Interview with Matías Tarnopolsky
(© Courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra)
Philadelphia Orchestra makes the most of their Digital Stage
After the months of performing virtually, from their homes via ZOOM, the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra are back onstage again, masked, distanced, and performing in empty venues, for broadcast on their Philadelphia Orchestra Digital Stage 2020 fall season dubbed OUR World Now.
The auspicious September 30 opening program had a guest line-up of superstar soprano Angel Blue, piano virtuoso Lang Lang, and Steve Martin joining the orchestra remotely as the soloist on his own banjo concerto with full orchestra, co-hosted by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and orchestra president Matías Tarnopolsky.
Six weeks into the series the orchestra has presented a broad range of both classical and contemporary orchestral music, in well-filmed, and live-streamed concerts. “When we launched the digital stage, with ticketed programs, and the response has been fantastic. Not just locally but also globally. A lot of new members.” Mr. Tarnopolsky said in a recent phone interview from Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, the orchestra’s home.
“The Digital Stage is how we are staying connecting to our audiences in Philadelphia, but also nationally and globally,” adding “It’s our way of giving concerts during the Covid pandemic when we can’t have a live audience.”
All symphonic orchestras are in uncharted territory in the US, confronting industry uncertainty, the continued closure of symphony halls as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. The revenue lost for all orchestras this year has been devastating, as venues remain closed to live audience performances since March. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is also the musical director/conductor at the Metropolitan Opera which it was announced in September will remain closed until fall 2021.
The Philadelphia Orchestra halted operations on March 12 when the city enacted restrictions on crowd size that required the shutdown of all theaters. Nézet-Séguin and the musicians
decided to perform the concert in an empty Verizon Hall.
The program was the start of a commemoration of the 250th year of Beethoven’s birth. The Livestream of his 5th and 6th Symphonies on social media, on the night that everything changed in the US was, Tarnopolsky recalled “so moving, and the stellar performance by the Philadelphians eventually was viewed by millions around the world.”
Through the spring and summer, the orchestra streamed a number of free performances, performed remotely on their website and Facebook as they to prepare for a re-imagined 2020 ticketed Digital stage season.
During his 8 seasons as musical director, Nézet-Séguin has been a champion of diverse contemporary symphonic music and a more inclusive orchestra. Named president of the Philadelphians in 2018, Tarnopolsky’s resume includes leadership positions with various orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra. He specializes in innovative programming and building new more diverse audiences for orchestral music. He shares Nézet-Séguin’s vision for the Philadelphia Orchestra going forward. Already in his two years in Philadelphia, he initiated a free ticket program for the School District of Philadelphia and negotiated an extraordinary early contract with the musicians of the Orchestra.
The orchestra’s outreach to community engagement, more inclusive programming and addressing other issues as more equity for women composers, past and present and project such as Here Together, Tarnopolsky noted included “addresses systemic racism in classical music.” “We are committed to what we have been doing in normal times with the orchestra – broadening the repertoire, working with contemporary composers.”
From a fiscal standpoint, The Philadelphia Orchestra is in better shape than many, for the time being, with season’s losses being offset by a $50 million endowment the Philadelphia Orchestra received in 2019.
This year the Orchestra was presented with the Grammophon Award as 2020 Orchestra of the Year.
The preliminary viewership for the orchestra’s Digital Stage indicates that they are attracting new audiences with an estimated 1900-2,600 more viewers per Digital Stage performance; a 16% uptick in followers on Facebook for the free broadcast content.
As difficult as it has been to wait out the industry shutdown of venues and uncertainty that the live performing arts organizations have been confronted with, Tarnopolsky commented “this moment has taught us how to pivot a react quickly. And to recognize the extraordinary, commitment by the musicians and staff.”