From the opera houses of Europe to the bright lights of Broadway, concert halls and music venues have remained shuttered. The months-long silence, of course, is yet another result of the continued coronavirus pandemic.
It’s something that’s being felt in all communities, regardless of size. Locally, the Coastal Symphony of Georgia has been forced to shelve its plans for the majority of the 2020 season.
But Michelle Merrill says the organization has continued to look for ways to safely reengage the community. The music director and conductor says that the symphony recently sent out polls via email to get members’ take on ways to bring the music back.
“Once everything happened, we were already moving all our concerts to the spring. But soon we saw that wasn’t going to be a safe option either,” she said.
“So we sent out a survey to our patrons and musicians to see what they were comfortable with.”
The response indicated that the majority would be in favor of outdoor shows. Symphony board president Marjorie Mathieu says that they were excited to find creative options for keeping the concerts alive.
Mathieu says they decided to start pulling together pieces for multiple events to take place in Glynn County parks well into 2021.
“A survey of our season subscribers told us most were not ready to go back into an indoor concert hall due to the coronavirus, so we will continue to provide excellence in music in a fresh new way to the community,” she said.
Titled Variations on a Season, the five-part series will feature small ensembles with various sounds and themes.
The first will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in Mary Ross Waterfront Park in downtown Brunswick. The Jordan Gilman Jazz Quartet will perform Jazz from the American Songbook, Merrill says.
“We’re opening with the Jordan Gilman Quartet, who a lot of people would have seen last year at Cabaret. They’re all extremely talented musicians,” she added.
Weather permitting, the concert will offer an upbeat vibe as the four musicians explore classic tunes from the 1920s golden era and beyond.
From there, the series moves over to St. Simons Island for its next installment — a holiday show set for early December.
“The next performance will be Festive Holiday Favorites with the Jacoby Brass at Gascoigne Park (at 3 p.m.) Dec. 6,” Merrill said.
The crisp sound will offer a happy and positive return to the merriest season of the year.
“That will be a lot of fun, and it will be great to be in Gascoigne. It’s just beautiful there,” she said.
Following the Christmas show, the group will take a bit of a breather but will reconvene at a new outdoor venue for a Seaside Serenade at 3 p.m. March 14. The concert will be held at the new Atlantic Court Tent at King and Prince Resort, St. Simons Island.
It will be will feature 13 musicians from the orchestra playing Beethoven, Rossini, Dvorak and other classical selections.
“The new space at the King and Prince is another beautiful venue and we’re really excited to be there for the first time,” Merill said.
The following month, it will be back to downtown Brunswick for Vibes and Keys: Classical Meets Jazz. The concert will be held at 3 p.m. April 11 in Mary Ross Waterfront Park.
“Steve Merrill on Vibraphone and Aaron Lehrian on keyboard will perform classical pieces and use their structure and harmony to improvise in a jazz style,” Merrill said. “It will be kind of a mashup — jazz meets classical.”
The final performance will feature 30 members of the orchestra who will unite on May 2 to offer Boulange, Beethoven and Brilliant Strings. The 3 p.m. show will once again be held in the Atlanta Court Tent at the King and Prince. Composers featured will include Joseph Boulogne, Edward Elgar, Jessie Montgomery Strum and Ludwig van Beethoven.
“We’re excited to feature selections from Beethoven. It’s the 250th anniversary of his birth this year so we had planned to do somethings with his pieces,” she said.
“We are also proud to showcase pieces from female composers and minorities throughout the season.”
Patrons will be asked to wear masks at all concerts. The audience will also be socially distanced. Chairs will be provided at the King and Prince however concert-goers will need to bring their own seating to the parks. There will be priority space for sponsors and Conductors Circle subscribers.
Tickets are currently on sale. Individual tickets are $50 for adults and $14 for children. Season tickets for all five concerts are priced at $200. Those are available at www.coastalsymphonyofgeorgia.org. There will be a sign-in sheet at Sunday’s concert for those who have ordered tickets. Paper tickets will be sent for the remaining concerts. The shows will be canceled in the event of rain.
For Merrill, the performances are a way to offer the public access to new music, including arrangements by female and minority composers. She also feels that, by holding concerts in multiple locations, more people will have access to these timeless works.
“I am really looking forward these outdoor concerts. I’m excited that they are going to be in different places throughout the community. It’s possible that we might get even more people involved,” she said.