The flames of the gaslights outside of the Academy of Music have been turned off. The measure was taken for a practical reason, to save money. But the move also sends a message: A pandemic has taken hold, and the city’s ancestral home to classical music has gone dark.
Still, artists are a resourceful lot. There will be a classical fall season in Philadelphia this year.
It will be smaller, no question. Some ensembles are presenting in an entirely online format. Others are doing concerts before a small live audience with, they hope, a larger online listenership at home.
But most groups, faced with normal operations on hold, now have no choice but to try new ideas. In the absence of ticket income, donors will be called upon to fund this new research and development phase. Let’s hope they step up. This is a do-or-die moment for music in the city. Just to the north lies a cautionary tale. The mighty Metropolitan Opera recently announced that it will spend the entire season in hibernation.
Live performance will return one day. In the meantime, there is at least one silver lining: Nothing in the arts will feel routine again anytime soon.
Artistic plans change frequently in the COVID-19 era, so it’s best to check on events as dates draw closer. Expect additional concerts to fall into place as the season progresses. Here is a selective list from a slimmed-down, if still promising, classical fall.
Opera Philadelphia Chorus at Dilworth Park (Sept. 30). It’s not quite grand opera, but it is operatic, and it will give listeners the kind of nice carefree evening that is in short supply these days. The opera company’s chorus performs excerpts like the “Brindisi” from La traviata and the “Habanera" from Carmen, with Elizabeth Braden conducting. Cafes on site will be open, and the event is free. (operaphila.org, 215-732-8400)
The Philadelphia Orchestra (Sept. 30-Dec. 17). The orchestra this fall is delivering the goods online, recording a fall season with repertoire both tried-and-true and a little daring. Opening night is Sept. 30, when soprano Angel Blue sings Verdi, and Steve Martin, on banjo, continues his goofy relationship with the Philadelphians in the premiere of a new orchestration by tuba player Carol Jantsch of Martin’s Rare Bird Alert. (Oddly, Jantsch neglected to write a part for her own instrument into the score.) Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.
Also notable at the orchestra this fall: a performance of Vivian Fung’s Prayer; appearances by saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman; and the orchestra’s first complete performance of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1. (philorch.org, 215-893-1999)
The Crossing (Oct. 3 and 4). A wildflower preserve. A field of distanced singers. An artistic statement about a planet in crisis. The Crossing choir has thrown aside the concert hall and digital platform for something much more sylvan — with help from an amplification system. Singers will fan out 30 feet from each other in Bowman’s Mill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope. Listeners will walk among the singers, experiencing the music (and flora) around them. The aim is to reestablish “those currently-broken relationships between singers and audience members,” as the choir’s description of the event puts it. Attendees are asked to observe a long list of logistical and safety protocols. (crossingchoir.org)
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (Oct. 4-Dec. 16). The venerable presenter is planning 13 concerts this fall. All will happen at the American Philosophical Society or College of Physicians for an audience limited to 25, and will be streamed online. The season opens with pianist Amy Yang, and on Oct. 11 clarinetist Anthony McGill (recently announced as winner of the Avery Fisher Prize) and pianist Gloria Chien perform a program that includes Brahms and the world premiere of one movement from Principal Brothers by James Lee III.
Also on the fall PCMS schedule: a joint appearance by the Catalyst and Harlem string quartets, pianists Jeremy Denk and Jonathan Biss, and Mozart and Beethoven violin sonatas performed by Pamela Frank and Emanuel Ax. (pcmsconcerts.org, 215-569-8080)
“Late Night Snacks: Feast” (Oct. 17, noon to midnight). Drag queens don’t do anything small. Evidence, as if we needed it, will come from the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, whose John Jarboe hosts a 12-hour online stream of cabaret performers from around the world. “Late Night Snacks: Feast,” part of the 2020 FringeArts Philadelphia Fringe Festival, has more than a dozen drag queens lined up, and just added opera singer Stephanie Blythe in her drag persona, Blythely Oratonio. It’s free at twitch.tv/beardedladiescabaret. (fringearts.com, 215-413-1318)
“Lawrence Brownlee and Friends in Philadelphia” (Oct. 23, and available throughout the season). The superb tenor and artistic advisor to Opera Philadelphia launches the opera company’s new online service with arias, songs, spirituals, and conversation. Brownlee is joined by sopranos Lindsey Reynolds, Sarah Shafer and Karen Slack, and pianist Myra Huang. (operaphila.org, 215-732-8400)
Mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle and lutenist Richard Stone (Nov. 15). What does imposed solitude sound like in music? Bragle, artist-in-residence at Penn’s music department, and Stone, codirector of Philadelphia’s Tempesta di Mare, explore the idea in a recital of works by Purcell, Dowland and others. Streamed live from the Annenberg Center (with no audience present in the hall). (annenbergcenter.org, 215-898-3900)
A Philly Pops Christmas Gift (Dec. 24 and 25). A good long run of these Christmas shows each year is a reliable cash-cow for the Philly Pops. This year, though, the show will be offered once — and online only. Much of the same talent returns to the two-hour concert, this year taped at the Met Philadelphia. David Charles Abell conducts, with singer Mandy Gonzalez, pianist Charlie Albright, and the Philly POPS Festival Chorus, African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir and Philadelphia Boys Choir. Available free for streaming Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (phillypops.org, 215-875-8004)