We had to react fast and figure out how we could reinvent ourselves on social media platforms, and to keep the orchestra going one way or another
Let’s not beat around the bush: the coronavirus pandemic has all but decimated the possibility of conventionally staged live music events from taking place at all in the foreseeable future.
However, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), like many of its counterparts worldwide, will not simply be sitting this one out. Already active with a number of events going on in this year’s online-only edition of the Malta International Arts Festival (MIAF), the MPO has had to get creative about releasing its content, but managed to produce fresh material despite the inherent challenges and shocks-to-the-system that covid-19 brought about.
In fact, MPO chairman Sigmund Mifsud recalls the instant and direct disruptions that came about as a result of the pandemic and the ensuing containment measures.
“Once covid-19 was declared a pandemic, we had to take all necessary precautions. We cancelled a highly prominent concert based on Mahler’s 6th, and refocused our priorities into re-booking flights to ensure that all of the international musicians who joined us in this venture were sent home safely,” Mifsud says. Having first decided to cancel just its upcoming concerts in May, the MPO quickly decided to extend the cancellations to June, given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and its implications.
“Due to this matter, we had to revise and rethink our operations. We had to react fast and figure out how we could reinvent ourselves on social media platforms, and to keep the orchestra going one way or another,” Mifsud says, adding that a silver lining was quick to make itself apparent.
“One of the advantages that this situation brought about was the increased possibility of finding a new audience for our productions, one that we would not perhaps have been able to reach out to so easily through brick-and-mortar venues,” Mifsud says, adding that it was for this reason that “some of our productions in this period ended up being examples of crossover genres”. There was an added challenge in that, due to social distancing rules, musicians that would otherwise have formed part of an ensemble would now have no choice but to perform as soloists.
But the productions came off regardless, and resulted in a number of inspiring online videos that have reassured new and old fans of the MPO that it is ready to meet this challenge with an eye to quality and grace.
Among these ventures one can now find the MPO’s contributions to the MIAF. With a Woodwind Quartet concert having aired on June 28 – featuring the talents of Rebecca Hall (flute), John McDonough (oboe), Giuseppe Recchia (clarinet), Giacomo Cella (bassoon) and organised in collaboration with Spazju Kreattiv – on July 1st the MIAF will see the MPO stream a Horn Quartet concert focused on four key works by Carl Maria von Weber, Anton Bruckner, Richard Wagner and Heimkehr Von Der Jagd. Capping it all off will be a String Quartet concert, streamed tomorrow, which will be dedicated to the work of the late Maltese composer Joseph Vella.
“The main challenges were to act fast and reinvent our operations in such a short period of time,” Mifsud says. “Whereas before we had a structure in place and knew what had to be done, we needed to adapt to this new reality where we had to organise audio recording of particular musicians and organise the filming of each production,” Mifsud says, adding that the process also entailed other logistical hurdles, such as finding the most adequate videographers, and ensuring all the permits were in place to allow for the content to be streamed while being legally in the clear.
For all the positivity that these efforts imply, Mifsud also stresses an important point that orchestras – and pretty much all other cultural entities and practitioners – need to bear in mind should the pandemic continue to rage.
“Our online productions were made available for free to our audiences, so it would be logical to begin considering ways in which such initiatives would also serve to generate some kind of revenue for the orchestra as well,” Mifsud says.
The Malta International Arts Festival is running until the 5th of July. Stay tuned for the Malta Jazz Festival, which is happening between the 13th and the 18th of July. Visit www.festivals.mt/mjf20.