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Though separated physically by self-isolation, members of the Utah Symphony have come together through technology to make music during the coronavirus pandemic.
A video by Musicians of the Utah Symphony, posted Monday on YouTube, features 35 musicians performing the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — hopeful music that follows that symphony’s famously somber opening, the composer once wrote, like sunshine follows rain.
Creating the video in 10 days was a logistical challenge, said Travis Peterson, the symphony’s principal trumpeter, who organized the effort.
“It’s sort of like herding cats, in a way, getting that large of a group of people to get something done,” Peterson said.
Around the world, orchestras — the musical definition of a “mass gathering” — started canceling performances and whole seasons in mid-March, Peterson noted. As social distancing became the norm in many places, musicians were left home alone, wondering what to do next.
“It’s tough to have nothing to do,” Peterson said.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra started the trend of videos from home, Peterson said. That group’s musicians performed their parts from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — the “Ode to Joy” — from their homes, and the footage was edited into a complete performance that was posted online on March 20. So far, nearly 2.5 million people have viewed it on YouTube.
Two days later, the musicians of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra posted a video performance of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Other groups joined in: Colorado Symphony also did “Ode to Joy,” the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra posted the finale of Mahler’s Third Symphony, while L’Orchestre National de France performed Ravel’s “Bolero.”
Peterson said to himself, “What have we already been working on at home? And what would be good for us to do in this setting?” He chose Beethoven’s Fifth, which the symphony was set to perform May 1 and 2, as part of a season-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Another consideration: finding something that would work without the full symphony roster. “Having 85 people would have been really overwhelming,” he said. “Thirty-five was overwhelming enough, but 85 would be ridiculous.”
Peterson enlisted an audio engineer he knew, Stoker White at The MT Pit, to figure out how to make the project work. White took the Utah Symphony’s 2017 recording of the Fifth, and created a “click track,” to which musicians could listen and maintain a consistent tempo.
The musicians then recorded themselves performing their parts. They sent their recordings back, and White mixed them while Andrea Peterson edited the video footage, creating elaborate split screens showing some and sometimes all of the musicians performing. For fun, Peterson got Conner Gray Covington, Utah Symphony’s assistant conductor, to record himself miming the motions of conducting the musicians.
The video is billed as “a musical gift from the Musicians of Utah Symphony,” the group that represents the people who perform under the banner of the nonprofit arts organization. All 85 of the symphony’s musicians were furloughed on March 30; symphony executives intend to hire everyone back, perhaps as soon as this summer for community concerts and the Deer Valley Music Festival, which starts July 3.
"We’re all just trying to hang in there and be hopeful, I imagine, and look to the future when we can get back to what life used to be,” Peterson said. “I think we all can take solace in the fact that everybody is feeling … the repercussions of what’s happening in the world right now.”