STOCKBRIDGE, Massachusetts - On a fairly unremarkable Tuesday in March 2020, I decided at the last minute to go see the NY Phil and Louis Langrée perform a concert at David Geffen Hall that included Debussy's Nocturnes and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Scriabin's explosive Poem of Ecstasy, and Ravel's mystical Shéhérezade (with the captivating mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.) The Phil played to their usual high standard, nbd.
Little did I know that would be the last live concert I'd see the Phil - or anyone - perform for sixteen months.
Suffice to say: it's been a rough year-and-a-half all around. Aside from the horrifying human toll that COVID-19 has taken, countless musicians and performing artists lost their livelihood, scrambling to find other ways to pay their bills while keeping up their musical chops without anywhere to play (aside from parks, porches, and the occasional online gig.) No doubt more than a few hung up their guitars, saxophones, and concert dress for good.
For those that managed to stick it out, a nagging question remained: how would they sound? Is it fair to expect musicians coming off a year-and-a-half layoff to play as well as we remember? (Not to mention, would I remember how to write about them??)
For orchestras, which rely on the interplay of 70-100 highly skilled musicians all carefully listening to one another, the return of live performance seemed daunting to the point of impossibility. How could such a huge collection of individuals possibly play with any texture or nuance after having been apart for so long? Sure, there have been streaming concerts, with orchestras playing in empty halls, socially distanced from one another. But it's one thing to perform in front of a camera, another to play before a live audience.