The Philadelphia Orchestra is falling silent, Pennsylvania Ballet has come to a standstill, and the Kimmel Center’s performance spaces are going dark. The Mütter Museum has closed.

With the city prohibiting gatherings of 1,000 or more and discouraging assemblies of more than 250, several major groups on Thursday scrapped major swaths of the spring arts season.

The Kimmel, Philadelphia’s major arts venue and presenter, is closing all of its performing venues through at least April 11.

“With the health and safety of our patrons, artists, staff, and volunteers top of mind, the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus is complying with the order the City of Philadelphia has issued to cancel gatherings of 1,000 or more," a Kimmel spokesperson said.

The Kimmel, which is home to eight resident companies and a major presenter of Broadway shows, will work to reschedule about 200 performances that had been set to take place in Verizon Hall, the Academy of Music, the Perelman Theater, the Merriam Theater, and the center’s smaller spaces between March 13 and April 11.​ (Rental events, like weddings, will continue. Volvér, the Kimmel restaurant, remains open.)

The Kimmel will try to reschedule runs of Les Misérables and Jesus Christ Superstar, which had been slated to play the Academy of Music in coming weeks.

The Kimmel is hoping to reschedule "Les Miserables."
Matthew Murphy
The Kimmel is hoping to reschedule "Les Miserables."

All of the orchestra’s concerts through March 23 have been canceled, an orchestra spokesperson said. The cancellations come just as the orchestra was to begin its Beethoven symphony cycle — a month of concerts led by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to note the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

The very first of the Beethoven concerts, Thursday night, was performed to an essentially empty house after the public was excluded from the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall. Instead, it was scheduled to be carried live on the orchestra’s website and made available for broadcast on radio (Friday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI-FM 90.1) and at some later date on WHYY-TV.

Pennsylvania Ballet’s last five performances of La Bayadère — half of the run — were canceled. The company’s school has shut down indefinitely.

Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Oksana Maslova and Zecheng Liang in "La Bayadère."
Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Oksana Maslova and Zecheng Liang in "La Bayadère."

Another complete Beethoven cycle in the city has also been thwarted. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society was set to resume the rest of its piano sonata and string quartet cycle on March 15 in the 600-or-so-seat Perelman Theater.

Thursday the group made the decision to cancel all of its performances through April 1 — a total of nine concerts covering appearances by the Takacs and Belcea string quartets, and pianists Jonathan Biss and Richard Goode.

PCMS’s Beethoven cycles would have been a first for the group, and canceling is “heartbreaking for the patrons as well as the artists,” said artistic director Miles Cohen. But the majority of the PCMS audience is over 60, he pointed out, “and we could not in good conscience present these concerts knowing what we know about COVID-19. The prudent thing was to suspend the season through April 1.”

Mutter shuttered until March 31

The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which is showing its most ambitious exhibition ever — a look at the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19 — closed Thursday at the end of the day until at least March 31.

“Spits Spreads Death,” the museum’s exploration of the deadly impact of the Spanish flu on Philadelphia, is slated to be on display until the fall of 2024. Officials, who have canceled all special programs through the end of March, said they would evaluate whether to reopen April 1 as more information becomes available.

At the National Museum of American Jewish History, officials said Thursday that Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years imprisoned in the Soviet Union for his human-rights activism, could not leave Israel because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

His March 15 appearance at the museum has been canceled. Sharansky is a former deputy prime minister of Israel and a recipient of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Emily August, a museum spokesperson, said NMAJH and Sharansky are seeking to reschedule. He planned to speak on “Lessons of the Soviet Jewry Movement.”

Also on Thursday, Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art said it was told by the university to close its building immediately. Staff will be meeting Friday to firm up details.

The Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill said it would be closed to the public through March 27 in response to the quarantine in nearby Montgomery County.

Events off, but doors open at Art Museum

The Philadelphia Museum of Art remains open, officials said, but all public programs and events through April 30 have been canceled or postponed. Norman Keyes, museum spokesperson, noted that the situation regarding the coronavirus is “changing rapidly.”

“We have plans in place to respond to a variety of situations, Keyes said.

Timothy Rub, PMA's director and chief executive, termed the cancellations and postponements “a necessary precaution.”

“We will continue to revise our plans as this situation evolves and be guided, first and foremost, by our responsibility to provide a safe environment for our staff and to our visitors,” Rub said.

The museum often has more than 250 visitors in its building at any given time, but with more than 200 galleries and over 600,000 square feet of public space, officials said the city’s strong recommendation to forgo events and gatherings of more than 250 people did not apply, a view echoed by officials at other institutions around the city.​

Philadelphia was in good company Thursday. The Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, Broadway theaters, and major performing arts centers across the country also canceled stretches of concerts. A Philadelphia Orchestra program that had been scheduled for a Friday performance at Carnegie Hall has also been called off, along with dozens of others at Carnegie.

Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Some orchestra fans Thursday were lucky enough to be among the last to hear the ensemble’s Beethoven Symphonies 5 and 6 live at the Kimmel Center. About 650 students and chaperones from 12 area schools, including Franklin Learning Center and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, attended an open rehearsal in Verizon Hall with Nézet-Séguin leading the orchestra.

Groups from 13 schools either canceled or didn’t show up.

So far, the orchestra has canceled concerts for March 12, 14, 15, 19, 21, and 22, as well as its Sound All Around concerts on March 21 and 23. Patrons may exchange their tickets for concerts at a later date. Ticket exchange fees are being waived through May 2.

Those who wish to help mitigate the “serious financial impact” of the cancellations may contribute their tickets back to the group as a charitable gift, an orchestra advisory stated.