Performance in a Pandemic: Two Music Directors on COVID Adaptations and Returning to the Stage

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The Crossing, June 2021, Awbury Arboretum. Photo by John C. Hawthorne.

As the early days of the pandemic pushed performances out of concert venues and onto our screens, the differences between live and livestream experiences became more apparent. These adaptations provoked questions for presenters and for performers: How can the magic of a live performance be captured online? How does a digital presentation change the ways in which artists perform and audiences experience the work? Will people return to concert halls?

We invited leaders of two music organizations to discuss how they’ve approached these questions and how the challenges of COVID-19 have shaped their artistic and organizational practices. In this expansive conversation, Miles Cohen, artistic direct of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS), and Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, talk about what isolation has meant for performers, returning to live performance, and how strengthened commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access will shape future programming.

Both organizations are recent grant recipients of the Center. PCMS received a 2021 Re:imagining Recovery grant to upgrade performance space at the American Philosophical Society and expand their capacity to present livestreamed concerts online. With support from a 2020 Project grant, The Crossing is developing Farming, a new choral work staged outdoors among the crops of a Bucks County farm, to premiere in 2023.

For upcoming events from both organizations, visit the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Crossing websites.

What follows is a transcription of a conversation that took place on June 30, 2021. It has been edited for clarity and length.

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