Orchestra back in tune again after pandemic

Yao Minji Xu Ziqing
City's symphony orchestra puts special measures in place to ensure safety as its musicians perform before a live audience almost five months after last playing.
Yao Minji Xu Ziqing
SSI ļʱ

Shanghai Symphony Hall reopened on Friday after nearly five months of closure due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra welcomed its first audience since Chinese New Year at the concert hall, with concertmaster Li Pei’s violin recital.

“We are very happy to return, and we have had lots of discussions about the repertoire of the orchestra’s first performance after the pandemic,” said Yu Long, the orchestra's music director.

On Saturday, Yu will conduct the orchestra to open with “Solveig’s Song” from “Peer Gynt,” the incidental music written by Edvard Grieg for Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same name, followed by “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss and Beethoven’s "Pastoral Symphony."

“It’s our tribute to the pandemic victims, as well as to those who worked so hard to fight the virus and to keep us safe – doctors, nurses, cleaners, etc,” Yu said.

“‘Solveig’s Song’ started with 'perhaps there will go both winter and spring ... but someday you will come, I know,’ this spring is surely one that we can never forget.”

Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” were written shortly before his death. The songs deliver a sense of calmness, acceptance and completeness rather than fear or reluctance to depart.

Yu said that ending with Beethoven’s “Pastoral” was fitting not only because it is the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, but because the piece signals much-needed tranquility and hope in the face of human suffering.

“We want to think beyond one performance, and see it as our responsibility to deliver a message of hope and encouragement, as we are artists and cultural workers,” Yu said.

The orchestra's annual Music in the Summer Air festival starts in July and its new season begins in September.

The concert hall will be disinfected regularly and provide hand sanitizer. Special measures will be in place, such as audiences having their temperatures and health codes checked and having to wear masks.

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