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Making music in the time of COVID-19: Austin's symphony orchestra goes virtual

The Austin Symphony brings classical music into the homes of music fans with a full concert this Friday night via the internet.

AUSTIN, Texas — Even though the Austin Symphony Orchestra had to cancel its entire spring 2020 concert season due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was back on stage at the Long Center for the Performing Arts this week to present a full concert of classical music.

But this concert was far different than the previous ones. There was no audience in the enormous music hall. Musicians were spaced at least 6 feet apart. Everyone wore face coverings. The orchestra had even hired a physician to make sure steps were taken to reduce the risk of infection from the virus, as performers and stagehands alike had to provide a recent medical history and have their temperatures checked.

The concert was taped by a professional video crew and will be released online to symphony subscribers on Friday night. It’s a virtual concert with more than 90 minutes of classical music composed by George Frederick Handel, Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland.

For guest artist Soprano Mela Dailey, it was an unusual setting and a strange way to sing a difficult piece for voice and string orchestra, Britten’s “Les Illuminations.”

“I’m going to be wearing a face shield that literally covers my head and has a microphone inside as a health precaution,” the Grammy-award winning singer said. “But that’s no problem since I’m just so thrilled and thankful to be able to make music again.”

For Austin Symphony and Long Center management, it was an opportunity to re-employ musicians, technicians and stagehands after many had been struggling financially when live music went away. For Dailey, it offered a chance to work with her husband, the acclaimed conductor Peter Bay.

Since the concert is online and can be viewed anytime over the next seven days, music lovers will be able to purchase tickets through the Austin Symphony Orchestra website

It's all in the name of making music in the time of COVID-19, as the Austin Symphony becomes one of the few orchestras in the U.S. that’s making music at all.

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