The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and The Monti: Unlikely Alliances

Thursday, July 16, 8:00 p.m., $10 

Livestreaming from Bull City Ciderworks, Durham

How can an orchestra perform in the age of COVID? Putting 80 to 100 people on stage in close proximity, with half of the instruments powered by the lungs, seems like the stuff of epidemiological nightmares, turning Mahler’s expansive symphonies with multiple choirs into horror stories. Even a more streamlined chamber orchestra seems impossible in the U.S. for the foreseeable future—and that’s before even thinking about what to do with the audience.

One solution is to go even smaller, to chamber music involving only a few players, streaming for an audience at home. As a stunt in Barcelona where a string quartet played for an audience of plants grabbed international headlines, ensembles here at home have been quietly experimenting with the possibilities of chamber music. 

Some, like the North Carolina Symphony, have focused on videos, stitching together performances by their homebound members to create virtual ensembles. But on July 16, the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, in collaboration with The Monti and Bull City Ciderworks, is trying something a little different: physically gathering in a venue to blend music and storytelling you can watch at home or listen to on the venue’s porch.  

The performance pairs the CoT’s penchant for lesser-known works, mostly by white male composers from the classical canon, with The Monti’s themed storytelling. It consists of three chapters, each surrounding a story with two loosely related musical works.

Some of the connections seem a little more tenuous than others. A chapter on “the family business” finds an arrangement of Mozart’s ubiquitous Rondo alla Turca for two trumpets and piano, played by a married couple of trumpeters. A chapter on “cultural differences” bookends a story about living in a new part of the world with brief percussion works by Toru Takemitsu and Bob Becker (a composer who made his name playing percussion in Steve Reich’s ensemble). We’ll also hear more expansive works by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Bohuslav Martinu.

Unlike, say, Duke Performances’ lavish Music in Your Gardens Series, which features prerecorded concerts in front of a film crew, this show will be livestreamed, with a small audience allowed to listen from the porch outside of Bull City Ciderworks. The organizers are quick to point out the safety precautions they’ve taken: physical distancing guidelines for performers and visitors, mask requirements for everyone (except when a performer is speaking or playing a wind instrument), and so on. Until our leaders actually start doing the work on the national level to get this pandemic under control, it’s probably the most live classical music experience we’ll get for a while. Hopefully, there will be more like this to come.

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