LA GRANDE — Violinist Viet Block was eager to perform again for the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra, even if COVID-19 restrictions prevented playing in front of a live audience.
“It is a special experience to be able to share one’s expression and art with another, and that has fueled and driven me most my life,” Block said. “It feels good to be of service to others, plus I love the challenge of learning a new repertoire for new people each concert.”
With in-person concerts not allowed for performers or audiences, the symphony’s chamber series has turned to a new concert format — prerecording the performances and then streaming them as “A Night In with the Symphony” on EOAlive’s Facebook page and the symphony’s Facebook page Saturday, Oct. 3, beginning at 7 p.m. The orchestra’s kickoff for its 2020-21 season comes interspersed with commentary from symphony president Alice Trindle and music director Zach Banks.
“After such a long hiatus, having an opportunity to perform again has been massively rewarding,” Banks said. “When music performance has been such an important part of your life for so long, it becomes a form of communication that effectively contributes to your overall well-being. It becomes an avenue for you to effectively express yourself and, more important, those performance experiences connect you with your audience and community in a memorable and meaningful way.”
Performing arts organizations have opted for virtual performances since COVID-19 restrictions limited events and gatherings. In addition to Block on violin and Banks on cello, “A Night In” will feature Matt Cooper on piano.
Block said while this season has felt emptier than previous years, it is by no means less important — the show must go on, even if it requires adapting to unprecedented times.
Streaming the performances, she also said, allows the symphony to reach a larger audience and new listeners. That matters, she noted, because reaching more people and sharing music and performance during the pandemic helps us feel connected when we have to be so far apart.
“Music specifically doesn’t require words or the understanding of a language — it is universal,” Block said. “To me, music has always been a comfort to hear and then feel or be reminded of a resulting emotion, and know someone else has felt that way too, and it’s OK to feel great variations in ups and downs. Especially when life is full of turmoil, and in 2020 it is even more important that no one feels alone in the human condition, and to have the option to refuge within a musical escape.”
Cooper shared similar sentiments and said although the performances are prerecorded, the virtual event will have the feel of a live performance.
“Unlike most commercial recordings, which are multi-tracked using a click track and can be made perfect by punching in to fix mistakes or altered to correct errors in timing or pitch, allowing essentially anyone to theoretically make a perfect recording, recordings such as the Oct. 3 performance rely on complete ‘takes’ and for the most part can’t be fixed,” Cooper explained. “In a sense, they are like live performances in that you aim to finish the entire piece or movement, but with the added pressure of trying to come up with a good recording or at least one that is acceptable to all parties.”
Trindle in a press release about the show said the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra wanted to “create an evening where people can tune in, perhaps having gathered family members, along with refreshments, to make for a special and unique musical event.”
Cooper has been able to livestream performances during the pandemic and said while there is a limitation to the number of people in the room to help with recording, he directs the music to the audience beyond the walls.
“You have to imagine an audience that is listening or watching but who is not in the room with you,” Cooper said. “The audience is still ‘there’ though, and you are still communicating with them.”
Echoing Block, Cooper said one of the best parts about sharing music and performing, especially in today’s public health and political climate, is its ability to unite people.
“Art and music remain important ways to connect with a deeper existence and to transcend the superficialities of daily life,” Cooper said. “That is as true as ever, though nowadays people probably need such experiences even more than ever. Also, in today’s climate of divisiveness, it’s good to know that such experiences can unite people from all walks of life, including different political or religious persuasions.”
The virtual concert is taking the place of the annual fundraiser for the 73-year-old music ensemble. Two more chamber concerts will follow through the season, whether it be virtual or in person.