Citing the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing, the Mann Center and the Philadelphia Orchestra have called off all of the orchestra’s planned concerts at the venue this summer.
The Roots Picnic (moved to Aug. 1) and Hoagie Nation with Hall & Oates (Sept. 4) remain on the venue’s schedule, although some May and June pop shows have been canceled.
The orchestra’s six-concert series, set to begin July 21, was to include a side-by-side concert with the National Youth Orchestra, an evening with Leslie Odom Jr., live performances to the movies Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, the annual Tchaikovsky “spectacular,” and a Cirque Musica show of circus performers and live music.
With health and safety in mind, the Mann “evaluated every scenario you can imagine with the hope of being able to host the Philadelphia Orchestra for its annual summer residency at the Mann,” said Catherine M. Cahill, the Mann’s president and CEO, in a statement. “The challenge of our current situation is that there remain so many uncertainties, but what it comes down to is, there is no good solution for social distancing a full orchestra ensemble on stage.”
In addition, though it is no surprise, the orchestra has canceled the rest of the 2019-20 season in Verizon Hall. It had already canceled all events through June 7, but now has scrapped its live-orchestra-to-film performances of Up on June 11 to 13, postponed its June 23 concert with Phish’s Trey Anastasio until a later date, and canceled its June 25-27 Bugs Bunny concerts.
The orchestra also will not appear for its residency in Vail, Colo., this summer. The Bravo! Vail music festival Thursday announced that it was canceling this year’s iteration of the summer series, which was also to have included appearances by the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras.
Not yet clear is whether the Philadelphia Orchestra will be able to return this August to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York.
Orchestra president Matias Tarnopolsky called the prospect of an entire summer without a live Philadelphia Orchestra concert “heartbreaking,” but emphasized that safety was the priority.
He said he suspects the orchestra will return to the stage in phases. “We don’t know when that can begin. As soon as we can begin gathering small groups of musicians together, we will do so, and that music we will share by whatever means are available to us,” he said. “Physically if possible, digitally definitely.”
The rest of the Mann’s summer schedule has been a mix of cancellations and postponements for May and June.
The center had planned to launch a series with a new format, Downstage@theMann, with seating on stage for just 300 guests, surrounding the performers. Now, performances using the new configuration, including Deep Blue Sea with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company dance troupe, have been moved to next summer.
The Philly Funk Fest on June 6 was canceled, as was Alice Cooper and Tesla on June 25.
The Mann calendar for July, August, and September remains stocked with pop concerts for the moment.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has been performing in Fairmount Park since 1930, when the musicians themselves organized an eight-week series of concerts at the Robin Hood Dell. The concert series moved to the current site in 1976.
While orchestra attendance has dipped in recent years, the Harry Potter concerts have been enormously popular. A record-breaking crowd of more than 10,000 turned out in 2016 for the first installment in the series to experience Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
It appears that the orchestra has never before gone a summer since 1930 without playing a concert in the park, a Mann spokesperson said. Financial problems led to part of the 1948 season being closed down, according to the book The Fabulous Philadelphians. The concert series was resumed with the help of industrialist and arts patron Fredric R. Mann, for whom the current facility was eventually named.