Virtuosi cancels fall season

Arts organizations everywhere facing ‘existential’ challenges

The Trio Saint-Laurent performing at a past Virtuosi concert. The concert series has cancelled its fall season due to COVID-19.

Photo by Heather Lewis (Supplied)

Virtuosi Concerts, a classical music recital and chamber music series based at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), has been delighting Winnipeg audiences since 1991. This year would have been their 30th anniversary season, but they have had to cancel their fall programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew Thomson, executive director of Virtuosi Concerts, says this decision was made around August. 

“As our knowledge of COVID increased, it became clear that international travel, especially with the United States, would be affected for the foreseeable future,” he says.

“Financially, Virtuosi has taken in no ticket revenue for 2020-21,” Thomson says, though they are operating with the support of their public funders, the U of W, their reserve fund and the Virtuosi Endowment Fund.

“This is an incredibly challenging time for all performing arts organizations, so I would ask those that have supported their chosen organizations to be sure to ‘give’ as they did last year but to also consider increasing their financial support this year,” he says.

Jonathan Paquette, professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, specializes in cultural administration and institutions.

“Arts managers have to deal with the aftermath of undoing a season, which is a very long process on the one hand. And on the other hand, planning for the future, for a year ahead, is almost impossible,” he says.

“This is not just a financial hurdle or a technical problem, bearing disappointment. It is an existential one,” Paquette says.

When asked about how governments should respond to this situation, he suggests “supporting programming, offering clear advice, resources and a pattern of contingency plan(s) to adapt to the fluctuation of COVID restrictions.”

“You want arts organizations to be able to operate and do what they are meant to do,” Paquette says.

Despite the difficult situation, Thomson remains optimistic.

“The arts have found creative ways to survive without live audiences, and this creativity is key to the arts, including classical music, surviving this pandemic,” he says.

In fact, Virtuosi has scheduled concerts starting in January, subject to public health guidelines.

“We will not begin promotion and ticket sales for each concert until we have a green light from provincial health authorities,” Thomson says.

Among the protocols that would be in place at these concerts are mandatory masks, smaller and physically distanced audiences and no intermissions. These concerts would feature Manitoban artists like Yuri Hooker, Victoria Sparks, Naomi Woo, Tracy Dahl and Laura Loewen.

“Our primary goal has been to present programming that nourishes the soul, offering cathartic experiences that heal and virtuosity that excites,” Thomson says.

“While we remain committed to programming that encompases the pillars of the traditional classical canon, we are resolved to present new works and commissions, unheard voices past and present and artists who challenge the status quo.”

Published in Volume 75, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 22, 2020)

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