One of Oregon's premiere arts organizations is laying down the conductor's baton for 2020: on Wednesday, the Oregon Symphony announced the cancellation of all in-person concerts and events through the end of the year because of COVID-19.
That includes 43 performances in Portland and Salem between now and January. The symphony is the largest arts organization in the Portland area to take such steps.
The orchestra furloughed and laid off staff and musicians in March, but was able to hire employees back with several million dollars from the federal Paycheck Prevention Program. Still, it was only a short-term fix: that money ran out in June.
Oregon Symphony President and CEO Scott Showalter said he’d hoped the symphony could return for the fall season in October, but he now accepts that is impossible.
“We are foremost concerned about the health and well-being of our musicians and patrons,” Showalter said. “Right now it has become clear that we will not be at that point come October.”
The symphony lost $5 million in ticket sales for concerts that were scheduled between March and June, and is now absorbing the loss of another $4 million in advance sales on this fall’s concert schedule.
Now, it's turning to Salem for help. The Oregon emergency board, a legislative body, is meeting soon to decide on more COVID-19 relief money. That conversation will include options for supporting arts organizations across the state.
Showalter said the symphony is hoping for seven months' worth of baseline support.
“My mantra to state officials and federal officials is, 'We need and deserve stabilization funding as well,'” Showalter said, "because we know at the end of this pandemic, we are going to need arts and music more than ever before.”
The symphony has two ongoing series that are streaming for free online, Essential Sounds and Symphony Storytime. But even if the pandemic does begin to wane early next year, Showalter acknowledged that the demands of social distancing put unique demands on symphonic music — both for the audience and for the musicians.
“Even if you could socially distance a hall, you can’t effectively do that on stage with 80 or more musicians,” he said.
Showalter said the Oregon Symphony is considering all of its options for different types of performances in the near future, including outdoor performances and concerts with smaller ensembles.
In the meantime, Showalter is counting the days — and the dollars.
"Even in our hunkered down state with furloughed musicians and laid off staff, we will need $3.5 million between now and the end of the year just to come back," he said.
Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation from OPB’s “Weekend Edition.”