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Concerto Chamber Orchestra transitions to virtual performances

first_imgAdam Karelin, who directs music for the organization, said the idea for the digital festival followed his realization in the spring semester that the group of more than 80 musicians would be unable to handle remote collaborations due to the difficulty for them all to participate on Zoom simultaneously. The music festival that involved around 30 recruited musicians worked as a trial run for future activities on a virtual platform.  Instead of simply sitting in a traditional chamber orchestra formation, CCO musicians looked to provide a fresh visual component to enhance the listening experience. Collaborating with the USC Chamber Ballet Company and ballet dancers from Kaufmann, about half of the musical movements were accompanied by footage of dancers performing original ballet choreography. For the seventh movement, “Aquarium” the group collaborated with Aquarium of the Pacific, a public aquarium in Long Beach, by adding special footage of the aquatic life to contribute to the playful musical component.  With his trumpet case swaying back and forth beside him as he walked past the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Aaron Ghrist, a senior majoring in chemistry and applied and computational mathematics, would normally be heading to Schoenfeld Symphonic Hall for the Concerto Chamber Orchestra’s weekly practices after class. However, practices came to a halt in mid-March for the group and many other performance groups as California and Los Angeles County placed restrictions on in-person gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Vice President of CCO Linda Diaz said the virtual concert kept expanding with ideas as the group met and put together the project.  For Karelin, one of the greatest benefits of putting together a digital performance was the ability for musicians to send in their best performance since issues that would normally be unpreventable in a live performance could be avoided by submitting a better take.  “[We] saw it as a great opportunity for people to connect — not just musicians to connect with one another on a larger project, but also our orchestra with the USC community,” Ghrist said.  The theme of the digital festival, Carnival of the Animals, looked to whimsicality and playfulness in its musical interpretation of the personas of different animals. According to Ghrist, the playful piece was initially not taken seriously when it was first performed in 1886, as Saint-Saëns originally wrote it to bring humor to a private audience. However, CCO musicians thought the piece was “a great way to bring some levity amongst the current social dynamics.” As a performance group, the in-person component is integral to traditional orchestra practice, but the students were able to modify the format of their activities to focus on sharing music with the community in addition to practicing as a group. Starting preparations about a month and a half earlier, students were able to collaborate on Zoom by using shared screens, checking the mix of music along with everyone on the team and discussing the musicians’ ideas and goals for the festival. The student-run organization is composed of mostly non-music majors at USC and welcomes all undergraduates interested in concert performance.  Concerto Chamber Orchestra utilized visual elements, as well as collaborations with the Chamber Ballet Company and the Aquarium of the Pacific, to enhance their virtual concert experience. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan) The festival culminated with a watch party livestream shared on Facebook and received great support from faculty and students. In a congratulatory email to the group, USC Thornton School of Music professor Veronika Krausas was greatly supportive of CCO’s choice to perform the Carnival of the Animals because of its nostalgic value to her as a musician. center_img “In-person music making is exciting in its own way, but the interesting thing about remote recording projects is that it’s more akin to a studio recording,” Karelin said. “If on the day of the concert, [a performer was] having an upset stomach, and they played a little out of tune, then we can’t factor those things in when preparing for live performances.” Instead of postponing practices for a future date, the orchestra group gathered on Zoom to practice and put together its first virtual concert over the summer. In an effort to share its members’ musical talents with the USC community, CCO held a 14-day digital festival from July 18 to Aug. 1, featuring movements from Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals” each day, including “Tortues” and “Personnages à longues oreilles.”   Ghrist said the performance group is planning a number of chamber ensembles that will be released throughout the year in the form of shorter videos. A concert featuring collaborations with the Thornton School of Music’s jazz department is also being planned for the start of November. In the fall, CCO also looks to incorporate the current climate of ongoing worldwide protests and action against anti-Blackness to spread awareness about racial inequality in the field of classical music.   “Our favorite quote was, ‘Oh, this shouldn’t take too long,’” Diaz said. “I feel like I felt myself saying that a lot, but then it would take longer. And usually, this was because we’d have one idea, and then more would bloom from that, and that blooming became the final product.”  Heading into the fall semester, the group is inviting USC students, alumni, staff and faculty who are interested in music to consider playing with the Concerto Chamber Orchestra and contribute to future performances. “[Carnival of the Animals is] one of those pieces that’s so dear to me and completely reminds me of my childhood,” Krausas wrote in the email. “My dad has the record … and the combination of music and the narration has probably influenced me more as a composer than I realize! I’ve been [Zooming] with my family and we’ve been watching every day or two the different [CCO] videos and yesterday we watched the whole thing.” The group is looking to include more digital content across their platforms, even after county and state restrictions on in-person events have been lifted. While about 100 to 200 people could normally fill Schoenfield Hall, Karelin said some of the digital performances have reached over 5,000 people.   “There is so much white supremacy pervasive in classical music, from the repertoire that we’re taught from a very young age to the admissions and auditions process,” Karelin said. “The programming that we’re pursuing this season, virtually all of it centers around restorative justice in one form or another. Just because we weren’t taught the music of these Black composers doesn’t mean we should continue ignoring it in our practice.” “Virtual performances have been done by so many orchestras already — with all the musicians in rectangles on the screen — which is great to see everyone, but we saw this as an opportunity to share our music in a more engaging way,” Diaz said. “Even with this situation having everyone separate, we were able to incorporate choreography from members … through this platform when we wouldn’t have been able to fit them in Schoenfeld Hall.” last_img read more

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