has encountered lots of challenges this year with COVID-19, but it’s adapting for musicians and patrons, while also anticipating a major project in the future.
Executive Director Reece King served as this week’s Rotary Club of Paducah speaker, and looked back on the year’s cancellations and COVID-19-related adjustments with Rotarians. He answered questions and shared excitement for upcoming programs and future plans to open a music academy, as part of a larger multi-million dollar project at the former Walter C. Jetton Junior High School.
He said the symphony canceled its March and April concerts, the spring choral showcase, summer music camp and two fundraisers, including its annual PaBREWcah festival. It also moved the planned 2020-21 concert season to 2021-22.
“The reason for doing that was we just didn’t have any idea of what we could actually do and what we couldn’t do and trying to perform those pieces, we had ... what we call a large season planned,” King said.
“What I mean by that is pieces that required a large number of players or a large number of singers, and we thought that the chances of being able to successfully perform that was probably pretty small.”
As COVID-19 has affected everything, King pointed out to Rotarians that the symphony isn’t alone in experiencing these changes. The orchestra world at large is trying to cope with the pandemic’s impact, including the New York Philharmonic. The philharmonic was founded in 1842 and serves as the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, according to nyphil.org.
“They were originally planning to get going again in January and, (Tuesday) they announced that they would be down until fall of ‘21, which I believe is the first time in the almost 200-year history of the New York Philharmonic that an entire season has been canceled,” King said.
“Many orchestras across the nation are falling into this situation of having to cancel their entire season. Nashville was one of the first ones to do it back in the summer and so, they are down until the fall of ‘21 as well. It’s hit the orchestra field very hard for obvious reasons.”
After all, normal symphony concerts attract hundreds of people and feature a large group of musicians who sit together on a stage in close proximity and play their instruments.
“There’s been a lot of ... scientific research done over the last few months about what is safe and what is not,” he said. “We feel like we have a plan, putting a plan together currently to get going again, that is going to keep those musicians (safe), but that is certainly one of the things that is consuming an enormous amount of our time.”
The PSO returned with a “Brass on the Grass” concert on the Carson Center lawn in September and kicked off a new chamber music event, “Off the Record,” last weekend with a woodwind quintet. The next “Off the Record” will feature a string quartet and it’s set for Nov. 14 at the 1857.
“We don’t have as many issues with the (respiratory droplets) because it’s not the large orchestra on the stage,” he said. “We’ve learned an enormous amount by trying to do these smaller events in how to manage the audience situation, so we feel like by Christmas, we can move to stage two — provided we don’t have a large spike in numbers and if our guidelines stay relatively the same as they are now.”
The symphony is planning to do two shows for Christmas with a socially distanced audience, in addition to concert programming around Valentine’s Day. The third stage of reopening, King explained, is hopefully a return to the Carson Center in a “somewhat normal format.”
As for the more distant future, King shared a promotional video for Rotarians that announced plans for a music academy on the Jetton property. A Louisville-based developer, The Marian Group, aims to have 60 housing units and tenant space for two arts-focused nonprofits to offer programming to the public on the property. The project plans would include restoration of the dilapidated Symphony Hall, where the PSO performed for years.
“We are extremely excited about this opportunity and we believe that not only will this give us the space that we need to expand our administrative offices — we’ll be going from 2,000 square-feet to about 17,000 square-feet — but it will also give us the opportunity to open this academy and have space for private lessons ... and also a space for performances,” King said.
However, the symphony would still hold its regular concerts at the Carson Center and use the new space for smaller music programming. It’s a “couple years down the road,” King explained, but it’s something the community will be hearing more about.