Bittersweet symphony: Classical musicians connect with Alberta audiences online

Closed concert halls won’t keep some musicians from performing classical favourites for Albertans this week.

Keeping a safe distance apart from each other, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Rafaeal Hoekman will perform with guest pianist Jeremy Spurgeon, music director for All Saints Anglican Cathedral, on Thursday, March 26 at 2 p.m. MT.

The pair will play 11 popular classical works, including pieces by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Gabriel Fauré and David Popper, to an empty Winspear Centre.

The performance, which will be live-streamed on the ESO’s Facebook page, has been funded by a $1,000 grant from the National Arts Centre.

It will be the symphony orchestra’s first ever live-streamed concert, said Joyce LaBriola, vice-president of brand and experience for the Winspear Centre and the ESO.

“It’s been a really incredible learning experience for all of us to switch to working in that virtual space,” she said Wednesday in an interview with CBC’s Radio Active.

Hoekman joined other musicians from the ESO and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in a recent virtual Elgar performance.

“I used to play in the Calgary Philharmonic and when I came here to Edmonton, we’d been talking about how to join the two orchestras together,” Hoekman said.

“It looks like it took a pandemic for that to happen!” 

The health crisis has musicians realizing they took their ability to perform for live audiences for granted, he added.

“As musicians, I think we felt like we had to keep playing for sure and somehow keep connecting people, whether it’s online or other ways.”

Unlike the CPO, which has temporarily laid off its musicians due to cancellations related to COVID-19, the ESO has kept musicians on the payroll for now, LaBriola said.

Many Edmonton patrons have supported the symphony by donating their tickets back and not requesting refunds.